Have you ever “shown” an image to Google and asked to find similar ones? Then, you have performed a reverse image search.

Reverse image search is the process of searching for an image with another image, not with a search query. This is useful when we need to:

  • find the source of an image
  • see where else an image has been used across the web
  • see if an image is copyright-protected
  • find similar images

Since many people use reverse image search, it can be a good source of traffic to your website. To boost the chances of people finding your images, you have to optimize them.

It’s common for website owners to neglect image optimization, but it’s an important part of any SEO strategy. So, let’s take a closer look at the reverse image search and see how to optimize your images to make them bring you traffic.

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How to perform the reverse image search?

It’s pretty simple.

Say you have photographed something, and want to find similar images. In that case, you can go to Google Images and drag the image from your desktop to the search box.

drag image here box in Google for reverse image search

Or you can upload it by clicking the camera icon in the search line and then Upload an image and Choose File.

uploaded image in google for reverse image search

If you see an image somewhere on the web and want to find similar ones, you can copy the URL of the image (right-click the image and choose Copy image address). Then, paste it to the Google Images search bar and click Search by image.

Pasted image url in Google for reverse image search

Or just right-click the image on a website and choose Search Google for image:

dropdown menu with option to search google for image

If you find an image in Google, you can search for similar ones with the Google Lens tool.

Google Lens icon selected in image search result in Google

A unique feature of Google Lens is that it not only lets you find images similar to the original one but also images similar to parts of the original one, depending on what area you select.

Here’s an example of sourcing similar images to the skyline of an image:

Using Google Lens to source similar images to skyline of an image

Here’s an example of sourcing similar images to the trees of that same image:

Using Google Lens to source similar images to treeline of an image

What’s more, Google Lens can even recognize some objects in images. In those cases, it offers the Related results section with the queries Google “thinks” are present in the image. For example, based on the section of trees, Google Lens provides results for Pinus brutia, Pine, and Fir trees:

related results include pinus brutia and fir trees based on selected portion of image in Google Lens-1

Or, if Google is “sure” what’s on the image, it can offer a knowledge graph on the topic. Below, it offers a snippet from Wikipedia about pine trees:

google lens providing snippet from wikipedia on pine trees based on selected portion of image

Seems like Google MUM’s multimodal search feature is already here.

As for mobile reverse image search, you can also use Google Lens, or install the Google app or the Chrome app and search for images similar to any one from your mobile gallery.

Where to perform the reverse image search?

The most popular search engine for images is Google. In addition to having one of the biggest  — if not the biggest — image libraries, Google Images has a set of in-built tools that let you further filter image search results. For example, you can switch filters to find the images of a particular size, color, and type. You can also choose the time when the image first appeared on the web, as well as set up the type of usage rights (a commercial or common license).

filters for google image search include size, color, and usage rights

Despite being the most popular images search engine, Google Images is not the only one you can use to find images. Many search engines have their own built-in image search engines. Plus, there’s plenty of stock libraries adored by designers and marketers from all over the world. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

Bing

Bing has its own image search engine, which looks and functions like Google Images but has its own useful features.

For example, Bing Images instantly shows you the list of the websites an image is used on, as well as the Related searches section:

Bing images results showing web pages where image is used

Like Google, Bing can also recognize and search for the objects on the image:

Bing images showign related content based on portion of Steve jobs face

It can also suggest a knowledge graph if it recognizes who or what is on the image:

Bing images results pae with knowledge graph of steve jobs based on image search

Unlike Google, Bing can also read the text on the image:

Bing images search page includes text from image of Steve Jobs

Bing also lets you filter the images by layout. And, if you search for photos of people, you can choose how these photos will look (featuring faces or head and shoulders, for example).

Bing images with filter for just faces or heads and shoulders

Yandex

Yandex, a Russian search engine, also has its own image search feature that is worth mentioning. It works pretty similar to Google and Bing — you upload the image and search for similar ones. You can also see a knowledge graph if Yandex understands the content of the image.

You can search for the fragments of the initial image and set the filters to get the images of the needed color, quality, type, and so on.

Yandex image search results for forest

Many designers and digital marketers choose Yandex, not Google, when they need to find images because Yandex’s image library contains more high-resolution images.

Additional Image Libraries and Search Engines

In addition to those widely-known search engines, there are dedicated image libraries and search engines like TinEye Reverse Image Search:

TinEye reverse image search results for image of forest

Flickr (needs you signed up to upload your images for the reverse image search):

flickr search results page includes images of forests

Shutterstock (either loved or hated by designers):

shutterstock search results pages of forest images

Pinterest is also your friend when it comes to image search. Once you see a pin you want to find similar ones to, click on the loupe icon:

loupe icon on pinterest image selected to find similar images of a forest

Then, choose the part of the image you’ll be searching for:

portion of forest image selected to find similar images in pinterest

Ok, now it’s time to get your images found via reverse image search. Let’s walk through a list of image SEO best practices.

Choose proper image formats.

If you think that PNG and JPEG are the best choices of image format, I’m here to surprise you. These days, the preferred image formats are AVIF, JPEG 2000, JPEG XR, and WebP.

One of the key criteria for choosing these formats over the traditional PNG and JPEG is the weight of the images. The new formats handle compression better, so they can be made lighter and load faster. Better loading times mean better user experience and better positions on SERPs.

Still, there are some peculiarities about these new formats, WebP in particular. It is considered the most universal image format for the web, as it supports both lossy and lossless compression and allows transparency and animation. It’s also up to 35% lighter than PNGs and JPEGs.

The only thing is that WebP may not be supported by some minor browsers. As of May 2021, the format was supported by 95% of browsers worldwide. In most cases, this will not be a problem, but if you want to stay extra careful, you can make your pages serve different image formats when there is no support of WebP.

Compress images.

Image compression is important to your core web vitals and to your image SEO. If you pack your website with high-quality but heavy images, your users will have to wait too long for a page to load. Google will not appreciate the slow load time either, and will rank your pages lower.

You have several options to compress your images. If you own a WordPress website, you can use image optimization plugins to automatically compress your images or compress them in bulk. Just be careful since the more plugins you add, the slower your website becomes.

Some platforms compress images by default so you may not need a plugin. However, it’s still a good idea to compress images externally with the help of special tools. Luckily, there are a lot of them online that are free to use. TinyPNG, ShortPixel, and ImageOptim are just a few. Here’s a look at the results of using TinyPNG to compress six images at once:

six compressed images uploaded to TinyPNG

Set image dimensions.

One more thing that may negatively affect your rankings: image dimensions. If you don’t specify image dimensions, the browser will try to “guess” the right size on its own, which will lead to the image shifting on the page. This will result in poor visual stability for both users and Google.

To keep your page stable, always set the dimensions like:

<img src="bolognese.jpg" width="640" height="360" alt="spaghetti bolognese with basil" />

This will let the browser keep enough space for the image even if it’s not loaded immediately, which will avoid content shifts.

Name image files properly.

Image file names should state what’s on the image. This will help Google recognize the object on the image, and improve the chances of ranking higher in image search. Best practices of image naming include:

  • Use target keywords. In most cases, keywords for image file names actually mean what is depicted on the image.
  • Separate words with hyphens, not underscores.
  • Do not use symbols. Make your image file names understood by both humans and search engines.

Remember to rename files right on your desktop.

Add image alt text.

Image alt text is the way you describe your image to search engines. The clearer this description is, the better for search engines and users, especially users with assistive technologies.

While any image alt text is better than none, you want to make it as descriptive as possible. Let’s take this example below:

ikea meatballs and fries on white plate

If you inspect it on the source page, you’ll see the following alt text:

alt="Ikea meatballs"

In this particular case, the alt text is decent since the page describes the recipe of IKEA meatballs. But without the context of the recipe, the given alt text would not be descriptive enough. Instead, the following alt text would be better:

alt="swedish meatballs with fries on a plate"

To help you brainstorm alt text, you can upload your image to Google's Cloud Vision API to see how the search engine interprets the image:

image uploaded to Googles Clous Vision API interpreted as meatballs

While this is not descriptive enough for alt text, it’s a good reminder to include meatballs in your alt text to ensure Google recognizes the image.

Add Schema markup.

When optimizing images, there are two types of pages where structured data can help: product pages and recipe pages. As product and recipe Schemas have special image tags, Google will be able to identify what’s on the image and use your images for rich snippets in SERP:

rich snippet on Google Serp for lasagna recipe

You can tag your images manually, or use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. With the latter, simply specify the page type and add the URL. The tool will render the page and let you choose what each element is from the drop-down menu.

State the copyright.

Protecting your images from theft is a must. If you don’t indicate the authorship of your images, your competitors may steal them and reap the benefits of improved UX and rankings.

To avoid image theft, ask your developers to add the following image attributes identifying the owner of the image:

  • Author (artist; creator) — the author of the image
  • copyrightNotice — the link to your copyright license and its description
  • source (credit) — the link to your website or the website you took the image fro.

In this case, if your competitors “borrow” your images, Google will keep considering you the owner and prefer your pages because of these tags. Even if the competitors delete the tags.

Run image audits.

To maximize your image optimization efforts, you need to regularly audit your website to spot image-related issues. Image SEO audits can be performed with any SEO tool that can analyze images and PageSpeed factors. I’m going to use WebSite Auditor as an example.

Once you create a project for your website, the tool will crawl your pages to further provide you with a detailed analysis of all the technical issues found on your website.

To see the issues related to images and the list of the affected pages, go to Site Audit > Images:

site audit of images using website auditor toolTo find more issues, scroll down to the Site Audit section and find the Page Speed module. 

page speed module of site audit run by website auditor tool

Here you will see if your page’s performance could be improved by changing the formats of your images, resizing them, deferring or re-encoding anything, or otherwise optimizing your images.

Optimizing for Reverse Image Search

Although image SEO does take time, it can help you boost your images’ visibility in image and reverse image searches. Since this can drive traffic to your site and improve your positions on SERPs, it’s well worth the investment.

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Originally published Dec 6, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated June 24 2022

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