We all had a great time at SES Chicago last week, answering questions and getting feedback.

One of the sessions I participated in was Images and Search Engines, and the panelists had great information about using images on your site, as well as on optimizing for Google Image search.

Ensuring visitors and search engines know what your content is about
Images on a site are great -- but search engines can't read them, and not all visitors can. Make sure your site is accessible and can be understood by visitors viewing your site with images turned off in their browsers, on mobile devices, and with screen readers. If you do that, search engines won't have any trouble. Some things that you can do to ensure this:

  • Don't put the bulk of your text in images. It may sound simple, but the best thing you can do is to put your text into well, text. Reserve images for graphical elements. If all of the text on your page is in an image, it becomes inaccessible.
  • Take advantage of alt tags for all of your images. Make sure the alt text is descriptive and unique. For instance, alt text such as "picture1" or "logo" doesn't provide much information about the image. "Charting the path of stock x" and "Company Y" give more details.
  • Don't overload your alt text. Be descriptive, but don't stuff it with extra keywords.
  • It's important to use alt text for any image on your pages, but if your company name, navigation, or other major elements of your pages are in images, alt text becomes especially important. Consider moving vital details to text to ensure all visitors can view them.
  • Look at the image-to-text ratio on your page. How much text do you have? One way of looking at this is to look at your site with images turned off in your browser. What content can you see? Is the intent of your site obvious? Do the pages convey your message effectively?

Taking advantage of Image search
The panelists pointed out that shoppers often use Image search to see the things they want to buy. If you have a retail site, make sure that you have images of your products (and that they can be easily identified with alt text, headings, and textual descriptions). Searchers can then find your images and get to your site.

One thing that can help your images be returned for results in Google Image search is opting in to enhanced image search in webmaster tools. This enables us to use your images in the Google Image Labeler, which harnesses the power of the community for adding metadata to your images.

Someone asked if we have a maximum number of images per site that we accept for the Image Labeler. We don't. You can opt in no matter how many, or how few, images your site has.

Update: More information on using images can be found in our Help Center.