Everyone knows the popular idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but to search engines, a picture is worth absolutely no words. Whenever a site uses an abundance of images to describe their products and services, search engines have no way to enable these images to assist with increasing a site’s ranking when people are searching for the products and services they portray.
Unlike with humans, search engines can’t interpret images and decipher their meaning; instead, they only index the fact that an image is present. For modern day designers, the overuse of pictures has become a staple of creating beautiful websites, but it comes at the cost of their SEO rankings, and that’s not something everyone is aware of when building a site.
The dramatic increase in the amount of imagery used on web pages is a result of one of two design tactics. One, you’re using a template provided by a web builder application, something that we discussed may already be hurting your ranking (Tip #10). Or, two, the developer building the site hasn’t mastered CSS, so they’re inserting images in sections where they should be writing code. We’ll discuss how both of these approaches affect your SEO ranking.
Image Heavy Templates
Part of the allure of web building applications is not needing to know how to write code to build a website. Gorgeous templates offer clients a variety of design options from professionals, and with some customization of wording and imagery, even my grandma can produce an “Applesque” site that makes mere mortals marvel at its beauty. The downside is, the same person using a template to build a website doesn’t always understand how preconfigured sites affect search rankings. Images give websites a stunning visual appeal, but they don’t integrate with the core results of a search query.
When visitors enter a term into a search engine, the majority of the results display because of the text information contained within the page’s heading and title elements. Images are elements of a web page as well, but when a search engine encounters them, they log them into a different area of the results page than where most of us find the answers to our inquiries about products and services.
Every time a user selects the images tab on the results page, they’ve moved in the dedicated area where search engines store images that they find on websites. When considering how search engines divide text-based and image search results into separate areas, it should come as no surprise that clicks in the images tab do nothing to assist a site in appearing higher in text-based rankings, and this concept is at the core of how a surplus of images is lowering your SEO rankings.
On the other hand, developers aren’t perfect either, and they can stumble into different kinds of errors when using images on pages. Modern websites often display beautiful images with subtext sprinkled over them to add context to what’s on-screen, but if developers haven’t quite mastered advanced styling techniques, these subtexts are sometimes rendered as part of the image and not an individual web element.
Adding text over images requires developers to understand relative and absolute positioning values, and early-stage developers may not have developed this skill set, so they often include wording in the images themselves. Since these articles are meant to focus on SEO, and not web development tips, we won’t go into great detail about how these settings work. What we can do is let you know how to identify if you’re a victim of a novice web developer by letting you know how to detect if the technique is executed correctly.
Text that has been directly integrated within an image cannot be selected, and trying to highlight it with a mouse cursor, or pressing and holding your finger over the text on a mobile device, will identify if the wording is selectable. If the words are not selectable, it means these words are only interpreted by sight, and not by search engines. Those images are also not doing anything to improve your search ranking.
Figuring Out Where You Stand
Understanding how much text is on a page, versus how many images the page contains, provides insight into the content/code ratio. The content/code ratio is used to determine if a page is overly reliant on images, and there are a variety of tools that measure this ratio.
For those not familiar with how this measurement works, it relies on reading the source code of a web page and measuring how many page elements are present versus the amount of content they contain. The measurement produces a percentage that developers know as the code ratio. Search engines can also see this ratio and prefer it to be between 10%-20%.
Tools that display the exact percentage are usually made available with professional SEO software, so you’re working with an agency they should have access to it, but it’s unlikely you’ll naturally stumble across it by yourself. Make sure you’re discussing this aspect of your site as a part of any SEO audit. If you haven’t had an SEO audit, you can get a complimentary one from RTR Digital by clicking here. You can also preview what fully integrated SEO looks like by clicking here.
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