Good news for webmasters who rely on stock photography websites for their images: For the time being, the use of original images doesn’t give web pages any advantage with the search engines — and by the same token, stock images don’t hurt your search engine rankings.
So said Matt Cutts, Google Search Engineer, Head of Google’s Webspam team, and the public face of Google for SEO purposes.
As of now, Cutts says, Google doesn’t rank web pages higher in SERPs (search engine results pages) just because they use original images in their content. But he doesn’t rule that out as a future measure of web content quality – the assumption being that webmasters who take the time to produce original images will presumably pay just as much attention to the quality of their other content.
Quality images do count for SEO and web traffic
That being said, the size, resolution and quality of the images you use with your web content do have some sort of impact on SEO. Google has recently improved its Google Images search so that higher-resolution images display in search previews. What’s more, the screen now displays navigational arrows so that users can scroll through the image results.
From an SEO standpoint, the downside of this change is that instead of the old thumbnail image, users can now view a large, high-quality image without the need to click through to the image publisher’s website. The gradual improvements in Google’s image search have resulted in a drop in search engine traffic caused by image searches, because there’s not as much of a need to click “View Page” (unless the images you’re looking at are of an item you want to purchase).
However, quality content still matters – and can still bring users to your site despite Google’s enhanced image search. Images such as infographics and alternate product views can be impressive enough to attract users to your website for more information even if the entire image displays in the image search preview window. And attractive, well-designed websites tend to perform better in search engine rankings.
Another reason to use high-quality original images is that frequently used stock images won’t always show up in image search results – and if they do, your site is only one of many using the same image. So creating your own original images may help you gain clickthroughs just because you’re offering something different from your competitors.
Original images and SEO: Future quality indicator?
In his Webmaster Help Channel video on this topic, Google’s Matt Cutts seems to suggest that image quality could eventually become a “signal that we could look at in terms of search quality.” And it does seem like just the sort of thing that could end up as part of a future Google update.
For now, using stock images doesn’t help or hurt your website – at least in purely SEO terms. But it’s not too early to begin improving your graphics and photo-editing skills so your website has some visual appeal – and visual information – that users can’t get from your competitors’ websites.