Why Google Can't "Read" your Images - Montana Webmaster

Why Google Can’t “Read” your Images

One of the items I train my clients in is tagging and naming images specifically for the search engines. If you have a photo of a sailboat on Flathead Lake, what is the specific meaning of that sailboat to the page it’s on? Even if Google’s software can tell it’s a sailboat, will Google catalog it with the meaning you want from the image of the sailboat? It’s all in the words connected to the photo!

How to Attach Words to your Photos

File Names

In the image that shows the Alt and Title tags, you can also see the file name. Filenames that look like shutterstock211963174.jpg or img12038238.jpg provide absolutely no information to the search engines. (They don’t provide you with any information when you are trying to find a specific image either.)

We now live in a world where an image uploaded to one site or platform is copied and used by other sites and platforms. One example is Google Images. Unlike many platforms which change your image file names, some, like Google Images use your file names, and the text around the image, to match viewer searches.

Another benefit of good image file names is that it helps you find your own images …

Who Should Give the Image Files Good Names?

It is my opinion that the photographer should give the images good file names. When a web developer receives several hundred photos with names like dap_BML-0051.jpg or shutterstock_518639926, the developer has no idea how to name the files or which one to use where.

One time, a website owner gave me a DVD of image files with no names or information and asked me to put the rubber boat images on a certain page. What I didn’t know was that the yellow rubber boats belonged to a different company than the blue rubber boats. The site owner was very condescending when I put both colors of rafts on the page.


Screenshot of website photo with captionCaptions are visible on the page. Generally they are below the image. It is best if the caption text is formatted differently from the rest of the text on the page. Using italics is one option. In the photo on the right, the caption also has an underline.

The text on the photo is not a caption. It is flattened into the photo in imaging software. You can tell whether the text is part of the image by trying to highlight just the text. If you can highlight the characters individually, they are not embedded as part of the image.

You can try it by going to the page with this photo: https://montanawebmaster.com/social-media/before-you-buy-analyze-those-yelp-reviews/ . The caption can be highlighted, but the text over the photo cannot.

Alt Tags

Screenshot of WordPress dashboard panel for tagging images.The purpose of alt tags is to provide a description of the image for people with screen readers. This is a great place to provide additional information about the content of the image, not the purpose of the image. The use of Alt Tags and Title Tags in combination can be very strategic.

The image on the right shows the WordPress panel for adding alt tags and titles. Unfortunately, the panel screenshot doesn’t show the whole text, but it does illustrate that an alt tag is different from a title. An alt tag should describe the content of the image so screen reader software can provide information to someone who can’t see the image.

The interesting thing is that an Alt Tag is more like what Google reads about your image: what’s in the image itself. Even so, the Alt Tag is important because it’s what screen readers use.

Title Tags

Like the title to a post, a title tag connects the image to a specific message. While alt tags are used more by screenreaders, title tags are more used by Google.

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.

~ https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/guidelines/google-images

There is what you can do and what you should do. You can use title tags to make your images have the tone of a used car salesman. So, while it is good to mention the connection of the image to to the topic of your website, I would suggest not using them as yet another “call to action”.

What is the Message of each of your Photos?

1. No message: A pretty picture because your developer said you need a photo

Quite frequently, I see websites used in the manner of a bulletin board. It’s a place to put nice photos. The site owner has a beloved photo that is personally meaningful, but doesn’t communicate the expected message to viewers or to the search engines. For example, everyone loves their favorite lake. But a photo of your favorite lake with your sailboat on it is generally a waste of valuable website screen space, unless you are selling your lake, or something related to your lake. With the use of tagging and context, the photo supports the message of the page to both viewers and search engines.

The first step is to identify your message and how each photo supports that message. You may find that you need to switch out photos, if the connection between the photo and your message is unclear or a stretch.

2. Are you Selling Sailing Lessons?

I asked Genevieve Evans of Go Sail Montana if I could use one of her photos from her website to be the generic “Sailing on Flathead Lake” featured image on this article. I was looking for a generic sailboat on lake message. On her site, Genevieve has added photos and text that are sailing lesson specific.

This site has an extra hurdle to jump over because the website platform, Wix, has used their own file naming system.

3. Are you selling real estate in the area?

In this case, the photo is not about a specific sailboat, or about sailing, or about recreation. Instead, the photo is about sailing as a recreation opportunity for those living in the area. The photo supports the idea of the Flathead Valley as a great place to buy a home. Your tagging emphasizes beauty and recreation. The viewer who buys a piece of property on Flathead Lake may be someone who would get more enjoyment from watching the sailboats than from sailing.

4. Are you Selling Sailboats?

If your message is “You would love to buy a sailboat from me.”, the message of the photo should include sales words, description of the specific sailboat. The message that you would love a sailboat, is also important, but that boat itself is the main topic.

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