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Good-Bad-Ugly-Image-SEOGoogle’s Webmaster Guidelines for the design and content of a website are short but sweet. Containing only 10 bullet points, you can be sure that only the most important aspects of on-page optimization are listed. Yet surprisingly, ALT attributes are mentioned not once, but three times and the last bullet point even includes a link to image guidelines.

With the importance search engines place on image optimization, it is shocking to see how many websites don’t utilize the ALT attribute and have poorly named images.

Below is a quick guide to what I consider the “Big Three” of image SEO best practices.


File Name

All file names should be descriptive and informative. Clearly stating what the image contains and utilizing a keyword or two. Image file names should also use hyphens to separate words, since these are treated as spaces in the major search engines. My personal preference is to also keep it no more than five words.
The Good
The Bad
The Ugly

ALT Text

The ALT attribute should describe the image. Remember, ALT text is not just for search engine optimization but is meant for those who can’t see the image in their browser. In other words, this is NOT your opportunity to stuff every keyword you’ve ever wanted to rank for into your ALT text. For example, Danny Dover recommends keeping ALT text under 140 characters, since anything more than that may appear to be spammy.
The Good
alt=”Big Agnes Fly Creek Ultra light Backpacking Tent”
The Bad
The Ugly
alt=”Backpacking tent, best backpacking tent, ultra light backpacking gear, tent reviews, hiking tents, Big Agnes Fly Creek, two person tent, camping gear, buy outdoor gear, ultra light tents, hiking gear reviews, best camping equipment, best tent for ultra light backpacking”

Surrounding Content

If you would like your image to rank in the image results pages you will want to surround it with relevant content. This becomes apparent if you were to actually perform an image search for the “Big Agnes Fly Creek Tent”. You would be presented with a lot of images of that particular tent and would soon notice that many of those images fall into the Bad and Ugly categories of image SEO. Yet these images are getting indexed because of their surrounding content. If nothing else, this should testify to its importance. Surrounding content should be relevant to the image and provide the search engines with a good idea of what is on the page in general.

The Good

A page has 200 or more words of good quality relevant content. Extra points if you have a caption describing the image.

The Bad

A page with little or no content gives the search engines no context for your images, so getting a photo from a photo gallery page to rank in the image results can be very difficult.

The Ugly

If you want your image of the Big Agnes Backpacking Tent to appear well in the image SERPS, do yourself a favor and don’t place it on a page with content about unicorns and glitter.

Helpful Tools

Checking ALT text and file paths is actually easier then you might think. My favorite tool for this task is the Web Developer browser extension. By choosing “View Image Information” in the “Images” tab you will quickly be able to see every image on a given page with its corresponding ALT attribute and file path.

If you are trying to have your image rank for particular keywords, you can then take the next step of analyzing your surrounding content for relevance. A great tool for this is the SEOmoz On-Page Keyword Optimization tool, which will give your webpage a letter grade for how well it relates to that keyword. You can also have fun with the completely free Latent Dirichlet Allocation tool, which, although in beta, can enable you to see how relevant your text is to keywords.