Images, Web Design and Search Engine Optimization
It was some time ago now, but many of you reading this right now may remember that at one time, there were no images or graphics of any kind on the internet. You connected to the web using a dial up modem and the pages you could access were text only, usually without any particular attention paid to formatting or typography.
Of course, web design has made incredible leaps forward since the days of 14.4 K modems and text-only web browsers. While text only browsers are still available (and actually, you may want to install one yourself for reasons we’ll explain later on), they are hardly the norm. Web content is now decidedly visually oriented and people think about the World Wide Web and the pages on it in a different way than they once did. The view of internet content was once that it was a sort of technologically advanced extension of print media, but the web has now taken on a life of its own and has become very much its own medium.
Photos and other images are now an important part of nearly every website, especially now that dynamic Web 2.0 platforms have become popular ways for users to share their own content. It’s almost unimaginable in this day and age that someone would create a website without including any graphical elements for readers. Everyone uses images as part of their web design now, but what not everyone is doing with their website images is using them to their full advantage.
If you’ve spent any time reading about web design or basically any other internet related topic, chances are that you’re at least somewhat familiar with the concept of search engine optimization or SEO. This is a fascinating topic in itself, though we’ll refrain from going into too much detail of the nuts and bolts of search engine optimization here. What is important to know about SEO for our purposes today is that it refers to a number of techniques which increase the amount of traffic to websites by fine tuning the content as well as some of the behind the scenes elements of web pages to make it easier for major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo to index their content properly and increase site rankings in search engine results.
Even if you already know about using keywords to optimize your text content for the search engines, you may not know that the images on your website can also be optimized in order to make your site more attractive to search engines and thus easier for your target audience to find.
Optimizing your site’s images and other graphical content is a good thing to do for a couple of reasons. It helps your site to climb higher in the search results so that you’ll bring in more visitors. It’s also a good web design move in terms of enhancing your site’s accessibility to visually impaired web users and users who use older hardware and software with limited webpage rendering capabilities – and increasingly, the major search engines are starting to reward accessibility standards compliant websites with a boost in their rankings. It’s a win-win situation; your site benefits in terms of more traffic and you do the right thing by making the web just a little more accessible to users who sometimes find that not every website’s content is available to them.
Best of all, optimizing the images on your site is fairly easy to do. You don’t have to be a programmer in order to do this, though you will need to learn a few simple HTML tags. If your website is powered by WordPress or many other modern content management systems, you may not even have to do that, since these platforms usually offer a user-friendly method of tagging your images as you upload them to the site and post them on your web pages.
Assuming yours is a static HTML/XHTML based website, you’ll have to use Alt tags for your images; these provide alternate text which is placed on your site instead of the images themselves when your site is viewed in text only browsers or using screen reader software. Without these tags, search engines don’t know what your images are or what they’re about – they only see the text content of your site and its HTML code.
This is where trying out a text-only browser (like Lynx for Windows or w3m or Links for Linux systems) is educational. View your site in a text only browser before and after adding Alt tags; before, there’s nothing – but after, there’s a description of the image which actually tells your visitors something. Since these Alt tags can also incorporate your site’s important keywords where appropriate, it can also give your site’s SEO efforts just a little more of a boost. Every little bit helps when you’re trying to attract an audience, so optimizing your images isn’t just good web design, it’s also good business.