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How to get useful traffic from image search

There is always a disagreement in the SEO world about the importance of image search traffic. Does it really make a difference? Is it a waste of time that could be better spent focusing on the SEO compatibility of more useful content? The same questions are asked over and over again, and everyone has a different answer.

I tend to ride the fence on the issue. Is it as important as some SEO experts claim, ultimately the final say in your traffic flow? No, I don’t think so. Is it something completely pointless that should be ignored because it won’t make a difference? I don’t think that, either. I believe the answer is less about how effective it is in and of itself, and more about how you are able to make it work for you. In short, image search traffic can be helpful, if you use the right tactics to employ it.

So, how can you get useful traffic from an image search?

Measure The Visits Accurately

The first step is going to be knowing the number of visits generated by a particular image. But Google Analytics does not automatically show image search in their reports, which has given many people the false impression that the visits to images are unimportant. It is merely the lack of ability to sort image traffic from other organic traffic. Hopefully it is a feature worked out by Google in the future.

I have seen a couple of modifications that can be made to Google Analytics using a Javascript code around the web. The most reliable is the one presented by SEOMoz, which will create a new category in reports that filter in traffic brought in from image search. That can then be read separately from organic traffic, and will allow you to start using that data. You can find the code at the end of the article.

Neil Patel also posted a bit of coding to do the same thing on QuickSprout.

Optimizing Images For SEO

Next, we have to do what we would with any content and optimize it for the best search traffic. A process that is slightly different with images than with text, especially since Google started putting image results right on the results page with searches. That moved changed the game a lot, and has made images searches much more viable for traffic driving.

Here are a couple of simple ways to optimize your images:

  • Relevant file names. Your image should describe exactly what the image in question is and shows. If it is a photograph of a red-headed woman with brown eyes looking serious, then name the file “Serious Brown Eyed Red Headed Woman.jpg”, for example.
  • Compress large images. You want your image size to be large, because people are more likely to look at large photos. But you want the storage size to be small and easy to present. So use a compression software that won’t change the actual image size.
  • Use alt tags. I cannot believe how often this is ignored. You have to provide well written and descriptive alt tags if you want to drive traffic, since a search engine cannot view a photo. It only has your tag to go on. For some reason, I have seen a lot of people using images with alt tags that have nothing to do with the image. This is pointless, as obviously the result will come up in a search, but it won’t lead anyone to visit the source.
  • Write unique EXIF data. You might be tempted to just copy your long description and put it in your EXIF data. This is a mistake, as you have the chance to offer plenty more details that might activate further searches. Any information about the picture, such as the date it was taken, the location and the hxw dimensions should go here.

Have any tips for optimizing, measuring or otherwise making search image traffic more useful? Let us know in the comments.



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  1. Mark @ ThinkTraffic says

    Great post Ann.

    We have just started using more images ourselves on our own blog. I guess how worthwhile image search is depends a lot on your niche of course, but you raise a great point that you don’t really know until you measure it.

    So I guess you would recommend installing the tracking and then looking at how much traffic you get from image search and (more importantly) whether that traffic actually stays on your site and interacts?

  2. Derrick Cullen says

    Our web design team regard alt tags as a great way to boost traffic. Take for example the Christmas Period – we had a huge influx of searches which on Google Analytics via image search. Great post.

  3. Alex Pavlov says

    I totally agree with the fact that images should not be neglected when it comes to file name size and alt tags. However image traffic is very industry specific. Depending on what type of website you are marketing you may not get a lot of traffic from images and your efforts will be better rewarded in other areas

  4. Harrissiddler says

    Google Images can drive a surprising amount of traffic to our website or blog and it’s much easier to get good rankings in the Image search results.