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Do image filenames have a significant impact on SEO?

Images can be crucial to making a website look good. However, with online images, there is more than what literally meets the eye. Even if no text has been embedded in the graphic itself, there will remain text attached to the picture in an SEO sense.

One good example will be the image’s filename. If you are eager to optimise your website’s SEO as effectively as possible, do you have to be careful what you put into this filename, or can you settle for something drab and meaningless? The answer could surprise you…

What does Google say? 

You might have noticed that Google Search Central documentation doesn’t specifically state whether image filenames indeed affect SEO rankings. The closest to a clarification that the documentation provides on the issue is where the following is stated: 

“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 localise your images, make sure you translate the filenames, too.” 

However, in an October 2022 episode of Google’s own Search Off the Record podcast, Lizzi Sassman and John Mueller — both members of the company’s Search Relations team — go into more detail about the SEO implications of image filenames.

Mueller acknowledged that “having descriptive filenames is good”. However, he added that “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.”

He called these signals “really, really strong”, while noting that the filename “doesn’t provide any real unique information, usually.” He summed up that, as long as you complete the alt text and add good surrounding text for the image, its filename will typically be “okay”.

Why tinkering with image filenames can be counterproductive

You might still be convinced that there would surely be no harm in replacing or editing image filenames en masse throughout your website. Every little helps, right?

However, on the earlier-mentioned podcast episode, Mueller warned that “when we crawl images, we tend not to crawl them as often, because usually, they don’t change a lot.” 

He explained that, therefore, if you changed all of your website’s image filenames 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.”  

The takeaway from all of this is that, as Mueller also indicated, you should endeavour to only change image filenames in this dramatic manner if doing so would be “really, really critical”.

Sassman also highlighted the “room for human error”, as you could overlook a broken link that you had brought about as a result of editing an image filename.

Fortunately, by contacting our digital marketing experts, you can receive advice on how to get your image filenames right the first time around.

Do image filenames have a significant impact on SEO
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