Are Attractive Images Turning Your Website into a Wallflower?

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but when it comes to SEO (search engine optimization) that’s not necessarily the case.

You want your website to be as visually appealing as possible right?  The answer to that question is yes.  Your website should be attractive and easy to navigate. However, if you’re convinced (or your web designer is trying to convince you) that using images to tell your story is the way to go, you may be headed down the wrong path.

Are images bad for SEO?  Like anything associated with search engine optimization, the answer depends on how you do it.

Let’s back up for a moment and talk about what search engines do and how they find websites and determine whether or not to display them on a search results page.

How Search Engines Work

When you type a search term into Google’s search box the search engine takes the following steps to return the search results:

  1. Crawling – searching across the internet to find web pages with relevant content
  2. Indexing – storing data  and identifying patterns associated with the content they found
  3. Processing – comparing the search term to the pages stored in the index
  4. Calculating relevancy – determining which pages are the best match to the search term (this step includes weeding out spam, poor quality content and takes into consideration individual search behavior and location)
  5. Retrieving – displaying the results on the search engine results page (SERP) with the most relevant results on the first page

A pretty incredible process, especially given the fact that there are over 30 trillion pages on the internet.

Content comes in many different forms: text, media, images, Flash, videos, etc.  Some are more indexable than others or in other words, some types of content are easier for the search engines to “read” and identify patterns in the content and the context of the pages.

Search engines can “see” images, videos, and flash, but they can’t read them. Even if the image has words on it, like a motivational saying or an banner to promote a special, the search engine sees it as an image.  This means that if your website is made up of nothing but images and flash you may be all but invisible to the search engines and chances of showing up on the first page of a search engine results page is greatly reduced.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use visual elements as a part of your web design, it just means that you need to be smart about how you do it.  There are ways to optimize images flash, and videos, but in general, search engines are text based and in order to be found and indexed, you need to have text based content. Google has made progress in its ability to index text within a Flash file, but not all search engines have made the same advances.

Back to the topic at hand, images; how can you balance the desire for a visually appealing site with the need for text based content?  Sharing pictures of your work, whether it’s a new hairstyle, a refurbished car, or a wedding album, can be a very effective way to showcase your services.

The specifics for incorporating images within a website vary based on the type of business; the needs of a photographer are much different from the needs of a search engine marketing consultant, but the bottom line is that if your website is jam packed with images and has little to no text based content you have an SEO opportunity.

Combining relevant written content and compelling images that help tell the story create a great customer experience and puts you in a great position to be asked to dance rather than sitting on the sidelines like a wallflower.

Be sure to come back for the next post to learn tips on optimizing images and make them work for you and not against your SEO efforts.

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