Image Search Engine Optimization for Photographers

Female Photographer

Photo by David Yu

Over the past few years, reduced agency commissions have become a growing concern for photographers. At the same time, several viable options have surfaced which allow a photographer to strike out on her own and form a sort of virtual photo agency.

Some options require more web programming knowledge than others. More experienced web programmers may opt to build their websites from the ground up, complete with e-commerce functions.

In this article we will introduce basic search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to photographers unfamiliar with the process. We will concentrate on SEO specifically as it relates to our images.

SEO – What is it?

SEO has received a questionable reputation in some circles due to unsavory black hat practices by web designers looking to manipulate search results. There is no black magic occurring. At its core, SEO is nothing more than the process of optimizing our websites so search engines can understand and properly rank our content.

SEO is of particular importance for photographers. Images are certain to be the basis for any photographer website. However search engines such as Google cannot “see” an image. The first priority when dealing with images is to ensure the search engine knows what it is.

Image Tags

Since a search engine cannot figure out what an image is about, we need to tell it. We must tag our images using the title and alt attribute fields. When tagging our images, it is important that the description be concise, yet keyword rich. Avoid being abstract in your description.

For instance you might have a photo of a boss yelling at an employee on the first day back from the weekend. An artistic name choice might be “Blue Monday.” But you would be making a mistake using such an abstract name. You need to place yourself in the role of someone searching for images. They aren’t going to type “blue monday” into a search engine if they need an image of a boss yelling an employee. Be simple and concise. Fill out the image title and alt attribute fields with a keyword rich description like “Manager Yelling at Employee”.

But this is still not enough. The actual file name for our image is also important. If you uploaded the image using the default name given to it by the camera, how do you think a search engine will interpret “IMG2486.jpg”? Just like our tags, it is important our file name be simple and descriptive.

However we need to eliminate spaces and underscores, which tend to give search engines problems, and replace them with dashes. Google is on record as saying it treats words separated by dashes as individual keywords to be evaluated. An example file name that you would upload would be “angry-boss.jpg” or something similar.

Captions and Surrounding Text

Search engines also put weight on the text surrounding the image when determining which keywords are most relevant to the image. For this reason, I like to use captions with my images. These should be simple and keyword rich, like our image tags. But they don’t have to be quite as concise.

If your image is part of a larger article or blog post, position it in relation to text which is highly relevant to the image. This too will send a positive message to the search engines that the words near your image should be used to help describe it.

Meta Keywords – Hold the Stuffing

If you are able to import IPTC data to your website, you might be able to use the keywords in your image file to populate the meta keywords of your webpage. This is important if you are selling royalty-free images and each image has its own page where buyers can choose to add it to a shopping cart. You want this page to be found by search engines, and it is helpful if your IPTC keywords can become your meta keywords for the image’s webpage.

If you are importing IPTC keywords, you need to ensure your keyword list is relevant and concise. Populating a web page with 30, 40, 50 or more keywords will not fly with the search engines the way it does at some photo agencies. Search engines flag this many keywords as potential spam, and refer to it as “keyword stuffing.”

Keep your meta keywords to 10 words/phrases or less. Keyword stuffing will send you straight to the bottom of the search results, and might even get your website eliminated from some search engines.


Image SEO requires necessary tags be filled with concise, descriptive text. Image file names should be also be simple and relevant, with dashes separating each word. Surrounding our images with text related to the image (such as in an article, or by using a caption) helps search engines better determine what keywords and phrases are most relevant to our images.

Next time, I will discuss making the image part of a larger, content-rich website.

About The Author:

Dan Padavona is the founder of Warmpicture Royalty-Free Images. He and his wife Terri live in upstate New York with their children Joey and Julia, and their dogs Ralphie and Dunes. Daniel is an advocate for fair pay and commissions for artists, and regularly works with photographers wishing to diversify their earnings away from traditional stock agencies.
Posted on March 3rd, 2012 in Tips / Tutorials | tags: , , , , ,
  • Sid

    Users may search for a specific image, using different keywords or keyword phrases. Google Keyword tool can be of help to find words / phrases that users might use to find the photos they need. IMHO, such words / phrases should also be a part of the SEO strategy. Thank you for the useful post.

  • Sid

    Google Keyword tool can be of help to find words / phrases that users might use to find the photos they need. IMHO, such words / phrases should also be a part of the SEO strategy. Thank you for the useful post.

  • Google Keyword Tool can be accessed from within Google Adwords if anyone is curious. You don’t have to actually pay for advertising. Simply signing up with Adwords will get you access to the Keyword Tool.