WordPress SEO images: The definitive guide 2017

August 24, 2020

Screenshot of free images available for WordPress websites

This post about using images to boost your SEO was originally written back in 2012. I have revised it for 2017, with fully up-to-date information and screenshots from the latest version of WordPress. 

Images are an area of WordPress SEO that are often overlooked. Yet image search can be important in driving traffic to your site. People are using Google Images more and more to search for all sorts of information. Don't miss out on this important source of traffic.

In this post, I combine extensive research with my own experience of WordPress SEO. The end result is the definitive guide to making the images on your WordPress website search engine friendly. I will offer some simple tips on how to make images a central part of your WordPress SEO strategy.

But search engines can't read images!

One reason that images are often overlooked in WordPress SEO - and SEO in general - is that search engines can't actually understand them. Search engines can only read actual text on a web page. They can't interpret pictures, or even images with text embedded in them.

Fortunately, search engines do have mechanisms for understanding images. Whenever you upload an image to your website, you can tag this with 'meta data' that helps machines to understand the image. This includes screen readers for people with visual impairments, web browsers that cannot display images, and of course search engines.

For example, an image of the WordPress logo could have alt text (a type of meta data) saying 'WordPress logo'. This tells machines that it's an image of the WordPress logo.

You can use this as an opportunity to make your WordPress images SEO friendly.

Tips for creating WordPress SEO images

WordPress' SEO features makes it easy to create search engine friendly images and optimise for Google Images.

Adding an SEO image in WordPress

Whenever you add an image, simply complete the fields on the right hand side of the 'Add media' window:

WordPress optimise for image search SEO

Explanation and tips for each of the WordPress 'Add image' fields

Field name

What to enter here

Title WordPress will automatically add your image filename here. You might want to change it to something more descriptive and SEO friendly. Include your main keyword for the page. Image titles are important for SEO. The title will also appear when you hover over the image.
Alt Text This is also known as 'alternative text' or the 'alt tag'. It should contain a brief description of the image, including your main focus keyword for the page.
Caption Enter text here if you want to display a caption underneath the image. It's generally thought that this doesn't help with your image SEO optimisation. However, no one knows the search engine algorithms for definite. If you're using a caption anyway, it doesn't hurt to include the main keyword for your WordPress post or page.
Description Enter a longer description of the image here. It's thought that this isn't a huge factor for image search, but it can help a bit. Make sure it's descriptive as well as containing your main keywords.
Link URL The end of your link URL will be the original filename of your image. So before uploading the image, it won't hurt to make sure the filename contains the main keyword for your WordPress page or post.
Size Most articles on WordPress SEO images don't mention image size, but this is important too. Search engines reward fast loading websites and penalise slow ones with large images.WordPress helps with SEO by automatically resizing images as needed. To use this SEO feature, simply click Thumbnail, Medium or Large and WordPress will resize the image accordingly. Never click 'Full size' unless you have previously sized the image using software such as Photoshop.I recommended that you always size images before uploading them to WordPress. Website images should be set to the required number of pixels rather than worrying about the resolution.

Before uploading an image to WordPress, you can optimise it using free software such as WPSmush. This will compress it as much as possible without losing quality.

Putting your WordPress SEO image in context

Most people don't know that search engines also look at the context of an image. This means that as well as the image meta data, search engines look at the title and url of the WordPress page or post where the image is situated, as well as the text around the image. If these include your main keywords then search engines will know that the image is related to those keywords.

When adding an image to your WordPress website, think about its overall context. For example, put relevant keywords in the text close to the image.

You can read more about this in the SEOmoz blog.

WordPress SEO plugins to do the hard work for you

If the above sounds like too much work, you'll be pleased to discover a WordPress SEO plugin that will do much of the work for you.

I would always recommend manually adding titles and alt text for each image on your WordPress site. This will generally be more effective than a plugin that can do it automatically.

But if you really can't be bothered - and lots of people can't - then the WordPress SEO Friendly Images plugin covers the main points for you. It automatically uses the post title to set the image's title and alt tag. This is useful because you should always include your main SEO keywords in the title of your WordPress post or page anyway. The plugin will use this to automatically optimise your images.

But is WordPress traffic from Google image search worth having?

Most articles on SEO images seem to assume that using images to drive extra traffic to your website is a good thing. While it's obviously not a bad thing, it may not be as valuable as people suggest.

The main benefit of optimising your images is that is makes them more likely to rank highly in the image search results - for example, Google images. So when people do an image search using your main keywords, an image on your site is more likely to appear.

In most cases, I think this is much less important than ranking highly in the main search results for your keywords. This is because people searching for images have very different intentions to people searching for websites.

For example, most people who search Google for 'WordPress web design' will be actively seeking a WordPress web design agency such as Barn2 Media. This is traffic we definitely want! On the other hand, people searching Google images for 'WordPress web design' are more likely to be looking for something different - such as images to put on their own website promoting WordPress web design. This traffic is much less important to us!

If images are your core business then you should obviously spend a lot of time optimising your WordPress SEO images. This applies to photographers, graphic designers, etc.

It's also worth thinking creatively about how your customers might find your website. For example, more and more people looking to buy products online are turning to Google Images first. This lets them search in a more visual way instead of text-based results.

For the majority of WordPress website owners, it's slightly less important. You should always optimise your images for SEO because not doing so is a wasted opportunity. If you don't have time to do it manually then use WordPress SEO Friendly Images to do it for you. But don't get too caught up in it, as the rewards may be lower than for other types of SEO.

Do images help with my WordPress website's overall SEO and Domain Authority?

Although this is a grey area, there's evidence to suggest that optimising images can boost your website's position in the main search results, as well as image searches.

In deciding whether your website is relevant for a particular keyword, search engines look at how often the site contains those keywords, and in what way. As well as the usual SEO factors - page title, url, body text, headings etc. - image meta data can provide important clues about the content of your website. If this can help with your overall search engine ranking then this is definitely worth doing.

Further reading

I always recommend the Yoast tutorial as the definitive guide on WordPress SEO in general. This is a great starting point for making your WordPress website search engine friendly.

If you're not confident (or don't have time) to do your own SEO, it's also worth checking our our WordPress SEO services and ongoing SEO packages.

30 Comments

  1. Jim
    September 4, 2019 Reply

    Hello, I switched to the Gutenberg block system on my Wordpress platform website and now the grey boxes that had the alt text information doesn't appear on any of the images. They did appear in the old set up for Wordpress and I have for every image on the website included the name of the image in the Alt Text box. When I inspect the image the alt text is there.
    Does anyone know why the grey boxes would disappear?

    • EJ
      September 5, 2019 Reply

      Hi, Jim. In the new Gutenberg editor, when you click on or select an image block you can access to the Alt Text attribute from the right-hand section: https://cl.ly/dfa69d07ce8f

      Alternatively, you can also install the Classic Editor plugin by WordPress Contributors to get the previous WordPress editor you're used to.

  2. Steve
    October 5, 2018 Reply

    The title and alt tags and all the stuff like that is definitely important, but don't forget the filename itself :) that's something I overlooked for years, until I had an image ranking highly and bringing me tons of traffic purely because of what its file name happened to be.

    • Katie Keith
      October 6, 2018 Reply

      You're absolutely right. WordPress calls the Filename 'Title' when you upload the image, so this is covered in the 'Title' field of the table in the article. It's good that you can upload any filename to WordPress and then edit it directly in the Media Library.

  3. onedollarwebhosting
    February 10, 2018 Reply

    thanks for sharing the marvelous information it's really helpful for all the people who can do SEO. I also enjoy this post keep it up

  4. Victoria
    January 5, 2018 Reply

    Great, and thank you for the quick reply! I actually had a meeting with them on other business this morning, so I asked them about it, and they said exactly the same thing you just did! Thanks again for your help!
    Take care!

  5. Victoria
    January 4, 2018 Reply

    I am a marketing assistant at a parent company that has several affiliate websites, all of which i help to manage. The backend is all WordPress, and I've noticed that under the section where you upload media, there are some fields available in the backend of one of my websites, but not the others. Is this something that my agency of record (who set up the WordPress template) had control over? The fields I see in all backends are URL, Title, Caption, Alt Text, Description, Uploaded by, Uploaded to. Then in only 1 of my websites', there's an additional 2 fields, Categories, and Tags. Do you know why this is?

    • Victoria
      January 4, 2018 Reply

      My purpose of the question is, should i be asking for the missing fields to be added to the other websites if they provide some benefit to SEO?

      • Katie Keith
        January 5, 2018 Reply

        Hi Victoria, I don't think Google can read image categories or tags, so I wouldn't worry about this. I expect that your developer added an extra plugin to that site to enable you to categorise and tag images, but these probably aren't used for SEO. Just focus on the image title, alt text and description.

  6. Blossom Smith
    September 26, 2017 Reply

    Great. Thanks for sharing . It will certainly help SEO professionals. Nice to read article and it shows easy - to - manage points for increasing visibility of websites. Keeping the content fresh and unique is also a key factor.

  7. 10seos
    June 5, 2017 Reply

    Completely agreed. I really admire the simplicity and easiness in the blog post. Keen to know when will I get to read more posts like this.

  8. GMan
    March 3, 2016 Reply

    hi
    i use custom field for inserting image into my posts with title of post as its alt & title
    but my visitors from google image is almost 0
    is it because of using custom field for inserting images?
    is there any better way?
    i really appreciate if you can check my website about this problem: https://musicbama.ir
    thanks in advance

    • Katie Keith
      March 4, 2016 Reply

      Hi, if you're entering an SEO-friendly title and alt text for each image then that's great and I don't think that adding them as custom fields in a problem. Are you using the keywords that your target market are actually searching for? It may be that you need to do some wider SEO work to convince search engines that your website (which includes your images) is important. Perhaps your competitors have particularly well optimised images so you need to give the search engines a reason to prioritise yours.

      • GMan
        March 4, 2016 Reply

        thanks for your answer
        actually i don't write alt & title tag manually;
        i have only one image in each post, and alt & title tags for that image are just like the post's title !
        does it make any problem for seo?

        • Katie Keith
          March 5, 2016

          It's better than nothing as your title is likely to contain relevant keywords. However it's even better to add image alt tags and titles (and also descriptions) manually. The easiest way I have found to do this in bulk is using the Little Hippo plugin - you can read my review on it here

        • GMan
          March 4, 2016

          because i don't use any plugin for images :)
          i have added alt & title tags by my theme;
          and the output is sth like this:
          image's alt tag = post-title
          image's title tag = post-title
          is it ok for seo ? to write both tags exactly like post title?

        • Katie Keith
          March 4, 2016

          If you don't add the alt and title tags for your images manually, how are they being added? e.g. I don't think the SEO Friendly Images plugin optimises images that are added via custom fields. Have you checked that your images are definitely being given alt and title tags?

  9. Promise
    December 7, 2015 Reply

    If I build my blog use mydomain.wordpress.com can i upgrade the same blog later?
    another question is, currently I'm using blogger.com, can i take my blog to wordpress?

    Thank is advance

    • Katie Keith
      December 7, 2015 Reply

      If you use wordpress.com or blogger.com then you will need to migrate all your content to your new wordpress.org site later - it won't happen automatically. There are lots of tools for migrating blog posts and other content to WordPress. Please get in touch if you ever need any help with this.

  10. Felix
    April 7, 2015 Reply

    Hello,
    Thank you this article.
    I developed a plugin for my own use, but I just publish it on wordpress.
    My plugin "Bulk SEO Image" is useful to update all ALT attributes of your images in one clic (for example, with the post title)
    Compared to other plugin, the plugin changes the ALT attribut in one time, and is not called when a page is loading

    I expect a lot of updates in the future, and I welcome any feedback !

    • Katie Keith
      April 7, 2015 Reply

      Hi Felix, thanks for letting me know about your plugin. Does your plugin allow you to optimise ALL images including featured images, gallery images etc.? A limitation of SEO Friendly Images is that it only optimises images that are added to the actual page/post content, which doesn't apply to a lot of the images on a WordPress website.

  11. write my essay uk
    March 12, 2015 Reply

    I agree that it's always better to visualize your point, add an image. Even if it doesn't impact SEO it makes customers be more loyal to your site.

  12. Saraha Bright
    December 18, 2014 Reply

    This list has been crafted considering the factors that directly influence the SEO, like page speed, social shares, optimization… Google analytics by Yoast is just a plugin which allows you to track clicks on individual links and track your overall website visitors im using two SEO plugins on my site brightverge.com one is Yoast and other is easy seo wp plugin both are working excellent… But it’s just an analytic tool and noting more. You said WP supercache works better on your server than w3 total cache, I am eager to know your server’s configuration.

    • Katie Keith
      December 18, 2014 Reply

      Thanks for your comment. We recommend W3 Total Cache if your server doesn't already have caching built-in. However our recommended WordPress web hosts are WP Engine or SiteGround. Both of these hosting companies have excellent built-in caching (you just need to activate it) so you don't need to install a WordPress caching plugin with these hosts.

      Google Analytics for WordPress is just an Analytics plugin, as you say - you need WordPress SEO by Yoast for their full SEO features.

  13. Belajar Bisnis Internet Marketing
    October 31, 2014 Reply

    i think the larger image is better for SEO (google image ranking)

  14. Sadia Komal
    April 27, 2013 Reply

    Nice SEO tips and great plugin

  15. Shawn
    January 29, 2013 Reply

    I didn't realise there was such a lot of essential reading on your website!

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