Natural Search Blog

Need more traffic? Try Image Search Optimization

With all the focus on optimization of textual page content and near-obsessive concentration on text-oriented web search engine results pages (“SERPs”), most webmasters and SEOs neglect an area of their potential repertoire which could provide a lot of benefit to their site and business: image search optimization.

One aspect of effective optimization is to keep your eyes open for all the various avenues for referral traffic which can convert to a sale on your site. Depending upon the products or services you offer, it may be very valuable to consider the possibilities of optimizing for the Image Search utilities offered by the various search engines. Even if your site isn’t a product or services website, if you’re looking to increase organic referral traffic, optimizing for image search could work well for you. Read on and I’ll explain…

Image Search utilities are built to allow users to find images by keyword. It’s maybe not widely known, but Image Search features comprise a significant and growing portion of the traffic of the major search engines. In an article about Google in Newsweek Magazine by Adi Ignatius (“In Search of the Real Google”, February, 2006 issue), it’s mentioned that Sergey Brin and Larry Page were recently considering a proposal from some of their engineers to attach sponsorship ads to Google Image search result pages. The developers proposing this concept provided metrics and projections indicating that the ads would be very profitable – to the tune of $80 million – but Brin and Page apparently declined the proposal out of concerns that the impact to users’ experience would be too negative. Obviously, there’s a lot of user search traffic happening in that section of their search engine. That story highlights the fact that traffic for the Google Image search is significant and could be monetarily beneficial to other websites who key into the possibilities.

In the recent launching of’s (formerly, “AskJeeves”) new user-interface which was presented during Barry Diller’s keynote at the SES Conference this spring in NYC, the Ask teams added a toolbar to the right of their search form in an effort to expose and highlight various of their specialized search interfaces, including local search, weather maps, news, and – you guessed it, Image Search. Image Search was displayed at the top of their list, right after web search, in fact, further underscoring the importance that they credit to that feature.

Think about it: each of the top search engines have carefully studied what features are desired by users on their sites, and their most-used and most-useful utilities are presented most prominently in their user interfaces based upon that research. All the top search engines have a tab, link or button to their image searches placed prominently on their sites, in very close proximity to their main search boxes – Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask, and AOL.

Based on these observations, Image Search may be the second-most valuable source for search referral traffic, after the traditional Web Search so if you ignore it you may be ignoring something that can give you great bang for your buck.

At this point you may be thinking, “okay, great – Image Searches have a lot of traffic because people like looking at pix, but how does that actually help our site?” There is a lot of untapped potential here, because there are various reasons why people may be searching for images. Yes, there is a difference of intention between users of the regular web search and the image search, but depending on your industry, types of products and keywords, there can be great referral potential.

Here’s some possible scenarios:

Another reason to take image search seriously is that you may be seeing more and more of it appearing within the traditional web search results, as Google and others have been working to integrate and expose their different types of search results within their main web search results pages. For instance, searching for “Winona Ryder” on Google, you can now see three pictures of Winona at the top of the search results:

Some other search engines have done this cross-pollination of search types as well, like Yahoo and Ask, particularly if you include the words “picture of” with your keyword search. They’re working to expose their other search features within their primary search results pages wherever possible, so look forward to this happening more and more.

So, for some types of keyword searches, the sites which have optimized images may appear first, in the most-desirable location above the traditional results listings. Everyone knows that occupying the real estate at the top of the search results pages is highly advantageous since that’s where users look first (see Stephan’s blog entry about the widely-cited Eye-Tracking Study). If you optimize your images well, your pictures and links to your site could appear in that desireable hotspot when images are presented there.

Here’s a list of elements which you should consider and use in optimizing the images on your site:

So, give this potential referral traffic source a try and optimize your images towards being found and preferred by the search engines. This isn’t rocket science – it’s pretty simple! There are three basic steps to get going: (1) Display images on your site related to your subject focus areas; (2) Optimize how you’ve implemented your images to highlight keywords appropriate for them; and (3), Analyze and adjust your optimization of the images after they’ve been spidered to maximize the kind of user traffic that converts for you.

Please post a comment and let me know if you found this posting useful!

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