How to Drive Google Image Search Traffic That's Actually Relevant


My personal blog gets a lot of traffic through Google Image Search. In fact, two of my top 10 organic keyword referrers are “jeff bridges” and “young jeff bridges,” thanks to a post in which I ask the age-old question, who’s the ultimate in “cocky-hot,” a young Jeff Bridges or James Spader circa Pretty in Pink? (Scientists have not yet reached consensus on this issue.)

Google Image Search

Well, traffic is traffic, right? Meh – maybe for a blog that has no real business goals. But let’s pretend for a second that I am running a business and have goals to reach. As such, there are a few problems with this traffic:

  • It’s irrelevant – People who search Google Images for pictures of Jeff Bridges don’t really care what I have to say, about Jeff Bridges or otherwise probably – they just want to look at Jeff Bridges, or maybe they want to find a picture of him to use on their own site. My blog isn’t about Jeff Bridges or movies or acting or celebrities at all.
  • It bounces/doesn’t come back – Once visitors get what they came for and realize that I don’t deliver an endless stream of Jeff Bridges pics, they are unlikely to bookmark my site and put it into their regular reading rotation.

Sometimes people use image search because they just want to steal your cute cat pictures and put them on their own blogs. But sometimes, people are genuinely looking for information (or products) that can be represented visually.

If you’re running a business site/blog, you should always be thinking about how you can build a return audience with your content. If people find your site and convert right away, great! Have a Hershey’s kiss. But often with content marketing, the goal is to form a new relationship, to nudge the prospect down the funnel and one step closer to eventually becoming a customer. So you want most of your visitors, even new visitors who find you through a Google search, to be relevant to your business.

With that in mind, here are three ways you can optimize images in your content marketing to maximize your Google image search traffic.

Think of Google Image Search as an Easy Win

Several months ago we made a conscious effort to better optimize our site for Google image search rankings. Notice the strong upward trend in traffic from image searches:

Google Image Search Referral Traffic

The bounce rate for this traffic is also relatively low – in fact it’s lower than our site average. (To look at your own Google image search numbers in Analytics, go to Traffic Sources -> Sources -> Referrals, then click on, then /imgres.)

It’s often easier to drive traffic through image search or video search than plaid old regular search – in part because there’s less competition and in part because the competition is less likely to be properly optimized. So think of image search as an easy win. If you play your cards right you can start to drive traffic from image search pretty quickly. The trick is making sure that traffic is relevant and valuable. That brings us to our next section.

Create Visual Content that Speaks to Leads

When trying to create content that ranks for your SEO keywords, it’s always a good idea to start with those keywords, rather than writing whatever and forcing keywords into your content after the fact. Similarly, when optimizing for image search, start with keywords and go from there.

Many keywords lend themselves naturally to visual content, but almost any kind of content can be enhanced with images. “How to” keywords are especially conducive to image-heavy content, because it’s often easier to illustrate a process than simply explain it. (This is why some build-it-yourself furniture comes with instructions that are all diagrams, no language.) How-to keywords are also great for driving highly relevant long-tail traffic, and when you can provide the perfect answer to a question, you increase your chances of converting that visitor to a customer later on.

Here are some examples of how you can create visual content to support how-to keywords for different business types:

Optimizing for Google Images Search

In all these examples, you’re going after traffic that is highly relevant to your business, and you’re using images to help you attract and keep that traffic. The thinking is, even for informational keywords like this that might not directly lead to a sale, you’re raising awareness of your brand and positioning yourself as an authority on the topic at hand. This can only help you down the line. (Hint: Look for opportunities to capture some lead information, for example by prompting blog visitors to sign up for your email list, so you can nurture them with targeted offers. Or set up a remarketing campaign in AdWords, so those visitors continue to see your display ads for the next month or so. If they were looking for information in your field, they may need more help, in the form of products or services, in the near future.)

So how do you make sure that your images show up in the Google results for your target keywords? I was just getting to that!

Use Image File Name and Tags to Your Advantage

A lot of sites don’t properly optimize their images, whether from laziness or ignorance, which makes it easier for you to step in and outrank them. Our internal tests suggest that optimized images actually improve your rankings in regular web search, too.

Google can’t “read” your images yet (and still no flying cars!), so you need to use the text that surrounds the image to tell Google what the picture is “about.” To optimize your images for Google image search, there are two main elements you need to focus on:

  • The image file name – When you save your images, use file names that describe the photo and are optimized for the keyword set you’re targeting. In the “how to dress for a job interview” example above, you might save a picture as “mens-suit-for-job-interview.jpg” – notice that this is readable, descriptive text, compared to some meaningless string of numbers like “IMG0009.jpg”
  • The alt attribute – When you code an image into your site, you can use the alt attribute to describe the image in text. If someone’s browser won’t display the image, they’ll see the alt text instead. Google can also crawl the alt text to learn what the image looks like. This is a good place to put one of your keywords – ideally, the keyword will actually describe the image accurately! The HTML might look like this: img src="/mens-suit-for-job-interview.jpg%20" alt="job interview appropriate suit". Or you can add it via your content management system – here’s what the field looks like in Drupal:

Alternative Text for Image Search

Secondary elements that could also influence your rankings are the text near the images/on the same page (the caption, surrounding text) and anchor text in links that point to the image or the page with the image.

Remember to apply your keyword research here – your file names and alt attributes should describe the images you’re using, but your choices should also be driven by your SEO goals. If you’re targeting a keyword like “email marketing guide” and all your images are cute cat photos, you’re not really maximizing the relevance factor. Also remember that ads/banners are images – if you’re using display creative on your web pages, don’t forget to optimize those too.

Finally, make sure your images aren’t ugly, distorted, slow to load, or otherwise unwieldy. Here are Google’s recommendations for keeping images user-friendly:

  • Good-quality photos appeal to users more than blurry, unclear images. In addition, other webmasters are much more likely to link to a good-quality image, which can increase traffic to your website. Crisp, sharp images will also appear better in the thumbnail versions we display in our search results, and may therefore be more likely to be clicked on by users.
  • Even if your image appears on several pages on your site, consider creating a standalone landing page for each image, where you can gather all its related information. If you do this, be sure to provide unique information—such as descriptive titles and captions—on each page. You could also enable comments, discussions, or ratings for each picture.
  • Not all users scroll to the bottom of a page, so consider putting your images high up on the page where it can be immediately seen.
  • Consider structuring your directories so that similar images are saved together. For example, you might have one directory for thumbnails and another for full-size images; or you could create separate directories for each category of images (for example, you could create separate directories for Hawaii, Ghana, and Ireland under your Travel directory). If your site contains adult images, we recommend storing these in one or more directories separate from the rest of the images on your site.
  • Specify a width and height for all images. A web browser can begin to render a page even before images are downloaded, provided that it knows the dimensions to wrap non-replaceable elements around. Specifying these dimensions can speed up page loading and improve the user experience. For more information about optimizing your images, see Optimizing Web Graphics on the site Let's Make the Web Faster.

By following these tips, you should see an increase in your Google image search traffic – and it will be quality traffic you can actually capitalize on.

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Larry Kim
Jan 23, 2013

nice thumbnail. i bet that will increase CTR a bit.

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 23, 2013

Pretty hot, right?

Jan 24, 2013

Yes you are saying right..

Rank Watch
Jan 24, 2013

CTR conversion depends a lot on the quality. And nowadays we are seeing pretty much improvement in the use of infographics, which really is a boost for Google image search rankings and so a great push forward. And also, Google has really improved a lot its image search tool which will benefit the quality infographic contents.

Scotch Macaskill
Mar 15, 2013

I'm intrigued by Samir's comment, viz:Pre Google image search change- Clicking on an image in google search opens it in the foreground- The originating page is loaded in the background- + 1 page view from imgres referrer for the background page load- if someone clicks on Visit Page it is + 1 organic search ?- Net resultant page views for original page +2 (one from imgres background load and one from Visit Page click)Post Google image search change- Clicking on an image in google search opens it in results page / its own frame ?- No originating page load in the background- No + 1 from imgres since page not loaded yet- If someone clicks on visit page it is + 1 from organic search ?- Net resultant page views for original page 1 (one from visit page click)I might be entirely wrong here :-)I've only heard this explanation once before, but never found any definitive proof. If it's true, then surely it's a big deal?It means traffic from search has NOT dropped as drastically as many say, because much of the traffic from the old image search was, in a sense "fake", i.e. a page view was reported even though the page was only showing in the background and the visitor never visited the actual page.It also means, for image-rich sites, that visitor stats have been drastically skewed, ie we thought we were getting a lot more page views than was actually the case. Could this also have been affecting advertisers paying per thousand impressions?There's been an enormous amount of discussion about massive traffic losses following the changes to Google image search, yet if Samir's theory is correct, this discussion is pointless as much of the traffic was fake - your originating page showed in the background, but the visitor never opened it.I hope someone can show this theory is wrong, or at least my interpretation of it, as would much prefer to know  that I have lost real traffic via image search, i.e. it's not just a statistical aberration due to false reporting.

Mar 03, 2014

Thanks for this post!!, you save my life!

jery jhon
Jan 11, 2014

Excellent tips

Spook Seo
Dec 04, 2013

In order to get the relevant images that we want we should know the accurate keywords to use. This article is good beacuse it showed example how to narrow down keywords that we should use. Example: as discussed in the article for a recruitment firm category keywords should be "how to dress for an interview" as it well automatically show different styles of appropriate dress code for an interview. Also it gave us idea on how to drive relevant traffice through image search.

prashant saxena
May 04, 2013

Its true, images can really get you good traffic. I get arround 15% traffic from google image search results...

Greg Shuey
Mar 05, 2013

This is probably the most thorough post I've read in a long time about image optimization and how to drive relevant traffic via image search.Creating visual content that speaks to leads is probably the most crucial part of this post.Thanks for putting this together!

Mar 08, 2013

Great article! Thanks again!

Careson Answers
Feb 22, 2013

Great post! webmasters should up their game and pay attension to image search rather than concerntrating on their blog content. As you have indicated above, creating visual content  that speaks to the leads will also depend on the right keywords you use.

Feb 21, 2013

Elisa - You are spot on as far as driving traffic based on images are concerned. It is a great way to increase traffic flow, even after the recent change by google. It looks like the change by google was to optimize the viewing of the images by removing the needless page load in the background when an image is clicked. This extra page load, which is now killed by google, is probably what people are seeing as a drop in imgres traffic. The image should still drive a click through to the originating page if the image is relevant enough, but will be attributed as organic as Victor suggests.To sum it up this is what I believe is happening with the drop in numberPre Google image search change- Clicking on an image in google search opens it in the foreground- The originating page is loaded in the background- + 1 page view from imgres referrer for the background page load- if someone clicks on Visit Page it is + 1 organic search ?- Net resultant page views for original page +2 (one from imgres background load and one from Visit Page click)Post Google image search change- Clicking on an image in google search opens it in results page / its own frame ?- No originating page load in the background- No + 1 from imgres since page not loaded yet- If someone clicks on visit page it is + 1 from organic search ?- Net resultant page views for original page 1 (one from visit page click)I might be entirely wrong here :-)

Feb 21, 2013

excellent tips.. thnx for posting

Hemanth Malli
Feb 18, 2013

Nice share !! Optimizing a picture and getting traffic through it .. interesting. I wil try this. Thanks for the insightful post !!

Victor Pan
Jan 23, 2013

Here's a geeky SEO add-on - don't name your Image_Files_With_Underscores. Google will process it as a whole and not individual keywords.To all old-school folks who are used to naming your files with underscores, it's time to use dashes :)Bonus: Don't forget that Google will draw on text around the image to form context on what the image is about!

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 23, 2013

Good tip, though it seems bizarre that Google can't figure out underscores.

Feb 01, 2013

I find this weird too

Jan 23, 2013

thanks for a tip! I had done in fact all the time! :(

Jan 24, 2013

No problem Rolands. I should clarify that this is the case with Google. I'm not sure about Bing! or other search engines.Google is aware of this problem... it's just that there hasn't been any engineer who came up and said that they wanted to fix it. Ping me if you ever get a lot of image search traffic from those images and we can announce a grand SEO discovery ;)Or... just go back and optimize them (recommended)

Steve Masters
Jan 23, 2013

Of course it's worth noting that it's illegal to just grab images and use them on your site without the copyright holder's permission.

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 24, 2013

Most of the images on our site are screenshots we take ourselves. Another option is to search Flickr for photos with a Creative Commons license, or buy stock photos.

Danilo Petrozzi
Jan 24, 2013

Even if it is a hard seo strategy, Google image searches is a good traffic opportunity

Jan 24, 2013

Copyright is a tricky matter. If it's not enforced by the copyright holder, then the copyright holder has less of a claim to their intellectual property rights. For the most part, that's what happens on the web.To make it even more complex, there are many cases where is considered "fair use" - the better you know your copyright law, the better you will be in assessing which images cannot be reused, which images can, and which images can as long as you use them correctly. For businesses, it's a matter of risk vs reward.If there's significant interest, I'd be more than willing to flash it out with real-life examples... and maybe a few court cases for you to impress your friends :)

Jun 24, 2015

Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog
and I'm impressed! Very useful info specially the
last part :) I care for such info a lot. I was looking for this particular info for a long time.
Thank you and good luck.

Steve Lockwood
Jan 24, 2013

Thanks for this post! It's crucial these days for companies to stay up to date on the latest online marketing techniques. The other day, a friend of mine was looking for volusion designers to help get his website going. This helps! Thanks!

Jan 26, 2013

Great read! I'd wager most people aren't even thinking about image search, but a great way to get some traffic.

Internet marketing services
Jan 27, 2013

This is a very interesting way of driving traffic.  YOu can get a lot of visitors this way, and it's visual.

Essay Papers
Jan 28, 2013

Thank you for sharing these tips with us but me am of the opinion that it all comes down to yuor particular niche. There are some fields where you would not expect someone to search an image in that category. For example I am in essay paper writing field and surely I would not expect someone to search an image under any keyword related to essay writing. But I would welcome any respense to my perception of this. Thank you.

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 28, 2013

Sometimes images show up in the general search results, and they can be eye-catching and clickable. How about an image of an essay outline?

Pitzer Answers
May 27, 2013

Just seen your comment about how one can incorporate an image in the field of essay writing. I would want to add more wait into what you have said. I am in the field of essay writing and the images we put online are more on the samples. I have noted that these images appear on the first page in google  and customers do not have a problem clicking on them. For instance, A search on Google on the key phrase: LITERATURE REVIEW SAMPLE, Gives results, and images are part of this. This is a good strategy that can be applied by anyone. Thank you.

Web Developers NSW
Jan 28, 2013

Excellent post here Elisa! Very informative and useful points. This strategies are of great help in increasing gogle image traffic. Great share!!!

Jan 28, 2013

Great advice here, It makes sense. I still think image search is a reitivly easy way to genarate traffic because it's easy to compete. Image results are far less competative, but at the same time converting that traffic into profit isn't easy... 

Lauren from Powered by Search
Jan 28, 2013

I love the post! It seems to point back to a topic that has been on the forefront of many discussions in our office for the past six months: Content is key! Creating and disributing and image is valueable for driving traffic if it can fulfill a useful need of a user.  Perhaps this is why infographics have sky rocketed within the last year. I think using straight images may be a more meaningul way to communicate information now that infographic noise is on the rise!

Jan 29, 2013

Thank you for the tips

Paleo Diet
Jan 29, 2013

Hey Elisa, I too have a blog which images are a big part of the site. You made a very good point about once visitors take your image they never come back to the blog. I took your advice and put all my effort in creating the most engaging content to build a returning audience. Also, thanks for the tips for SEO on images, my traffic has definitely been on the rise!

Jan 30, 2013

Too true. When running a site or blog it is so important to post content that will encourage people to return and become engaged. Images are great. useful/relevant images is key.

Feb 03, 2013

Is good article but Google change the Image search and the traffic from google image search is drop down! Sad but true!

Ry Bacorn
Feb 06, 2013

This is a great article, but Google Image search just changed and has impacted several site I work on, some lossing as much at 70 week over week. That being the case, what might we do now to help drive the traffic to our site? The traffic to our sites in the past where clearly not as engaged as a "visit" might suggest. The UX is better, but when we don't get traffic for it, what are we to do? 

Elisa Gabbert
Feb 06, 2013

Ry, sorry to hear you're losing your image traffic -- the change went into effect shortly after we published this. We'll try to do a followup post or update this one soon.

Victor Pan
Feb 07, 2013

 Hi Ry,You're spot on about the new image search. We've been impacted as well and we're investigating whether traffic is down because:1. Users can now see the image and description and no longer have an incentive to visit our website.OR2. There is traffic misattribution in Google Analytics. Maybe our traffic is somehow going to organic/directUntil then, there's 3 things I know you can do to protect yourself, at your own risk.1. Leverage PPC to make up for the lost leads from SEO.2. Start lead generating campaigns with social media and photo-sharing websites. Pinterest and flickr come into mind - if you can build a presence and set the rules clear for your community, they'll visit your website.3. Plan an alternative business model for your website, as chances are the New Image Search is here to stay.In addition, advanced image search has also been changed. Change is always tough, but we'l be here for you!

Ry Bacorn
Feb 14, 2013

Thanks Victor,Your tips are insightful and a good place to start working on solutions. I will check back here frequently to see if there are any further developments. Thanks again! 

Victor Pan
Feb 27, 2013

Hi Ry,Developments have been pretty straightforward - the new Google Image Search decreased overall image search volume for all websites. Our average ranks for our images didn't change, but traffic did, which means that our traffic dropped because of the new format - less people are clicking into the site to access the full image. There were no code changes on those dates, so the symptoms match.Google's New Image Search Traffic Drops 80%: this helps!

Nov 11, 2016

How do I get people to land on the page containing the image rather than the JPG itself?

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