SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – The process of optimizing a website to generate the maximum number of ‘organic’ (non-paid) visits from search engines.
The Correct Way To Name Your Photos For Image SEO
The question on a lot of photographers’ lips these days is: How do I get seen in a sea of similar websites?
Correctly naming your image files for optimal SEO, is a great way to start. Google can’t analyze the actual content of an image to tell what it is depicting, and whilst this technology is most certainly on the way, it’s nowhere near ready just yet. Instead, they rely on several indicators on a web page to tell them what the photo is all about. One of these is, as you might expect, the filename of the photo. You should never upload photos to your website with the standard camera-applied filename, like DSC_9764.jpg! This tells Google nothing at all and its content.
When Google knows more about the content of your image, it can include it in Image Search (click the image tab at the top of a Google search page), and sometimes the top images even show right at the head of a regular search page. Not only does it help people find your photos directly, but it also helps Google understand the content of the page that you posted the photo on, helping that page show up higher in regular search results for the subject.
Dash or Underscore?
Instead of the default filename, you should be describing the contents of the image in 3-8 words. Importantly, you should be separating the words in your filename with a dash (hyphen), and not an underscore!
The inner workings of Google’s search engine algorithm are a closely guarded secret, but every now and again we get a little snippet of detail from one of their representatives on the Google Webmasters blog. For some reason there’s a lot of misinformation circulating around the web on this topic, but Google’s Matt Cutts, has clearly stated that dashes (hyphens) are the way to go on this one. Whilst Matt Cutts does say that the SEO difference between the two is relatively minor, that means there is a difference.
Straight From The Horse’s Mouth – Dash NOT Underscore!
– WRONG -> DSC_9807.jpg
This tells Google nothing at all.
– WRONG -> blackcat.jpg
Blackcat is not a word.
– WRONG -> black-cat.jpg
Whilst this technically does describe the image (assuming it is actually a black cat), have a think about how many photos of a black cat you’d be putting yourself up against on the internet? Millions, I would imagine.
– WRONG -> a-black-cat-under-a-red-car.jpg
There’s no need to include stop words in your filename (a, the, it, to, etc.). Keep it short and simple.
– WRONG -> black_cat_under_red_car.jpg
Nope, the underscore isn’t a recognized word separator. To Google, this just reads as blackcatunderredcar.jpg! No good.
– CORRECT -> black-cat-under-red-car.jpg
Now we’re getting somewhere! Descriptive, and with the correct separators and no stop words.
Use It To Your Advantage
Since the filename helps Google understand the content of the page that the photo is on, you can use this to boost your search rankings for specific topics.
You are a wedding photographer from San Francisco and on the About page of your website, there is a headshot of you next to your biography.
WRONG -> joe-blogs-portrait.jpg
CORRECT -> joe-bloggs-san-francisco-wedding-photographer.jpg.
Should You Rename Existing Images?
If you’re using a photo portfolio service like Photoshelter, SmugMug (get a 20% discount here), or Zenfolio, with hundreds or thousands of images, there’s little point renaming all of those files to make the names descriptive. There are obviously some organizational benefits to a photographer’s standard archive file naming scheme when photos are hosted in large volumes. Hopefully with these kinds of online portfolio archive services, you’re making use of all the other SEO options to optimize them.
The ideal setup is to use a blogging platform like WordPress, to create a new blog post every time you upload a new collection of images to your archive or online print store. In that blog post, you include a few of the images from the collection, and those are the images that you optimize with a proper name for SEO purposes. With properly optimized page content, and images, you’ll rank higher in more search results and bring people to the blog post. That’s when you can let them know that a full collection can be viewed on your archive site, or prints purchased from your print store.
But what if you’ve got existing blog images that weren’t correctly named? WordPress doesn’t natively offer a way to rename images, but you can use the plug Media File Renamer. What you have to remember, though, is that the filename is part of the direct URL to that image. If you do decide to change the filename, you’ll be altering the URL and it will reset any SEO juice that this image might have already gathered over time.
If you already have images that show up often in Google Image searches, you definitely don’t want to go renaming these ones. Choose wisely when tackling this question… my thought is that if you have a relatively new blog of only a few months old, you can rename the files with this plugin and probably get more long term benefit from it than short term disadvantage. For older blogs, it’s probably not worthwhile.