A search checklist for marketers

Optimizing images for social media should be a no brainer for every marketer, social media user, blogger or agency. Why? We are busier, more distracted, more information hungry and more visual than ever before.

When was the last time you got to put your feet up, relax and really read a book or watch a movie that you’ve been saving? I bet it is not as often as you’d like. Our to do lists grow ever longer, our morning and bedtime routines have become more complex, and every minute of our down time is planned and managed.  


Our lives are simply busier and our brains are trying to find ways to save cognitive energy.  


The result is that we now have a shorter attention span than that of a goldfish; falling from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015 (a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds). To engage millennials – and other online audiences – we need to provide them with a frictionless experience.  We need to create an engaging online presence that hooks in the passive scroller and converts them into an active participant. And that is one of the many reasons images have become so important.


According to Quicksprout research, articles containing relevant images have 94% more total views than those with no images. Buzzsumo found that articles with an image once every 75 -100 words received double the social media shares as articles with fewer images. Buffer reported that posts on Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn had higher engagement and share rates when they contain images.


How do you create images for social media?


Every channel uses different size images for posts, cover images and ads. However, there are some rules that we can live by.


Here are my 5 simple rules for creating social media images:

First, keep it simple. Create a clean design that doesn’t overwhelm the viewer. Text should be kept to a minimum, preferably 6 words or fewer.


Second, use photos of people. Over years of evolution we have been programmed to respond to images of people more than anything else. Images of people or facial expressions allow us to empathize and imagine the full story around an image.


Third, use branding cleverly and subtly. Don’t just whack on a logo or flood a photo with your brand’s primary color. Instead, look for ways to incorporate your product or logo cleverly.


Fourth, don’t break the image. In an attempt to fit to the rigid standards set by one social media platform after another you might be tempted to stretch an image. Don’t do it! If it doesn’t work, it’s not your image.


Finally, make sure you have the rights to use the image. Check for copyright and ensure your image can be used for commercial purposes, resized, have text added etc.


How do social images impact search?

Social shares and to a lesser extent likes act as a signal to Google and other search engines that your blog post or website page is of value. This has been a talking point between SEOs since 2010 but if Brian Dean says it’s a ranking factor, I listen. Social shares increase your referral traffic and can diversify your backlink portfolio. These social votes can contribute to your search engine ranking and in a tight race to the top spot, can be the difference between being on the first page and the second page.


How do social images impact search?

 Increase time on page and conversions

Beyond awareness and social traffic, images work in many ways to improve your search visibility. Almost 50% of your brain is involved in visual processing, we make decisions and take action quicker when prompted by images.


As I touched on earlier, a relevant and contextual image can improve conversion rates and reduce bounce rate – two markers of page quality that are strong SEO signals.  We are more likely to stop scrolling and assimilate information from images. We are also more likely to retain this information. This has the effect of keeping visitors on page longer and provides us with the opportunity to give the visitor the information they need in order to convert.


Good quality images provide online shoppers with context and information. Showing someone sitting on the sofa you are trying to sell or wearing the earrings from your new line is more effective than an image of the product by itself.


Heatmaps have proven that we are more likely to follow the gaze of a person in an advert or image. These Sunsilk ads prove that copy is more effective if the person in the ad is looking at it too.


heatmaps show we follow the gaze of people in photos and ads

How to optimize your images


Visual content is no different to any other type of content on the internet. It needs to be of good quality, relevant, and SEO optimized!


At a basic level your image should enhance the page, engaging and not too abstract or cheesy. You want to increase the chance of a user clicking on your image, it’s just common sense to have a clear, good quality image over a blurry or low-quality one.


Your image should have a description, relevant title, caption, and alt tag. The name of your image can also be read so use this opportunity to optimize for search. It’s best to separate words using dashes e.g. biggest-sofa-trends-2018.jpg This is another way to provide context and show Google what your page or blog post is about.


Don’t use too many images. There is a point where the use of imagery can be counter productive. This Google study shows that when it comes to images per page (particularly on mobile) sometimes less is more.

google study on the effect of images on conversion rates on mobile

File Format

Your image should be in jpg, png, gif or SVG format. Which one you choose will depend on factors such as image size, image quality and if you want to animate your images.


File size and loading

An important part of your image strategy for search is file size and loading. The biggest impact here is that large image sizes can reduce page load speed. Google’s PageSpeed tool can give recommendations on how to tackle your site speed issues (including if you have large images), they also provide a free service to help you optimize your site for mobile.


Minify your images

Properly compressing and optimizing images can save many bytes of data and speed up downloading time. Advanced optimization involves further (lossless) compression of JPEG, GIF and PNG files. Be careful about the tool you use, here is a helpful list of 9 free tools.


Careful when using Lazy Loading

Lazy loading is a technique for loading web content when it’s needed rather than all at once. For instance, if the user loads a webpage and immediately leaves it, then nothing beyond the top portion of the web page is loaded. The page contains placeholder content that loads when the user needs it. This can negatively affect your ranking if Google crawls your page and doesn’t find or ignores your placeholder content.  According to StackPath, one trick to overcoming these pitfalls is to provide links to lazy loaded content.



A content delivery network allows any blog or website owner to deliver its website’s images at the same speed, regardless of where the visitor is in the world. A CDN works by storing copies of the files on multiple servers around the world and then delivering the version that is most appropriate to the visitor.


Badges on image search

Introduced in 2017, badges on Image Search help users on mobile devices find what they really want. Google supports badges for recipes, gifs, products and videos:

‘If you’re publishing recipes, add Recipe markup on your page, for products, add Product markup, and for videos, add Video markup. Our algorithms will automatically badge GIFs, without the need of any markup

Image sitemap

Consider image sitemaps to further help the Google search engine discover the images on your website. Check out Google help to learn more about creating an image sitemap.

Your Checklist:

  • My image is
    • Relevant, contextual and adds to the page
    • Fits my audience
    • The right size and shape for my platform
    • Good quality – not blurry
    • Communicates information about this page easily
    • A JPG, PNG, SVG or GIF
    • Not too big that it affects page load speed
    • Has a name, title and description that is optimized
  • My website
    • Minifies my images
    • Uses lazy loading appropriately
    • Uses a CDN to deliver image content
    • Uses badge mark-up for mobile search
    • Has an image sitemap

Check out our e-book called, Tips To Teach Yourself Graphic Design for even more practical tips on creating professional-standard designs.

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