By Mike Murray published January 31, 2017

SEO and Website Image Optimization 10-Point Checklist for Marketers


SEO image optimization should be second nature for content marketers, but it’s easily overlooked. Search traffic loses when haste wins.

Before I get into all of the nuances and tips, I want to be clear. Google still highlights some poorly optimized images on the primary and image search results. Why? Google is all about presenting the right information when it can. If the content is relevant to a search phrase, the image could appear high even if it misses the mark in terms of best practices.

For example, I searched for “excavators” on Google and John Deere did well even with a generic image name (r4a037882_rrd_75g_642x462.png). It was an image option among primary search results, not from an image search.


But that’s some of the time, not all of the time.

Why not at least tackle the basics to give your brand the best opportunity to succeed with SEO and images on Google and other search engines?

1. Optimize images for SEO and the good of your site content

Yes, you want your images to appear with search results. But image optimization has more significant implications. SEO tactics play off each other. Each element – from the headline and the SEO page title to internal and inbound links – influences search-engine rankings. Images also play a role in the overall SEO value of a page.

Headlines, #SEO page titles, and links influence search-engine rankings, says @mikeonlinecoach. Click To Tweet

2. Name images adequately

Generally, however, you can name images with keyword phrases and separate the words with dashes (some people call them hyphens). How many words? I suggest three to five. Could you use more? Sure, but what’s the point? A laundry list dilutes the image name and it can lose focus.

For #SEO, name images with 3 to 5 keyword phrases & separate the words with dashes, says @mikeonlinecoach. Click To Tweet

Image names should be somewhat descriptive. Years ago, I spoke with one company that used general images to support an article’s overall theme. One story was about turbulence in the stock market. The image was a boat on a stormy sea. The image was called “boat” instead of anything involving the article.

Kroger, like many companies, uses first-rate images with useless names like:


3. Avoid abbreviations

No matter what you’re selling, maximize those keywords. Don’t settle for “pkg” when you mean “package” or “ind” for “industrial.”

A Nutshell Guide to Proper Keyword Research

4. Condense and combine non-essential image elements

If you’re obligated to include image dimensions, special numbers, or “sm” for “small,” tuck them at the end and squish them together. Cozy is good for SEO.

Here are options for obligatory elements:

  • applicant-tracking-software-250×400-sm.jpg (not fully optimized)
  • applicant-tracking-software-250400sm.jpg (better)

Notice that I kept a dash after “software” to ensure that the keyword is separated.

Do you need to remove the “x” between the dimension numbers? One character may not make a difference, but you aren’t trying to rank for image sizes. “Jam” phrasing should rule for SEO purposes for non-essential info.

5. Use naming conventions efficiently

Production and naming conventions may force you to begin an image name with numbers or letters. It doesn’t mean that you can’t use the bulk of the image name for keywords.

Maybe you are under pressure to go with “xyzdiv” for a section of the website or a division. No problem, try this: “xyzdiv-surgical-elastic-bandages.jpg”.

6. Value consistent naming and productivity sensitivity

One of my clients uses the same image each time to reference a manufacturer’s logo. You might run into production nightmares if you name a single image multiple ways.

If you name a single image multiple ways, you could run into production nightmares, says @mikeonlinecoach. #SEO Click To Tweet

For example, if you have a logo image called “dayco-engine-products.jpg”, you don’t want someone else working on the site to rename the logo image to “dayco-aftermarket-parts.jpg”. Multiple names for the same image are too much to manage when you use it often. If you rename a commonly used image, it may vanish from another live page and you may not notice the mistake.

7. Detail image alt attributes

Alt text is useful for visually impaired searchers who rely on screen readers or when images aren’t loading for some reason. Either way, Google finds the alt text and includes it as a ranking factor.

No one knows the perfect number of words, but plan on 10 to 15 to convey something about the image. Describe what’s happening, mention some of the features of a product, note colors, etc. Don’t simply repeat the same words from the image name.

CVS Health doesn’t nail it, but the company comes close.


The image name is: cvs-health-cvs-beauty-skincare-and-makeup-article-image.png.

The words “and” and “article” probably don’t provide value, but the text attribute is decent: alt=”CVS Pharmacy offers thousands of your favorite makeup, beauty and skincare products.”

8. Craft image titles

You see the image titles when you hover over an image on a website page. Image titles have some value – more from user engagement, which indirectly influences SEO. It’s not clear the extent to which the words in the image title impact search engine rankings, but you could add a quick call to action like “buy now” or “download today.”

Add a quick call to action to your image titles to indirectly influence #SEO, says @mikeonlinecoach. Click To Tweet

9. Add captions

Unlike the image name and alt attribute, the caption text is visible on a website page (and that helps with rankings). You can use some of the same keywords from the image name or alt attribute, but try to mix it up. Every aspect of image optimization should have some unique keywords to support SEO.

10. Detail anchor text

On occasion, you have an opportunity to include anchor text that leads to an image. Don’t just write “view image.” Guide visitors – and search engines –with descriptive words like “view our Alaska cruise gallery” or “view our compactor.”

Bonus tip: Image sizes

As you probably know, 72 dpi is a standard resolution for images and website development. Keep that in mind. You don’t need to upload a 300 dpi image in most cases because you want the image size to be as small as possible so it appears quickly. Users will appreciate it and search engines will favor pages that load fast.

What’s your experience with SEO and image optimization? What practices work well for you and what challenges do you face with your team?

Want to ensure that your content (text and images) is optimized for great results from search engines and your audience? Subscribe to CMI’s free daily newsletter or the weekly digest with exclusive insight from CMI founder Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Mike Murray

Mike Murray has shaped online marketing strategies for hundreds of businesses since 1997, including Fortune 500 companies. A former journalist, he has led SEO studies and spoken at regional and national Internet conferences. Founder of Online Marketing Coach, Mike is passionate about helping clients identify their best opportunities for online marketing success based on their strengths, his advice and industry trends. You can find him at his blog, Online Marketing Matters or on Twitter @mikeonlinecoach.

Other posts by Mike Murray

  • Niraj Raj

    Nice article.. congratulations.. I have been searching for knowledge to get SeO optimised for images.. this article is going to help me a lot.

    • Mike Murray

      Niraj – thanks for taking the time to go through the article. It’s a lot easier to be focused on the images as you prepare them for content rather than trying to fix or improve them after the fact. I wish you well with your strategies.

  • Aaron Booth

    Good points Mike! I have been successful in SEO optimizing my web images for several years. Its one of the overlooked items that can help your content be found and its not hard to do. Our web team has our CMS (Drupal) setup to rename image files (and MP3) automatically based on the title of the post (and the title usually includes those keywords). We incorporate alt tags and image captions/credits as well. We have numerous volunteers posting content to our website (audio messages) and the renaming of files based on post names makes it easier for search and for when a user downloads that file to listen to on their mobile device. Take a little extra time to optimize all of your file names associated with your website (images, mp3, mp4, pdfs, etc…) You might be surprised on the positive outcome for your site.

    • Mike Murray

      Aaron, thanks for the extra insights (sounds like a good model for others).

  • Leo Betancourt

    Great article! Would you recommend keeping an Excel spreadsheet with an image name and its associated keyword copy to maintain a consistent record?

    • Mike Murray

      Leo – glad you liked it.

      Excel does work great. It’s easy to lose track of what you named some images. Mostly, I name images based on the context of each image in relationship to that part of the page. If I’m concerned at all that I’ll have an image that’s virtually the same name as another image, I’ll make an extra effort to add a word that gives the image some distinction (rather than just add -2 to the name). Documenting the image with a keyword or phrase can help. But the main thing is to make sure each SEO element is unique even if there are some common words in the SEO page title, content title, image name, alt attribute, caption, etc.

  • syuloff

    I would love a pdf copy of this article!

    • arcticcircle

      Go to “print” on your computer and there should be an option to save as a pdf (it’s in the bottom left of the window that pops up on a Mac).


    I got paid $104000 in 2016 by freelancing online a­n­d I manage to accomplish that by w­orking in my own time f­­o­­r 3 or sometimes more hours each day. I was following an earning opportunity I came across from company that i found online and I am so thrilled that i made such great money. It’s very beginner friendly a­n­d I am just so happy that i discovered it. Here is what i do… STATICTAB.COM/h8vxywm

  • Mike Murray

    Paula, I would not include the company/brand in every image. But you bring up a good point. Even though brands or product names often rank well, an image could have the product name in it. If there is more than one image on a page, I would shorten the product name on subsequent images and blend in a few related words related to the features, specs, etc.


    I’ve profited 104000 dollars in 2016 by freelancing on-line and I did it by wor­king part time f­o­r 3+ h /day. I’m using a money making model I found online and I am so excited that i earned so much extra income. It’s beginner friendly a­­n­­d I am just so happy that I found out about this. This is what i do… STATICTAB.COM/dntj48t

  • Shefali Deshwali

    Great article! Teaches a lot with little tips.

    • Mike Murray

      Thanks Shefali – I appreciate it.

  • Michael Marks

    I’m going to add another one – optimizing for mobile with the right CSS. How is it a SEO factor? if you believe in usability as a factor for SEO and even if you don’t a site thats images confine themselves to viewing size looks better put together and more likely to be linked to

    • Mike Murray

      Michael – it’s a good, precise point. Numerous factors affect rankings. It’s a combination of technical, on page, off page, etc.


    I was paid 104,000 thousand dollars last year by working from my house a­n­d I manage to accomplish that by w­o­r­k­i­n­g part time f­o­r 3+ hrs on daily basis. I was following a business model I stumbled upon online and I am excited that I was able to earn so much money. It’s user friendly a­n­d I’m just so blessed that I found out about it. Here is what i did… STATICTAB.COM/8cx4rgs

  • paras dhankecha

    great article, thank you

  • ArtistGuy79

    When naming image files, does it matter if you use capitalization? (Kroger-Deli-Bakery-Party-Platters.jpg vs. kroger-deli-bakery-party-platters.jpg)

    • Mike Murray

      I don’t believe it’s an SEO issue. In web development, depending on the server, there has been a concern. I’d stick with lowercase.

      • ArtistGuy79

        It’s quicker/easier for me to type out the names in lowercase. Thank you!

  • Philip

    While creating Alt tags for images use keywords to get more relevant traffic.

  • Satish Veeramani

    I consider many factors with content. One question is: Is there an opportunity for strategic SEO? I just think the time devoted to SEO should be minimized at times.