24 August 2015

How to Name Image Files

A bright red tomato with vines still attached sitting on a cutting board
A Red Ripe Tomato Sitting on a Cutting Board. This is a typical image caption.
It may be redundant, and could negatively impact your SEO.

The Importance of Naming Image Files: A How-to for Artists

As a rep agency, we receive images from all over the world. usually attached to an email in the form of an artist submission. And while the photographer or illustrator may have put a lot of thought into the images selected to make a cohesive portfolio, most seem to care very little about naming the files. But did you know that a good file name can help with your SEO? Whether it's on the internet or in your client's Gmail, an image with a proper file name can help more people find it. A proper image filename is your first step on the road to a cohesive strategy for image SEO.

This article is part of our ongoing series of tips and tricks for commercial artists.

What's in a Name?

Often, we'll see file names like this:
Maybe the artists name in there like
Or maybe a descriptive word like
All of these file names suck. "Cat" and "Dog" suck the least, but we still need to do better. We need to adopt some universal rules, and come to an understanding on why it's important. We place all our stock in the content of an image, spend hours tweaking the color and light, cropping, etc., and when we're done, we'll "Save for the Web" in Photoshop and share our latest creation with the world. And what do we name this masterpiece?!
You won't be surprised if that's a fairly popular name for an image on the web. A quick Google search for "image.jpg" will return over a billion hits. Much like bad passwords can damage your security, bad image names can harm your ability to get found. Let's think about how.

SEO for Images Starts with a Proper Filename.

If you're uploading the image to your website or blog, you will likely end up with a URL that includes the image file name in the URL. For example, http://www.myportfolio.com/image.jpg That's not doing yourself any favors with the search engines. http://www.myportfolio.com/red-ripe-tomato.jpg tells Google Image Search just what to expect.

Speaking of search, what if you're attaching it to an email? I have 35,000 emails in Gmail. I can't scroll through that to find anything. I have to rely on the search features. So if I remember someone sending in a photograph of a tomato sitting on a cutting board, but the name of file is "image1.jpg" I'm gonna have a bad time trying to find it if I can't remember the artist's name.

So what do we suggest? Descriptive words about the image content, your name, and (if necessary) a serial number or other identifier. Companies like Flickr, Facebook, and Microsoft are all working on automatically tagging your images based on the visual content with mixed results. This feature will only get better with time, but for now, it's still very important to tell search engines the content of the image. And it starts with a good filename.

Avoid special characters. That includes accents, umlauts, dollar signs and anything else that could confuse things. There are many types of web servers and devices out there. All kinds of issues can arise from the use of special characters in an URL, so stick to the basics: Lower case letters, Numbers, and Dashes. Skip the underscores, blank spaces, and "CamelCasing". Underscores are completely different from dashes in the way Google and other search engines interpret them, spaces and CamelCasing both create difficult URLs. Apple provides some more detail in this article about cross-platform filenames.

Avoid unnecessary "Stop Words". You can usually skip words like "A", "To", "The", and probably a lot of prepositions as well, unless they are pertinent to the file name. So "The Red Ripe Tomato on a Cutting Board" as a file name should probably be reduced to "Red Ripe Tomato on Cutting Board". And keeping in mind what we said earlier about case sensitivity and special characters, we've now boiled the file name down to just "red-ripe-tomato-on-cutting-board.jpg"

Gone are the days when we had to worry about the length of a filename. Modern operating systems can handle up to 255 English characters, but most SEO experts feel 150 characters is about all you'll need. About 8 words, tops.

Next Steps: Titles, Alt Tags, and More.

Once your image is on the web, most blogging and development platforms will allow you to give the image a Title, Description, Caption, and Alt Tags where you can provide even more information about the image. Here's an excellent article on how to do image SEO in WordPress. Most SEO experts agree; Focus on your Title and Alt Tags. Google has a set of image publishing guidelines that further detail their best practices for image SEO.

Pro Tip: Use the batch renaming function of Photoshop or GIMP to quickly rename images. For example, you could add "-your-name-photography" to the end of each of your image filenames with just a couple of clicks.

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