This post is part of Made @ HubSpot, an in-house line of thought leaders, where we draw lessons from experiments conducted by our own HubSpotters.
Cliché: A picture is worth a thousand words.
Fact: HubSpot’s images are worth 120,000 clicks.
Last year my colleague Karla Cook gave our readers a behind-the-scenes look at a new SEO strategy that we implemented in early 2018. This strategy, which was designed to fix a traffic plateau across the blog, increased our organic traffic by 25% year over year – to eight million organic page views per month. That’s roughly three million new organic views that we didn’t have in early 2018.
Where this traffic comes from is just as exciting.
As I said, our new SEO strategy has brought our organic blog traffic to a level never seen before. However, this strategy had a different, somewhat unintended, consequence for us.
While we’ve increased our total organic traffic by 25% year over year, we’ve increased our image search traffic by … wait for it … by 779%. This refers to traffic that comes from people who do a search on Google or a similar search engine and click an image result that leads to the HubSpot blog.
“Pictures or it didn’t happen Braden.” As you wish:
Source: Google Search Console
Take a look at the royal blue tile in the table above. Between April 2018 and April 2019, HubSpot literally increased its organic traffic from 14,100 organic views per month to 124,000 organic views per month – an increase almost 8 times.
Our image traffic makes up just under 2% of the total monthly organic traffic on our blog, which isn’t too significant in the scheme of things. While the vast majority of our organic traffic still comes from web search (the written blogs themselves), the rate of increase in our image traffic (779%) is disproportionate to that of our total blog traffic (25%).
And let’s face it, 2% out of 8 million is nothing to sneeze about.
But what made the difference if not just our new blog-centric SEO strategy?
Image SEO Best Practices We Learned
As it turned out, we had a few other tricks up our sleeves that gave our images extra juice on the search engine results pages (SERPs). All of these are just best practices for commercial content creation.
1. Optimized alternative text
In the HubSpot COS, we almost always filled in picture alt text boxes with text describing the picture it is linked to. However, last year we started taking alt text much more seriously.
Instead of automatically populating image alt text with the name of the image file – something HubSpot COS conveniently does for you so that this field isn’t left blank – we’re now optimizing each image we embed with the keyword the blog is pointing to – Contribution aims. Then we add a language that puts this keyword in a context that reflects the picture it describes.
For example, if we embed the following image on a blog post about College Courses on SEO, our alt text might look like this:
“Marketing professor shows college students SEO on her computer screen”
Now let’s make a humble estimate that one in three HubSpot blog posts (33%) has at least one image embedded without the featured image of the article. HubSpot publishes (or publishes) approximately 260 blog posts every three months. If we extrapolate this alt text process for 33% of those blog posts, that’s at least 87 images that can potentially capture new organic traffic for us every quarter.
And if the average blog post targets a keyword that gets 3,500 searches per month – a rough estimate based on the HubSpot Marketing Blog’s editorial calendar – that leaves a landscape of 304,500 searches per month that we add more HubSpot content to Add (87 images x 3,500 searches per month). In other words, we’re in hundreds of thousands of Google Image Galleries that we haven’t ranked before.
Read more about our team’s approach to alt text in this blog post.
2. Brand images and templates
At HubSpot, we create a ton of valuable resources that our readers can download to ultimately turn them into a qualified head start for the company. However, there are still a ton more resources our readers need that we don’t necessarily have a lead-generation strategy for, but still generate valuable organic traffic. And these resources appear in image form on many of the SERPs that are important to us.
These resources include inspirational business offers, resume templates, sample emails, and even thumbnails of images that appear in the snippets featured by Google.
To identify these images, the SEO team analyzed where HubSpot was already getting most of its image traffic and categorized these sources into image types. Then we worked with HubSpot UX designer Amanda Chong and the rest of our creative team to develop original HubSpot image templates for each image type.
These new image templates enabled the blog team to effectively “brand” various images that they might not otherwise embed in a blog post and add alternate text for each image using the style described above to make it available on the correct SERPs do. Here are some examples of these branding images now available live on HubSpot content:
3. The Search Insights report
HubSpot’s “Search Insights Report” is a quarterly manifestation of our SEO strategy that is sent directly to the blog team every three months. These reports consist of more than 200 blog post topics, all based on searches for which we want to appear on a SERP that our authors will record and publish within 90 days.
And while we have apparently taken deliberate steps to capture more image traffic over the past year, the radiative effect these reports have on our website traffic cannot be overstated.
On the one hand, in the quarterly creation of these Search Insights reports, we access topics that are increasingly being found in image form. There is even data to support this. Here is a five year trendline that shows an increase in Google Image Search for all questions related to “Marketing”:
Source: Google Trends
Here is one for all searches related to “sale”:
And finally to “customer service”:
Conveniently, these three topics reflect the target markets of three of our blog properties: the marketing blog, the sales blog, and the service blog. Image traffic has increased across the board, however, which means that more image search traffic has become a by-product of our new SEO strategy – a strategy that has continued to grow as we capture more space on SERPs that we didn’t have before.
With a document summarizing all of the potential content topics and the content team’s alignment with that document, we’ve placed ourselves on one of the most competitive search engine properties we’ve seen. Obviously, doing so would see a little (okay, a lot) more traffic.
It’s easy for marketers to attribute the increase in website traffic to good search engine optimization, but these results are ultimately not possible without the time, creativity, and good judgment put into the content itself.