How to boost your ranking in Google Image search results

Merche Martínez

Written by Merche Martínez

What is Google Images?

Before we get delve into the subject of this post, it’s important to establish that Google Images is the image search tool of the popular search engine. Even though it has its own application, it is also integrated in Google.

When we enter a search query, we are faced with several options: web search, image search, Google Maps, video search, shopping, and more.

Image optimisation for Google Search

Getting our pictures to rank in Google Images helps us increase our web traffic. For example, in case of tourism or other specialised websites like wedding photography, Google Images greatly serves as a showcase of products and services. If we search “wedding photos alicante”, the results will display pictures that are relevant with our query.

Google Image search of wedding photographers in Alicante

How can I get my pictures to show up in Google Images?

The first thing that comes to mind is to look for a button that says “upload image” or some other Google tool that would allow us to upload our pictures. However, it’s not that easy. We can’t just upload our pictures on Google.

“How did all those photographs get there, then?” you ask. Well, in an ‘automatic’ way. Google Images crawls websites looking for pictures and includes them into its search results.

Let’s see an example of a search results page, with pictures that Google Images has indexed for the “Human Level Communications” query:

Human Level in Google ImagesWe can see corporate photographs, images that we included in our articles, photographs of our team, office, and events our CEO has participated in… Simply put, pictures that are relevant for a user who’s searching Human Level.

There are several methods that we can use to get our pictures to appear in the search results, and to rank in good positions for relevant search queries:

  • Pictures uploaded on our website. The page containing our picture must be of public access. Google doesn’t have access to Intranets and other private areas, so images included in those places will not get indexed.
  • Pictures uploaded on Google’s free apps. If we don’t have a website, Google recommends uploading photos on its free apps, namely Blogger, Picasa, Google+, or to create a website using Google Sites.
  • By creating and sending a sitemap containing our images. In order to let Google know about our website’s images, we can add specific tags to our image sitemap file.

Image sitemap

Each page of our sitemap can include up to 1,000 images. My recommendation is to include only the most important ones, as they will probably be the most relevant.

Sitemap files are generated in an XML format. The first thing we must do is to include the following line right before we start to define the URLs:

< urlset xmlns:image=”″>

Here’s some example code of a sitemap for a page with three images:

<url> <loc></loc> -> Page <image:image>  -> First image <image:loc></image:loc> </image:image> <image:image>  -> Second image <image:loc></image:loc> </image:image> <image:image>  -> Third image <image:loc></image:loc> </image:image> </url>


Besides the <image:loc> tag, we can define additional tags to include more information about our picture.

image:imageContains all the information about one particular image.
image:locImage URL.
image:captionImage caption
image:geo:locationGeographic location of an image. For example: city or country.
image:titleImage title.
image:licenseURL of the image’s license.


The only mandatory tag is <image:loc>. There are times when certain images are not located on the same domain that the page they are displayed on. In these cases, it’s necessary to verify the ownership of both domains in Google Search Console, or to send your sitemap through a robots.txt file.

These are lines we must include into a robots.txt file:

User-agent: Googlebot-Image
Allow: /

Optimising pictures to get them indexed in Google Images

Google’s aim with image search is the same as with its web search: to provide users with the best and most relevant results.

Alternative text

Each image must contain a descriptive alternative text that will help Google to interpret it and to better determine for which searches it would be relevant to display it. Overoptimisation of the image alt text can put your website in the ‘spam’ list, on the grounds of providing a negative user experience.

The alt text is very useful for people with visual disabilities who use screen readers, as well as for people who have a slow Internet connection and see the text before an image has finished loading.

File name

The file name must also be descriptive. For example, a picture of the Poniente Beach in Benidorm must carry the appropriate name: poniente-beach-benidorm.jpg. A name like 0001.jpg doesn’t provide valuable information whatsoever.

Other elements

Whenever possible, it is recommended to use captions and descriptive names for the image. For accessibility reasons, Google recommends to avoid including important information into images of elements like page headers and/or menu.

Anchor text

Another important thing to review are anchor texts of internal links on our website pointing towards image pages. For example: if we have a wedding photography blog, and one of our entries is dedicated to a graphic feature of a wedding in Alicante, the anchor text could be something like “Antonio and María’s romantic wedding in Alicante”.

How to protect my images from copies

We frequently run into the same image being used on different websites. In cases like this, we want to include as much information about the picture as possible, so that Google identifies it as the original one.

A possible solution to this issue is to allow other users to use our images, but with a mandatory attribution and link to the original website.

One last thing: it’s important to be patient. According to Peter Linsley, Google Image Product Manager, image indexing on Google “can take some time”. But if we follow the recommendations included in this post, our pictures might appear in Google Images earlier than we might have anticipated.

Merche Martínez
Autor: Merche Martínez
SEO consultant at the Human Level online marketing agency. She's an expert in search engine optimization at both national and international levels. She's also a certified Google AdWords user.

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