Google Image Search Could be Key in Your SEO Strategy

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Sophie Monks

Senior Social Specialist

And if image search doesn’t feature in your SEO strategy, get ready to amend it.

Something that has been on our radar for a little while now is images and their correlation with search engine Google, and now that the chatter on this particular topic is on the rise in our SEO and PPC communities we wanted to share what we’ve found because we have reason to believe they’re about to become increasingly more important to search engine optimisation.

Imagery has always been important in paid media, especially Display Advertising or Shopping Ads, and with Google introducing more and more ad types to exploit with a focus on images (gallery ads for example), we’re already seeing hints that imagery is about to become more prevalent.

And all of a sudden, it’s snowballed.

We’ve kept a keen eye on the developments since John Mueller’s announcement (a Google Webmaster Trend Analyst) at the beginning of the year (January 2019) that bigger changes will be coming to Google Image search this year. Instead of relying on the image optimisation techniques that SEOs have been for the past two decades, it was emphasised that we’d need to begin thinking differently about image search when the “bigger changes” roll out.

But as cryptic as ever, John kept his comments as sparse as possible.

It was hinted that images will be used for more transactional, educational and as a search tool for more and more people, stating that people are no longer just searching for images to include in their presentations.

“I’ve found myself screenshotting Instagram photos and using Google’s image search function to find out the location, or an item they’re wearing. So, this move to put a greater emphasis on imagery makes complete sense as user behaviour develops.”

Emily Benwell, Marketing Coordinator at Liberty

This is all a far cry from January 2013, when image traffic from search took a huge hit after Google decided to add the “view image” button. Content providers complained of drastic traffic declines across many verticals due to searchers clicking “view image” being sent to a single page with only the image asset.

It caused uproar with media licencing companies, like Getty Images, who’s site hosting or licensing the image was non-existent. So much so, that Google reversed their decision as of February 15, 2018 confirming that the removal of the button was in part due to their settlement with Getty Images.

Google’s tweet confirming the removal of “View Image” button was in part due to Getty Images.

Data captured by Search Engine Land in the first 90 days since its reversal showed an average of 37% increase in clicks from Google image search.

In March of this year, there was a greater emphasis on Google Images again.

Gary Illyes, another Google Webmaster Trend Analyst, was a keynote speaker at PubCon 2019 sharing Google insights with a heavy focus on image search.

Since then, some in our SEO community have begun speculating a Google version of Pinterest, dubbing it as the next frontier to expand their ever-developing ad network…

Either way, Illyes has gone on record saying, “we threw an unreasonable number of engineers at Google Images recently”.

And then it was Google I/O.

Google I/O, a conference piquing global interest happened between 7-9th of May this year, is most renowned for a first look at Google’s latest products in development. And amongst their array of new launches, were several interesting image-based ones you should know about.

#1 Google will be launching higher quality image support.

A new program for websites to opt-in higher resolution images to Google image search is coming soon. To be announced on their Webmaster blog.

hi-res images in image search
Google I/O slide announcing hi-res images coming soon to image search.

#2 Experimenting with augmented reality and 3D objects.

Already launched, is the ability to view certain objects (mainly animals at present) in 3D and AR from the knowledge panel of SERPs.

#3 Accelerated mobile pages (AMP) will be easy to navigate through Google Images.

A simple swipe up from an image search result will reveal the AMP article associated with it. Coming soon.

google lens example of reading a menu
Google Lens reading a menu and highlighting popular dishes, displaying further information.

#4 Google Lens can read and translate text in more than 100 languages.

The technology can be used on menus to highlight popular choices and show related reviews and photos from Google Maps.

Why is this such big news?

Subtle hints have been dropped that image search is about to mean more to SEOs, webmasters, developers and content producers, and it’s time to pay attention to it. It’s long been obvious that image optimisation remains a low-priority in SEO but it’s a great way for searchers to discover new content and information, potentially leading to clicks and conversions. So, if you’ve been neglecting your imagery now is the time to break the habit and get optimising. Some of these new features may help.

How to optimise for Google image search:

  • Make sure your images are crawl-able.

Check there are no blockers in robots.txt and test a few URLs in the mobile-friendly test to see if Googlebot can access them. To do this, use image URLs that can be found in the IMG tags “src” attribute.

  • Get your images indexed.

Use XML sitemaps and ensure there are <img> tags in the HTML.

  • Optimise any text relating to the image.

This is the text surrounding the image, its title, description and file name. Though it has been noted that renaming images has minimal impact on optimisation, that the greatest emphasis is placed on the text around the image.

  • Be aware that JavaScript is often not search friendly.

At least when it comes to displaying images. Lazy loading for example may hide images from Google who often only sees the placeholder pixels.

  • Use structured data and meta data.

This will help Google serve useful results in SERPs (bonus!). For example, they may use the title tag of a page in image search, or structured data, or badges such as “recipe” which will be extracted during indexing.

use structured data in images

Have you been keeping an eye on recent image search developments? Or, perhaps you’ve also noticed the subtle hints and spotted more than us? We’d love to hear your thoughts on it! Connect with us on Twitter @LibertyOnlineUK or use #LibertySays to start a thread or take a look at our ecommerce SEO agency to find out how we can help you.

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Sophie Monks

Senior Social Specialist

Sophie has over 6 years of experience in the social media and content space, working in both in-house organisations and agencies. She has worked with exciting established brands in her time such as Campari, Aperol Spritz, Oppo Ice Cream and PayPal Australia. She enjoys the content creation process – from mapping out the shot and…

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