Image SEO: How to Rank Images on Search Engines

Image SEO - optimize images for search engines

What if I told you that the easiest way to rank for a high competitive keyword is through Image SEO?

Yes, You can rank for any keyword you want by using proper Image optimization techniques.

To rank your image on search engines, particularly in Google, you want to follow some tactics. They are not as hard as normal search engine optimization. Today in this SEO tutorial, I will show you how to rank your beautiful image #1 spot on Google.

Yes, in Google web search, not only Image search.

Curious? OK, Here’s what you will learn at the end of this post.

  • Why Image SEO is so easy to implement.
  • How Image optimization correlates to normal search engine optimization.
  • The variables which decide the rank of your target image.
  • Can Google read the text on images?
  • How to find image keywords that rank your images on Google web search.
  • How to properly optimize images for search engines
  • Tips to increase impressions and CTR

Are you ready to start optimizing images for search engines? If so, let’s start…

Step by step guide: Rank Images on search engines

One of the major sides of your website is Image SEO that most bloggers neglect as they don’t think that images can generate impressions, drive traffic and more sales.

In fact, Image traffic is more targeted than you thought. If you have done it correctly, you can generate hundreds of thousands of impressions to target images of your blog each month and drive thousands of free traffic to blog.

Look at the screenshot below taken from Google Search Console. Some of new posts receive thousands of image impressions just because I have optimized the images for search engines. SEO friendly images.

impressions for images in Google

When your blog have SEO friendly images, you can get free traffic from image search and web search. There are some variables which decide where to rank your image on Google image SERP.

  1. Image file name.
  2. Image ALT text.
  3. Post relevancy.
  4. Target image keywords in body text.

Although there are hundreds of image types, Google doesn’t rank those all images. As an example, even Google+ supports GIF images, Google doesn’t rank GIF images on Google search results.

Another thing is, if you blocked search engine bots from crawling the images, you will not receive traffic from image search. You can block search engines from crawling images using the noimageindex meta tag on your blog. If you want to block images in Blogger, you can use Blogger header tags. Learn more about Blogger Header tags from this Blogger SEO guide. For WordPress users, you can use Yoast SEO plugin to block search engines from crawling images on your blog.

I think you don’t want search engines not to crawl images. You want to get targeted website traffic through images too. Here are the major parts of Image SEO.

Image File name

Image file name is just like your blog post permalink. When you host images on your web server, it gets a unique URL. The image permalink could be changed as your hosting provider, content management system and image permalink settings. Here are a few common image permalinks.

  1. http://cdn.yourblogname.com/files/images/2014/image-name.jpg
  2. http://www.yourblogname.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/my-beautiful-image.png
  3. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-yAZPNtUuOmI/VFguqBEM3VI/AAAAAAAACxw/1c3GJ5zMNQs/s1600/Untitled-2.jpg
  4. http://www.yourblogname.com/files/images/blogging/seo/search-engines/google/google-search-engine-uk-logo.png

Just like in YouTube SEO, in image SEO, source file name is an important ranking factor. The more simple your image permalink is, search engines will find it easily. Look at above fourth image source URL. The image permalink is like a breadcrumb which defines what this image is about.

In other hand, if your blog permalink is more complicated and not descriptive like the example below, search engines may not rank it on search result pages.

  • http://www.myblogname.com/uploads/files/unnames-1.jpg

When Google indexes images, Google looks at the image file name. If your image file name is about search engine optimization and content marketing, you can add more descriptive image file name like this: search-engine-optimization-and-content-marketing-correlation.jpg

Don’t  just upload your images with the name of untitled-1.jpg, example1.png,  photo-12.jpg or DCMAGID52HGF.jpg. They are not seo friendly image permalinks. Takes a few seconds to add a descriptive image permalink.

Exception: When naming images, add a few keywords which will drive more traffic.

Image ALT text

Image ALT text is one of the major elements in <img> tag which defines search engines what the image is about. Search engines index the ALT text. So the more descriptive and keyword rich image ALT text is, your image will rank better on search engines.

Here’s how image ALT tag looks like in source code view.

alt tag html

And here’s what web browsers render when they can’t find the image.

no image

Web browsers show the alternative text (also known as ALT text) in web pages when they can’t find and/or load the image.

You should add the ALT tag for every image you want search engines to rank on search pages.

<img src=”my-beautiful-image.png” alt=”alternative text for search engines”/>

Exception: Make it a habit to add image ALT text to every keyword you add to web pages. 

Post Relevancy

Post relevancy is not a powerful image ranking factor as considering the image ALT text and image file name. However, I still believe that Post relevancy matters to image SEO. A lot. Here is why.

Look at the screenshot below. The post is about how to find email addresses of Blogspot blogs. It is actually a short blog post and includes a few images related to Blogger. But look at image keywords. That post even rank for keywords such as what’s your address, google account forgot password, how to find email password and blogger support.

post relevancy and image keywords

The reason why “blogger” image keyword contributes to 90.69% of image impressions is that the post is about BlogSpot and it includes a Blogger logo with the alternative text of ‘blogger’.

Here’s another example. Pay your close attention to image keywords. This post is all about how to open a virtual US back account online using Payoneer. But I didn’t include keywords such as steps to open a bank account in India, request letter for bank account opening and online bank account opening in ALT and image file names.

us back account online - image keywords - google webmaster tools

The reason why these types of keywords rank for image search is that the post relevancy. The image keywords listed in GWT also include in the body text in the post. So they boost the rank of images.

Exception: Search engines use post relevancy and body text to rank images on SERPs. More in depth your post is, the more chance to rank for more long tail keywords automatically.

Target Keywords in body text

Just like post relevancy, including target image keywords in body text is also an help to boost the image impressions. Look at below screenshot. Pay your attention to PayPal donate button, PayPal buttons for website and PayPal buttons image keywords.

PayPal Donate keywords

Many of these keywords are not in the image file name and image alternative text. But many of them include in the post body. That’s why these images rank for keywords such as paypal donation link url, add paypal donate button to facebook, how to make a donation button and what is a paypal?.

The more in depth and longer your content is, the more chance to rank for more long tail keywords in image search. What you need to do is, add relevant images which describe the content in the post.

Exception: Make sure you added at least one target image to a web page. So the image could rank for more LSI (Latent semantic Intent) keywords and drive more target traffic.

Now you know the important variables which decide the rank of any image. The important thing about Image SEO optimization is that you can outrank authoritative websites easily. Because they also use the same methods to optimize images for search engines.

Next, let’s learn how to optimize your images for search engines. Step by step.

How to Optimize Your Images for Search Engines

In this section I don’t talk with you about how to get images. Instead, I will show you how to optimize images for search engines for better ranking.

As you learned in above, to rank an image better in Google search engine, you have to use the Image ALT tag, image file name and other ranking factors such as post relevancy and body text. The most important thing either Image SEO or content SEO is keyword research.

You should find keywords that people use in Google image search and add them to your post body, image ALT text and image file name. These keywords are also known as Image keywords. When you use more image keywords in your web page, Not only your web page will receive traffic from image search, but also from normal web search.

How to find Image keywords

Now you might think, how do I find target image keywords that will drive traffic to my website. It is so easy to find image keywords. In fact, there are different ways to find image keywords. Here are four effective ways to find keywords for image SEO campaigns.

#1: Ubersuggest.org – Scrape Image Keywords used in Google

Ubersuggest is a powerful keyword research tool to find long tail keywords which people used in Google. The best thing about ubersuggest is that you can find image keywords very easily. Here’s how to find image keywords using ubersuggest keyword research tool.

Step #1: Go to ubersuggest.org and enter your target keyword in the query text box. Choose the target language and filter image keywords. Enter the human verification captcha and click on suggest button.

As an example, I will type “fishing” broad keyword.

fishing - ubersuggest.org

Step #2: I got 327 image keyword suggestions. You can filter your keywords alphabetically as shown in the below screenshot.

327 suggestions found

Remember, you can generate more keywords like this.

fishing image keywords in ubersuggest

I got a handful of lucrative keywords for images. To make sure every keyword is working fine, let’s check these keywords.

Step #3: Head over to the Google homepage and enter your target keyword. In my case, I will enter “fishing equipment pictures” keyword phrase. Here’s what I saw within a few seconds.

fishing equipment pictures keyword in google serp

Ubersuggest is a very useful tool to find image keywords. It’s very easy to use and you will get more long tail keywords, so you can rank target images higher on SERPs for certain keywords.

#2: Google Search Console – Rank for ranking keywords

Obviously, Google Search Console is a goldmine where you can find what are your traffic driving keywords and also what keywords are doing poorly. Here’s how to find exact image keywords which real people use in Google search engine.

Note: To continue with these steps, you must verify your website at Google Search Console.

Step #1: Sign in to your webmaster tools account and go to top search queries web page.

Step #2: Then click on Top pages tab and filter image search. Click on ‘Apply’ button.

Top Pages - GWT

Step #3: Toggle each post section and find high volume and low volume image keywords which drive traffic. As you can see in this screenshot, Images in Tumblr SEO post received 13,347 image impressions within last 30 days. It is not bad as considering still that post is only two months old.

image keywords in Tumblr SEO guide

You can use existing image keywords for your next image file name and alternative text. Make sure they are relevant and you don’t include wrong keywords.

#3: Competitor Analysis

The easiest way to find best keywords is through competitor analysis. You can use SEMrush to spy competitor traffic reports. However, here I will use a free SEO tool called Feed The Bot ALT text tool to find competitor image keywords and image SEO friendliness.

Step #1: First of all, go to Google.com and enter a keyword. You may enter an image keyword to get some image results in Google web result page.

I will enter a long tail image keyword into the Google search box: cooking recipes step by step with pictures

Here’s what I saw when I clicked on the search button.

cooking recipes step by step with pictures keyword in google search

Step #2: I will take the first image to analyze the image status of web pages. It is an old blog post and has a few pictures in the blog post. Next, click on the image and copy the post permalink.

Image source Permalink

Step #3: Go to Feedthebox Image SEO tool and enter the competitor’s post URL. Then click on the “Go” button.

Image SEO tool - Alt text checker

Here’s what I saw when I entered the competitor’s image post permalink.

Image has no alt text!

Webmaster didn’t include the image ALT text and also forget to add some keywords into image name. The reason why this image rank #1 Google for “cooking recipes step by step with pictures” image keyword is that the body text and comment section include the target image keywords.

If you want to rank #1 for this keyword, you can write an article about cooking with step by step instructions and include some images. Then add relevant keywords into the image file name and image alternative text.

Here’s an image which follows the Google image guidelines. Its file name is straightforward and alternative text has 8 words.

complete SEO friendly image

By using this image SEO tool you can analyze your competitors image SEO stats such as what keywords they used in image alternative text and image file name etc.

#4 “Broad keyword” + image, photo, picture, logo, png, jpg

This is one of best ways to rank your image in Google. People often use the terms such as “keyword” + images, photos, pictures and png in search engines. You can use this strategy to add some target image keywords into the image ALT text.

Here’s an example.

inbound marketing - Google search

First of all you need to make sure that Google renders images in web search for target keyword without images, photos and pictures words. “Inbound marketing” is a keyword which Google shows images on the first page.

You can repeat this trick and find awesome image keywords for your blog post images.

Now you have a huge information about how image SEO works and how to find image keywords. The next part is optimizing images for search engines. Here are a few tips to consider when optimizing images for search engines.

Best Practices to optimizing images for search engines.


Tip #1: Use hyphens (-) to specify spaces.

By adding hyphens within words, search engines determine that this is a space. Ex: alt=”cooking-appliances-for-college-students” >> cooking appliances for college students.

If you used underscores, search engines will this there is no spaces. Ex: alt=”seo_friendly_blogger_templates_example” >> seofriendlybloggertemplatesexample

Tip #2: Use title tag to add a short description for people.

By adding the title tag within the img element, you can describe your image for people. Although Title tag is not an image ranking factor, yet it contributes to rank your images indirectly. When people understand what the image is about, they may share it on Pinterest, Google and other social networks. So get more backlinks to image.

Tip #3: Add text in images.

Do you know that Google can read the text in images? Yes, it’s true. Read this article in search engine Journal and this informative article in cognitive SEO to learn how Google understands images and rank it on search engines and Google+.

By adding some helpful text on the image, search engine will not only understand what your image is about, but also people will understand your core message easily.

Tip #4: Include high volume keywords in image alternative text.

The CTR (Click Through Rate) of image search is very low. If you can get a CTR at least 2%, it is very good. Because in a single search result page, hundreds of images complete with your image. Another thing is that people distract seeing more images. You can use high volume keywords that have millions of searches. So even your image rank in the 270 position averagely, you will get more than 10,000 impressions and 600+ clicks in every month.

Tip #5: Describe your image bit more for search engines.

As longer and in depth blog posts rank for more long tail keywords, when you describe your image, search engines will rank your image for more search terms. Don’t be lazy to include some descriptive sentences in the image ALT text.

Tip #6: Let people to share images on social networks especially on Pinterest.

When someone shares your image on social networks, it includes a link back to the image source, to blog posts. When people share your images on Pinterest, it gives valuable backlink that Google follows. In these days, social mentions are like backlinks. If you do not believe, go to Google and search your brand. I’m 100% sure that you will get any social page for your search. It’s the new way that Google rank web pages.

If your blog doesn’t have social sharing plugin, use one of these free social media sharing widgets on your blog. Not only you will get more social shares by adding custom sharing buttons, but also you can track everything, what posts people shared, who you followed and on what network etc.


Images help reduce the bounce rate of your websites. People remember what included in images rather than in the text. Therefore, you should use images in your blog posts. But search engines can’t understand what the images are about without properly optimizing them for search engines.

It’s Image SEO. By using above image SEO strategies, you can drive more traffic from image search. Not only you can rank on image searches, but also for web searches.

So what are other factors that can increase the rank of images? Share your valuable feedback in the comment form.

Chamal Rathnayaka

A blogger, Growth Hacker, and Internet Marketer since 2012. Chamal Rathnayaka is the founder of this very site and he's sharing his experience and knowledge on Internet marketing through Pitiya blog. Send him a message on Pitiya.com/contact.

  • Dalyop Fom says:

    Hi Chamal,

    Thank you for your wonderful posts.

    These are rich articles I have found quite simple to understand, and my wish for you is to keep on doing such good works.

    I am a newbie and why not, getting in touch with you (an expert), in a vast internet field is hard to come by, especially breaking down material into very simple and easy to grasp articles like yours.

    I hope to continue following you in my quest to know more.
    Thank you,
    Dalyop From

  • Alex Romanov says:

    Thank you for your detailed blog post! I have a quick question: i’m working in wordpress admin and when optimizing an image the permanent link can’t be same as the link to the page with the relevant content. So in that case if the image ranks high in search engine and a user clicks on it, he will be directed not to the page he should be, but instead to the page which will show the image only? What am I missing? thanks

    • No, Google rank images based on the relevancy (that’s why you cannot find inappropriate results in image SERPs) and once the user click on the visit page on the search engine result page, he/she will be redirected to the web page where Google has found and indexed the particular image.

      Hope this explains your question. Please reply to this comment if you have any more question.

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