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Yep, images can and should be SEO’d just like the copy and the rest of your website. Here’s the low-down in brief:
Before You Upload
Starting with a unique image if at all possible — or an open-source or copylefted/Creative Commons image if not — edit the picture to the correct size and appearance. Don’t ask WordPress or other software to edit it for you! Once it’s edited, save it in the optimum format — usually a .jpg at 70% quality (80% if the image includes text), but possibly a GIF for ridiculously small, simply pictures like icons, or a PNG if transparency is necessary. Compress the image as much as you can without sacrificing quality, and name the image either a description of your picture (i.e. “Dancing-fruit”) or a useful SEO keyword (i.e. “Sodium-Reduction-Food”).
After You Upload
Use the Alt and Title attributes within the Img tag when you call the picture. The Alt tag is displayed if the image can’t be for whatever reason, and the Title tag pops up as a tooltip if they hover over the picture. Both are great chances to squeeze keywords into a webpage. If your webpage’s formatting allows for a caption without losing coherence, feel free to caption it and stick another useful SEO keyword in the caption as well. Finally, make sure that the content directly adjacent to your image is relevant to your image, as it will help Google decide whether the image should show up in an image-only search.
Extreme Image SEO Tips
A Content Delivery Network can accelerate the load times of your images, which can help your SEO a small amount. You can also, if you have a large number of small, often-repeated icons, use Image Spriting to load all of those images as a single HTML request and then display only the part you want at any given spot. Reducing the back-and-forth of HTML requests is a big drop in load times.
That’s it — if you can manage those steps, you can SEOptimize your images and make them not only efficient parts of an optimized website, but also optimized entities on their own should they become relevant in a Google Image or other image-only search — something that a genuine expert SEO always keeps in mind!