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 article and image by Carole Terwilliger Meyers

          If you have any presence on the internet, with a blog or website, you probably want to know how to improve traffic to your site.  And, if you are like me and get a queasy feeling at just the mention of SEO, read on (in case you need this information, SEO stands for “search engine optimization”).  I hope here to clarify one confusing aspect about how to better accomplish SEO with labeling your images.

I consulted my techie husband, Gene Meyers (who works as a senior software engineer), and two brilliant travel photographers, Greg Vaughn and David Sanger (who additionally has a background in computers and is very SEO-savvy).  Here’s what I learned from them about optimizing your image SEO efforts .  (Note that I use Picasa to store, sort, and manipulate my images, so a few of my comments will pertain specifically to that photo processing program.)

Gene says, “Everybody stores images on their computer’s hard disk, using whatever organizational structure or directory that makes sense to them.  When these images are used on a web page, the consideration of searchability comes into play.  Since images (e.g. jpegs) are not searchable directly by standard search engines, you need to add text associated with the image that can be indexed by search engines.  The HTML name for this image text is called the “alt tag.”  These two concepts--of image name on your file storage system and alt tags on images published on your webpage or blog--come together when you use a tool to design your webpage or blog.”  (For example, I use Net Object Fusion, but you might use WordPress.)

Image Filenames
Before I did this research, I was giving my images a filename like this:

SF-AnnualEvents-Dickens Fair-Female Santa-11-24-12(iPhone-c2013CaroleTerwilligerMeyers)

My format was based solely on my own ease of finding things.

Then I read an article that said for best SEO I should instead add in hyphens after each word and not use underscores.   So I changed my format to look like this:


In answer to my questions, Gene said I didn’t need to spell out SF, as San-Francisco, because the search engines would be able to figure that out.  But Picasa seems not to like hyphens, wouldn't you know, so I began having trouble searching for images when I hyphenated within the filenames.  It appeared to me that I needed to use one labeling system with Picasa and then rename the image when I add the photos into my websites and blogs.

I checked in with Greg, who responded, “It is my understanding that while keyworded filenames may have some SEO benefit, it is very minor, and therefore I don't bother with it much, or at least limit the filename to a very few key terms.”  Then he zeroed in on the importance of the alt tag and of including a caption on the web page with the photo.  Greg also thought that my filename was too complicated and that the parentheses could cause some problems.  He indicated that I didn’t need to list what camera was used to make the photo and that though some photographers include their copyright information in the filename, the vast majority do not.  But he also said that there is no one file-naming system that works for everyone.

Greg elaborates, “The PhotoShelter Guide to SEO” says to use keywords in filenames, but then says it doesn't count for much.  Also, a Google video I just came across specifically said not to use underscores, at least not in URLs and page titles, so I assume also in photo filenames.” 

Greg recommends that I start using Adobe Lightroom to import, edit, process, and catalog my photos.  He says, “It is very good for keywording for SEO, and it's very easy to set up automated tasks like sizing an image for a blog or Facebook post.  There will be a little bit of a learning curve, but there are a ton of free tutorials online.”  Though I will keep this in mind for the future, and you might want to take his advice now, I don’t plan to change programs any time soon.

After reflecting on Greg’s comments, this is how I began naming my files:


I started keeping it to all hyphens, and with no underscores, blank spaces, or parens because of comments I’ve heard both from these fellows and from chatter in general .  I also decided to keep the photo date, copyright date, and the iPhone notation (though I moved it to the end) because I do make use of that information.  My name remains because this is an image I have already posted on the internet; like Greg, I don’t usually bother to put my name on images I haven’t released.

At this point I consulted with David Sanger.  First off he clarified that SEO means making your photos easy to find when someone is looking for a particular term.  And he said that “Google does not index images; it indexes webpages.  Specifically it indexes every word that is on the webpage, and it records any media, photos, or videos on the page.  The image filename is quite low on the list of items considered.”  Like Greg, he recommends having a caption in text on the page near the photo.  Regarding filename, he says, “I don't think filename is important at all.  I use my own system so I can keep track of them.  Keep it simple.  I don't change anything when posting to the web.  Way too much work.”

So bottom line, the image filename is just for me and my needs, and when I place it on a webpage or blog post people will find it in a search because of the text surrounding it as part of the general description.  And a general search is not necessarily going to bring up the image just because of a good filename I’ve given it.  David pointed out that “Google considers your domain, its page rank, how long it's been around, how well it is known for the subject matter at hand, how many inbound links you have, etc., etc.  There are hundreds of factors and lots of analysis of their relative importance.”  This seems to be where alt tags comes in.

Here, at the end of my quest for information, I’ve decided to again alter my filenames to serve my unique needs.  This is now my filename format:

SF-Annual Events-Dickens Fair-Female Santa-c2013-Carole Terwilliger Meyers-iPhone-11-24-12

I’ve removed many of the hyphens, returned to using some blank spaces, and moved my photo date to the end.

I do hope this information brings some clarity for you as well.  My search for further clarification is now aimed at alt tags.

post script: I have again made some slight changes.  I no longer add iPhone (because ALL of my images are now shot with my iPhone6s).  I also no longer include the date.  And I don’t capitalize everything.
SF-Annual Events-Dickens Fair-female Santa-c2013-Carole Terwilliger Meyers

More information
More on hyphens, underscores, and more.

More on image optimization

Google's guide to SEO (pages 18 and 19).

Carole Terwilliger Meyers blogs at Travels With Carole.
Ms. Meyers is also the author of “Miles of Smiles:  101 Great Car Games & Activities”
copyright 2018 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

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