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SEO for images. Are your images at the top of searches?

Posted on 21st July 2017 in .  So far there are 2 comments

If you are reading this then the chances are you have a website yourself and you care about your content being found by others.

You've probably read a lot about good practice in designing your pages, but have you thought about your images/graphics and how they can be optimised for good SEO?

A quick summary of what I will cover:

  • SEO for images?  What's that?
  • On-page factors for improving image SEO
  • What is image metadata?
  • Metadata use in practice - Photodeck, Photoshelter, Zenfolio and SmugMug

SEO for images? What's that?

In short, making sure your images are discovered by the search engines.

As photographers we want to sell and licence images, right? Even if you don't want to sell them (why not?) you probably want others to admire your work. This means getting your images found when people search for specific terms and keywords.

Sometimes, images are just part of the content (in fact for good SEO they should be) and the page as a whole is the focus of the SEO efforts. More of that in the next section.

But what if your main content is images themselves? As a photographer, or any creative artist, your graphics are your product and you want them to be found, indexed and to show up in search results for your chosen keywords. That is how your product, whatever it might be, gets seen and this is where we need to consider SEO for images!

Every photographer, artist of graphic designer has different income streams from their work. Some will do extremely well by word of mouth, others will get most of their sales from an established email list or other means of direct marketing to existing leads or customers. Event photographers might get most of their visits from a link on social media, linking to their latest event gallery. These are all great funnels to your fantastic content. So how about some extra leads from complete strangers who might be searching the web for something you happen to do? Search engines are great for breaking down international boundaries, and for getting leads who might never have seen your work before it was online.

My customers convert in different ways at different times of the year. In the spring and summer months I am mostly on commission, either commercial or editorial, and so the fee is agreed up front and paid after delivery to the client. The latter is often exclusive content so not relevant to this post. However, from from late summer to spring the following year my income is from photography of equestrian sporting events, several times a week. I publish the images, select an image as a teaser and post a link on social media. This works for me but the sales tend to be completed in the week which follows, or certainly within a month or so.

Wouldn't it be great, though, if that content, which I made some immediate sales from some time ago, carried on selling into the future, to clients who weren't even at the event?

Here are my analytics for the first six months of 2017:

User acquisition by channel during 2017
User acquisition by channel during 2017

As you can see from this screenshot, most of the visitors to my photography galleries come from Organic Search, i.e. people using search terms which lead them to my site, either from the default search engine results, or from specific image searches.

About 1% of these are searching for my name, or variations of my name, company name and the words "photo" or "images". Another larger chunk are labelled by Google Analytics as "not provided" because the search strings are encrypted by Google. But, here's the thing: I don't care. I don't mind as long as they end up on my website and spend some time there looking around and hopefully licensing something!

I'm pleased to report that in my niche market of equestrian photography the SEO for images techniques I describe here result in my individual images appearing at or near the top of Google image searches. This means that if a commercial client wants an image of one of their sponsored horses or riders and Googles their name then there is a good chance that some of the images they see will be mine. Of course, that doesn't guarantee a sale but if I provide a quality product then it often does. Likewise if a publication anywhere in the World is looking for a specific horse and rider combination in action and search for it, I am often on their list of results.

So how do we go about doing this?

On-page factors for improving SEO for images

This post isn't about on-page SEO (phew!). There are thousands of articles, e-books, and YouTube videos about on-page SEO and you probably have a pretty good idea what you are doing about yours.

In a nutshell, make sure you have considered the following, before we move on to improving your SEO for images:

  • Sensible page URLs and site structure (e.g.
  • Keywords and Business name
    • Page Title (up to 60 characters) - this is the bit the metadata does for us later on
    • Website Meta Description (up to 160 characters) - forget Meta Keywords!  This is also done automatically by the metadata in the last section
    • Headings and sub-headings: H1, H2, H3 tags
    • Elsewhere in page content but not excessive - This is also done automatically by the metadata in the last section
  • Article content which is 600 words long or more
  • Site Speed - more on improving your site speed in a separate post, coming soon
  • Mobile browsing friendliness
  • Original content
  • Inclusion of images and other media
  • XML sitemap (and no crawl errors!)
  • Internal and external links

There are also a couple of on-page factors which are particularly important for graphics:

  • filenames - make sure you filename describes the graphic e.g. border-collie-dog.jpg rather than DSC1234.jpg
  • alt tags - make sure your graphics include an alt tag which help to describe the image. In your HTML your image tag should be something like <img src="border-collie-dog.jpg" alt="image of Border Collie dog" />

What is image and video metadata?

Metadata is defined as: a set of data that describes and gives information about other data.

Put simply, it is information which is probably not visible to the naked eye but which describes what you are looking at.

In the case of photographs and video, every image file contains some information which describes the image. This data is machine-readable as well as viewable by humans and this is why it can be so important for the SEO of images.

Photo and video metadata can be divided into two distinct types:

  • EXIF metadata - information about how the photograph was taken: when it was taken, the exposure used, camera user etc. This metadata is less important for SEO as it is generally included at the time of taking and unless it is specifically removed it will always be there.
  • IPTC metadata  - The International Press Telecommunications Council have outlined other metadata which can be included with images or video such as titles, captions, location, creator and copyright information. This is the important stuff because it is not embedded within your photos and videos unless you add it!

Adding IPTC data to your photos and video

News photographers know all about IPTC data because it was created with them in mind. It provides a means for the photographer or videographer to describe the content they are filing to the picture desk, where they might not know what they are looking at.

IPTC data is added in your editing software. I will outline here how you can add it from within Lightroom, as this seems to be one of the most commonly used software packages for editing images. It can also be done in Photoshop, Camera Bits Inc's Photo Mechanic and many other editing packages. The principles are very similar in each case.

If you would like to know how I use my workflow to add IPTC metadata at import, using time-saving techniques, have a look at my post about SEO worflow using Photo Mechanic.

First of all we need to be in the Lightroom Library module, selected from the Menu in the top right of the standard Lightroom interface:

Adobe Lightroom Module Menu

Once in the Library Module we are going to use the Metadata panel on the left hand side of the screen.

Now we select the IPTC metadata within that panel:

Adobe Lightroom metadata type dropdown

For more detailed information about what should go in each section you can refer to the IPTC Field Reference Guide (opens in a new window).

At the top of the Metadata panel is the Keywords section:

Adobe Lightroom Keywords Metadata panel

Keywords are very important if you are submitting your images to a picture agency or for editorial use. It enables people to search through a catalog of images and find the relevant ones for a particular keyword e.g. dogs.

Click where it says "Click here to add keywords" and add relevant keywords, separated by commas. Don't go mad as keywords may or not have much bearing on your SEO, more of that in the next section.

The next section is for creator contact details. Whilst this will not be very useful for SEO you should add this anyway, as it embeds your information into the image file and helps to prevent the images becoming an "orphan". A potential client who comes across you image out of context and wants to find out who created it can find this information in the file and get in touch.

It is best to select all the images from a batch and then fill these fields in so they apply to all of them.

Adobe Lightroom Creator metadata

The Content, Image, Status and Copyright sections below this are very important sections:

Adobe Lightroom Content Metadata

This is the metadata which can really help your SEO if you use it properly. It should be individual and unique for each image if possible, although it might be very similar.

  • Headline - The IPTC defines this as follows, "A headline is a brief synopsis or summary of the contents of the photograph. Like a news story, the Headline should grab attention, and telegraph the content of the image to the audience. Headlines need to be succinct. Leave the supporting narrative for the Description field". e.g. A border collie dog
  • Description - defined as "The Description field, often referred to as a ‘caption’ is used to describe the who, what (and possibly where and when) and why of what is happening in the photograph. It can include people’s names, their role in the action, the location. Geographic location details should also be entered in the Location fields. The amount of detail included will depend on the image and whether the image is documentary or conceptual. Typically, editorial images come with complete caption text, while advertising images may not." e.g. Rutland, England. A black and white border collie dog jumps to catch a tennis ball while taking part in the dog show at Littlebury Country Fair, 18th July 2017.

Having entered these for all my individual images I then select the whole batch again and apply the geographical data in the image section to all the images which were created in the same place. The ISO Country Code for the UK is GBR, out of interest.

Finally, to protect your images, make sure you choose "Copyrighted" from the Copyright Status dropdown and enter what you would like to appear in any copyright caption in the Copyright field e.g. © Nico Morgan Media. You can also include the URL of your Rights Usage Terms and Conditions if they are available online.

OK, so that wasn't all relevant to your image SEO but it was good practice anyway. Lightroom allows you to create presets of metadata which you apply in one click. Mine includes all the creator and copyright information which applies to all my images and saves a lot of typing!

Metadata use in practice - Photodeck, Photoshelter, Zenfolio and SmugMug

If you are uploading your images to the web then the usefulness of the metadata you have longingly added depends a lot on the platform you are using to display your images.

If you are just including images in a blog using WordPress then IPTC metadata is not really relevant as you will be choosing your page title and meta description from within the WordPress backend (don't forget your captions, descriptions and alt tags though).

However, if like a lot of photographers you are uploading batches of images to an online gallery then you are probably using a specialist photography platform which facilitates e-commerce and organising folders into an appropriate hierarchy. These platforms include Photodeck, Photoshelter, Zenfolio and Smugmug among many others.

This is where it gets good (finally, I hear you mutter).

When you bulk upload images to any of these platforms (and probably many other ones) the metadata you added gets used automatically. You might create the gallery folder yourself and give it an appropriate title and description but each and every one of the images you upload to that gallery needs a title and description and you have already provided them within the IPTC metadata.

Here is a real-world example. A gallery on my website of images from Burghley Horse Trials 2016.

A Photodeck gallery showing thumbnails and description

The Title - Cross Country, and Description - The cross country phase of Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2016, are both entered by hand but the images were all uploaded directly from Lightroom and I don't want to have to add all those Titles and Descriptions individually! Luckily I entered them in Lightroom metadata first - much easier and quicker using presets - so I don't need to.

If I click on a thumbnail to expand it I get this page, which I have magnified to show you that the Title (and Description, not visible) of the page has populated automatically from my IPTC metadata. Because I use Photodeck the keywords have also been populated into the content of the page too, with automated links to a search for that keyword too:

Individual image from Photodeck gallery with Meta Title showing

And the results of all this work are that if someone searches for Arthur Duffort on Google, four of my images are in the top two rows of the results, including the one used as an example. Not bad.

Google results for Arthur Duffort

So, in summary, if you add a lot of image to the web then this metadata is very important for your SEO of those images. As I pointed out earlier there are other factors to consider as well but the automation of Title and Description metadata to individual image or video pages is a major part of that.

Good luck with your metadata wrangling. Please feel free to comment if you have anything to add or discuss.

Get your images found by search engines
Get your images found by search engines and sell them!
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About Nico

I am an equine photographer, website designer and hosting provider living in Lincolnshire.

I work with clients who are sole traders and others which are FTSE companies. They are equally important to me.

If you need commercial photography, editorial photography, event photography, lifestyle, equestrian or wedding photography, then I can help you, with over 30 years experience in these areas.

I also teach photography. I mentor photographers with a range of experience, from beginners to working professionals and run an equine photography course which gives members access to articles about the business of equestrian photography.

I have a varied set of skills, having worked for well known web design and web analytics companies in parallel to my photography.

I design, host and maintain websites for clients as varied as farms, interior designers and equestrian centres, as well as for bloggers and sportspeople, including many riders.

I am the Public Relations Officer for the Midlands Point-to-Point Association, a role which utilises my PR and social media skills to promote horse racing both online and in the National press.

If you think that I could be the right person to help you, whatever your project, then please get in touch and we can discuss what you need and the ways in which I can help.

You can find out more about me here.
Photographer in Lincolnshire | Leicestershire Photographer | Web Design Lincolnshire | Web Design Leicestershire | SEO Lincolnshire | Commercial Photographer

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