Google’s Lizzi Sassman and John Mueller discussed the importance of image filenames in a recent Search Off the Record podcast and at one point discussed a major misconception when it comes to filenames.
Importance of file names
Google’s documentation doesn’t say if image filenames are ranking factors.
But they do say that Google takes note of them to help figure out what the image is about.
For that reason, Google recommends that images have meaningful file names.
Google ‘s image guidelines documentation states:
Similarly, the file name can give Google clues about the subject of the image.
For example, my-new-black-kitten.jpg is better than IMG00023.JPG.
If you localize your images, be sure to translate the file names as well.”
It’s also good practice to give images meaningful filenames because it makes it easier for organizational purposes to see the filename of the image and know what it is.
How important are image file names?
Google’s Lizzi Sassman and John Mueller start their discussion by stating the importance of filenames and then discuss how important they are in general.
So another part you could focus on, I guess, would be the name of the file.
So words for the name of the image itself.
How important is that?
Because that’s not an area that I haven’t put a lot of effort into, but I don’t know, how should we?
What if I went and just changed all the images on our site to have a different file name?
To be more descriptive or, I don’t know… put more words in there as well, besides the alt text?
We recommend doing something with the filenames in our image guidelines.
So having descriptive filenames is good.
But I don’t think you’ll see a significant change if you already do other things around images, like alt texts, the text that surrounds the image.
Those are very, very strong signs.
And the file name itself is often… it’s from a technical point of view.
That’s what we call it, but it usually doesn’t provide any real unique information.
Of course, if you don’t do the alt text, or if you don’t have good surrounding text, then of course the filename may be the only place you mention what this image is about.
But if you do the rest, the file names are usually fine.”
Something You Should Know About Google Image Crawl
Next, John Mueller raises a major technical issue regarding how Google crawls images and why this should be considered when optimizing images on an established website.
John Muller continued:
“And the other thing with filenames, especially for images, is that when we crawl images, we tend not to crawl them as often because they usually don’t change much.
That means if you change all the file names on the website, it will take a long time for Google’s systems to see, “Oh, well, this is a new image and we need to look at it.” some point.”
And to understand that connection between the old image and the new image, that is something that will take a long time.
So if you changed them all at once, I guess… I don’t know, for a period of a couple of months at least, it’s going to be a bit annoying in Image Search because we’re going to delete the old ones. first because they are no longer mentioned on the page and they pick up new ones very slowly.
So that’s something where I would try to do that only if you’re very, very critical.
Like when we transitioned from Blogger to the new blog posts setup.
Of course, the images also had to be moved.
And at that point, it was like, “Sure.” It was like, “Rename the file, move the image to a different URL.” “
The big takeaway here is to keep in mind that Google doesn’t crawl images very often and be prepared to have rebranded images that aren’t indexed for months.
Changing file names has minimal effect
Another important takeaway is that changing the filename of already crawled and indexed images has the least amount of benefit to the point that it would not be viewable.
John Müller continued:
“But otherwise, once they moved on the site, and you were tweaking things, and it was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got a new system for image file names.’
I don’t think that would make it any better.
That would probably have minimal effect, maybe no visible effect at all.
For the amount of effort, yes.
And everything goes down for a couple of months. It’s not fun.
And room for human error as well. To give like to lose a broken link.
If you need to change, where are these images and stuff embedded?
You could cause more problems with the simple mistake of forgetting to update multiple places where those images were used.”
I can imagine things going wrong.”
Image file names and SEO
This segment of the Google podcast had at least four ideas on the subject of image file names.
Image filenames that are descriptive are useful from an image search standpoint because they help Google understand what an image is about.
Alt text and text surrounding the image provide a stronger and more important signal about the image than the file name.
Changing the filename of an already indexed image has “minimal effect” and probably won’t improve it.
Changing the filename of an indexed image can result in the renamed image not being crawled or indexed for months.