In the 48th Episode of Google’s Search Off the Record Podcast that was aired about 3 weeks ago, Google’s Lizzi Sassman – Tech Writer, and John Mueller – Search Relations Lead discussed at length about whether or not image filenames have any impact on a website’s search performance. As per Google documentation, while image filenames might not be a relevant ranking factor, it does help Google’s algorithms figure out what exactly the image is about. And that is why it is recommended that you choose the image filenames wisely. Doing so in the system itself makes sense organisationally and it makes them all the more easy to find when the need be.
Even Google Search Central’s Documentation titled “Google Images Best Practices” clearly states that, “By adding more context around images, results can become much more useful, which can lead to higher quality traffic to your site. You can aid in the discovery process by making sure that your images and your site are optimized for Google Images. Google extracts information about the subject matter of the image from the content of the page, including captions and image titles. Wherever possible, make sure images are placed near relevant text and on pages that are relevant to the image subject matter. Likewise, the filename can give Google clues about the subject matter of the image. For example, my-new-black-kitten.jpg is better than IMG00023.JPG. If you localize your images, make sure you translate the filenames, too.”
So, just how important are image filenames?
Lizzi asked Mueller to share some insights on what if she went changing the filenames of all the images on the website to be more descriptive and maybe use more words in addition to the ALT texts. It’s an area Lizzi admits she has often overlooked and not paid much attention to. The importance of which she wants to know firsthand from Mueller. And here’s what he had to say about it.
“We do recommend doing something with the filenames in our image guidelines. So having descriptive filenames is good. But I don’t think you would see a significant change if you already do the other things around images, like the alt texts, the text surrounding the image.
Those are really, really strong signals. And the filename itself is often… it’s kind of from a technical point of view. This is what we called it, but it doesn’t provide any real unique information, usually. Of course, if you don’t do the alt text, or if you don’t have good surrounding text, then, of course, the filename might be the only place where you mention what this image is about.
But if you do the rest, then usually the filenames are okay.”
Crawling images with new filenames might take a while.
While discussing the importance of having relevant filenames for images, Mueller brought to light an altogether important topic – image crawling. He said that it is important to remember that Google doesn’t crawl images that often as they tend to virtually remain the same for longer periods of time. He then further added that if one is to change the filenames all at once, then they need to be okay with the fact that Google is going to take its own sweet time in dropping the old filenames before catching on the new ones and going with it thereon. In short, if you are to do a major filename changeover, you need to be prepared for the fact that Google might not index them for months.
“And the other thing with filenames, especially for images, is when we crawl images, we tend not to crawl them as often, because usually, they don’t change a lot. So that means if you change all of the filenames across the website, then it’s going to take a lot of time for Google’s systems to see, “Oh, well, this is a new image, and we have to kind of look at it at some point.”
And to understand kind of that connection between the old image and the new one, that’s something that’s just going to take a very long time. So if you changed all of them at once, my guess is… I don’t know, over a period of a couple of months at least, it’ll be kind of annoying in Image Search in that we kind of drop the old ones first because they’re no longer mentioned on the page and pick up the new ones in a really slow way.
So that’s something where I would try to only do that if it’s really, really critical.”
Impact of changing filenames minimal.
“But otherwise, once they’re moved on the site, and you’re just like tweaking things and it was like, “Oh, I have a new system for image filenames. I don’t think that would make it better. That probably would have minimal effect, maybe no visible effect at all.”
So, if you are to change those filenames in pursuit of better search performance, know that the impact would be minimal. But if you are to do it organisational purposes then it may eventually serve you well. It also depends on whether or not you are willing to wait it out for months for Google to crawl and index those images as you intend.
To the uninitiated, “Search Off the Record takes you behind the scenes of Google Search and its inner workings! In each episode, the folks from the Search Relations team will give you background info on the decision-making behind launches, feature prioritization in Search Console, and the projects Google Search teams are working on.” You can listen to Lizzi’s and Mueller’s response at the 20:55 minute mark and may be also stick around for the rest of the discussion for some other valuable insights.
Source: Search Engine Journal