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Image Optimization Tips
The panelists offered the following tips for optimizing images for search engines:

* Image originality. The panelists agree that there is a special advantage to taking original photos, even if you are a retailer who already receives photos elsewhere such as from a manufacturer. "The more control you have over the images on your site the better." says Evans. "You can brand them with your logo, url or trademark. It also allows you as the retailer to present the product in the best possible way that will convert with your own audience, not to mention allowing you to present the features in a different way than other competitors.

* Image formatting. Thurow advises saving photos as JPG files, and other graphic image types as GIFs "Search engines are going to interpret a GIF as a standard graphic image with 256 colors," Thurow said, "and JPGs as photos (because photos have millions of colors." says said Shari Thurow, Webmaster and Marketing Director at Grantastic Designs, Inc..

* Image quality. Start off with good quality pictures, and make necessary resolution adjustments between your full size images and your thumbnails. Smith mentions that pictures with good contrast tend to work better. "When they're reduced down to the thumbnail size, stronger contrast is needed to better discern image, which will lead to more people clicking and linking to image." he says.

* Tagging . More content is "King" It's a given to make sure that your images match the actual products and keywords you place in there, along with ample descriptions of what you're featuring. But you should also take full advantage of the many special contextual tags for social sites with image search. Not only are image names given more weight than regular search results, but you can also add special tags such as captions, comments, cross-grouping, location, and themes.

* Expand audience base. Be broad in your subject matter. Image search is not just for retailers directly reaching customers. "There are all sorts of innovative ways you can get people interested in your company and hence build up traffic and conversions. For example, factories might show steps in product manufactures, hotels might show furniture & decorative art in addition to details on their rooms, and restaurants might show picturesque views or special event rooms."

* Image naming. "Make the image names of your files match what is actually represented in the file," says Thurow. "The image name will appear beneath the graphic image in search results. It helps to communicate to searchers that they are viewing the desired graphic image. "Do NOT expect your photo editing program's default settings to give you optimized file names," she continued. "Default names communicate nothing to the search engines on their own. Make sure to set up your own file naming structure in advance."

* Optimize the page with the image. Optimize the page the image appears on can be just as important as optimizing the image itself. "Optimizing the actual page for contextual search improves graphic images search," Thurow added. "Search engines also look at text surrounding a graphic image to determine relevancy." says Thurow. "Text within the anchor tag and next to anchor text is especially going to influence image-search rankings," said Thurow. "If you can reasonably put labels and captions on key graphic images, try and do so."

* Usability is "Queen". According to Thurow, usability is very important in image search optimization. "It's one thing for a graphic image to show up at the top of image search results," she said. "It's another thing to get people to click on the link to the image and go to your site. Writing alternative text (which shows up in Google Image search results) that is keyword stuffed is not going to inspire people to click on the link in that image to your site." Smith also added that sometimes adding a not directly onto a region of a photo can invite users to comment and participate."

* File organization. Both Evans and Thurow mentioned of crucial importance is creating an image folder on your web server space that's accessible to the search engines. "Do not robots exclude your graphic images directory or limit search engine access to graphic-image files." says Thurow. Another big mistake people make is putting their 'click to see larger image' inside of a JavaScript link. When you do that, you are limiting search engines' access to that image file."

* Freshness. Smith recommends that if you're targeting high popularity keywords, try experimenting with re-uploading your pix, since image freshness is a contextual clue for the search engines and might affect relevancy.

So with that in mind, here's 5 tips to make sure you're optimizing your sites images for the search engines.

1. Robots.txt file:Ensure that the folder you are storing your images in is not blocked by your robots.txt file. Prior to the rise in popularity of image search, it was common practice to block the folder images were stored in. Helpful hint: Store your navigational and "structural" type graphics in one folder, and block that from the spiders, store the pictures of products, events, or news related images in another folder and open that one to the spiders.

2. Use the Alt Attribute of the IMG tag: Make sure you are using the "alt" attribute of the image tag. Again, like the image name, don't over do it, but ensure that it describes the image you are trying to present to the user. The attribute should describe the image in a short "to the point" way that reads naturally to the viewer. Helpful Hint: Utilizing the alt attribute also helps visitors who do not run with images on, as well as visitors with disabilities that utilize screen readers to understand what the web page is about.

3. Image File Names:Name your images in a way that describes what they are. Don't get carried away though. If it's a picture of a purple widget, name it purple-widget.jpg, rather than leaving it whatever your camera or photo editing software wants to name it. Helpful Hint: Use dashes between the words, rather than underscores.

4. Include Images With Articles, & Press Releases: If you are sending out an article or a press release, don't forget to include an image, or a url to an image that the news outlets can utilized for their version of your news. By supplying the link to the image, it can encourage them to link to the image itself straight from your own website. Helpful Hint: Adding images to articles and press releases makes them more appealing to the reader.

5. Use a Caption By Your Image:Placing a small caption directly under, on top or on the side of your image will help queue the search engines what the image is about. Helpful Hint: With a caption, you can be a little more descriptive about the picture than with the alt attribute, but again, make it flow natural.

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