Updated for 2020: Astute searchers have increasingly noted Google SERPs adding images next to regular organic listings, especially in mobile search. Here are a couple examples:
I want an image next to my Google results, too!
Business image thumbnails like these are one example of what Google calls SERP enhancements. It’s important to remember that Google will do what they want to do. Nothing will guarantee an image with your listing, but you can do a few things to nudge Google toward that goal.
1. Check your Google My Business listing
Add several good images to your GMB listing, and don’t forget to add a profile photo and logo. Google sometimes uses data and assets from biz listings to enhance other, related listings. Give them something good to work with.
2. Use link tags and Open Graph meta tags to suggest a thumbnail image
Meta tags let you share information about your page with other sites. Link tags allow you to define interrelationships between assets. Various social networks use this markup to auto-set images when you share a URL, and maybe Google will use it as a signal for what image to slot next to your organic SERP listing. You can do it with either or both of these snippets:
<link rel=”image_src” href=”https://www.foo.bar/imgs/foobar.png
<meta property=”og:image” content=”https://www.foo.bar/imgs/foobar.png ” />
3. Google Custom Search markup
Google Custom Search allows you to adapt and configure Google for searching your own site, and the image thumbnail syntax for it is concise. Does Google use it or ignore it for regular SERPs? We don’t know. But it’s easy, so it’s another option. There are two different markup options:
<meta name=”thumbnail” content=”http://example/foo.jpg ” />
Or put a PageMap DataObject in the area. …Don’t know what the latter is? Just do the meta tag!
4. Use structured data to get an image next to your listing
This section should have been the lead, but it’s more dense, and I didn’t want to scare you off. Structured data, specifically, using bits of microdata or tags defined by schema.org, is arguably the best way to help Google understand your intentions. So why not tell them about image-enhanced SERP options with it? I’m not going to go into excruciating detail about syntax and best practices here. It’s easy to find plenty of resources about microdata best practices and schema implementation if you use a little Google-fu.
I will highlight these points:
- Google likes it in JSON-LD, but Microdata or RDFa will work for big-G, in a pinch.
- Definitely use markup for relevant data types available to an “organization” and a “local business”, including but not limited to “image”.
- If you have products, specify product images and other product meta data in the code for those pages.
- Remember to add markup for your logo in addition to your other images.
- And when in doubt, always defer to Google’s structured data guidelines.
5. General image best practices on your site
Use good alt attributes.
Name images sensibly. (img1.jpg = nonsense. [something-descriptive].jpg = sensible)
Size images appropriately. Don’t upload huge images (dimensions or file size) unless you have a good reason. Definitely take dimensions into consideration when you’re specifying a potential SERP thumbnail enhancement. E.g. don’t make them smaller than 160p x 90p or larger than 1920×1080. Oh, and don’t use images with weird (long or tall) aspect ratios. Stick close to square, or typical TV/film aspect ratios of the past and present, at least when you’re thinking about SERP thumbnails.
Here’s an annoying but important note: For best results, use a square image on every page. Google seems to like to grab square images to put next to your organic search engine results. …Which is annoying.
Make Google’s indexing job easier, and they’ll (likely) make your SEO life easier, eventually.
Two end notes:
- Anybody telling you to use rel=author to accomplish this sort of image-enhanced SERP listing hasn’t figured out that it’s deprecated. Just ask Google.
- None of the above methods are guaranteed to work, but they’re about as good as it gets. If Google doesn’t love your site for some reason, you might not get an image next to your listings. Oh, and if you do get your image next to some SERP listings but not others, don’t be surprised; that’s exactly what will happen, if you’re lucky.
Dan Dreifort consults on SEO and loves running multivariate UX tests for his clients. He also helps businesses optimize certain aspects of HR (hiring/firing/training/software UX/etc.) Check out some of his improv noise at synthband.com.