Travel Image SEO to Get More Google Image Search Traffic

Do photos of your hotel or tours generate love-at-first-sight bookings? Image search engine optimization is how you get found by travelers who search for hotels, vacation packages, and adventure tours using Google Image Search (or Bing Images Search if you prefer). Optimizing for image search is one more way to increase traffic and bookings by getting your travel and hospitality photos ranked by your name, destination, and activity. Plus learn how to get more clicks on your travel photos using the embedded text trick.

Travel Image Search Optimization (Google)

Web Search Versus Image Search for Travel

Searching for hotels and tours by keyword on Google returns a standard search results page. If you are like most travel marketers, you work hard to get your tourism business to rank high on your targeted name, destination, and vacation activity keywords. When searching for travel, Google includes other bits of information on the page such as sponsored links, maps, and even hotel prices with a “Book Now” button.

When you search by image using for example (or your local country equivalent – results will vary), the search results page is entirely different. Instead of text links and other distracting elements that may direct traffic away from your website, a colorful array of photos appears. Google indexes photos in the same way they index text content. So that is why it is essential to optimize your hotel and tour photos to rank high for image search as part of your SEO strategy.

Probably the most common way that people conduct image searches for travel is indirectly. That means they’ll open up a browser and type in various search terms. Then after taking a quick glance at the list of pages that match, people may click the “Images” link to see the photo results page.

Google Search All switch to Image results

Switching to image results is done via the navigation header bar by clicking the “Images” button or hyperlink that appears on desktop and mobile. This causes the search results display to change to the photo results page for the same set of keywords, travel or otherwise.

Give it a try yourself using for example “Miami South Beach Hotel” or “Cape Cod B&B” or “Galapagos Tour” and view the image search results page. Can you see how this visual way of searching for accommodations and things to do on vacation is powerful and effective? Would your guests be highly influenced to book a place to stay or a package tour based on your photos?

Tour Image Search Results Example

Google image search is the prime example here. Clicking the images link changes to a stunning full-page view of travel photos to be inspired to book that next trip.

Google Image Search for Tour and Cruise Example

Clicking on the image of the people kayaking (for example) leads to a details box as in the screenshot below. Note that related images from the same website are automatically shown in addition to a button to visit the web page to go to the source for a travel photo.

Google Image Search Details Panel - Tourism Operator Photos and Link

B&B Image Search Results Example

The image search results in Bing has an added advantage. It includes a panel of suggested search terms that others have used to conduct similar travel searches.

Bing Images Search B&B Results Example

So if the original search terms are not specific enough, one click is all it takes for that person to dig deeper into nearby places to stay and things to do on vacation.

How does Image Search Work?

So how does Google “see” every photo from your travel website to index it for search by relevant keyword? There’s no human involved. Google uses its massive server and storage infrastructure to analyze images, associate relevant keywords, and index them for inclusion in search results. It is just like the algorithm that is used to index the text content on your web pages with a few important modifications.

With image search engine optimization, your goal is to tweak those elements which will improve your website’s indexing and ranking for your targeted keywords. Here is an overview of the types of elements and content cues that determines how your travel-related images are search engine indexed:

  • Alt tag text for the Html image (<img>) element which is used in place of the photo when it is not visible or shown to the user.
  • The image Filename which oftentimes contains hyphenated keywords describing the photo source file.
  • The nearby text that appears around the image like in a table or div element, for contextual clues about what is pictured.
  • Inbound links to that image whether on page (anchor text) or from an external website.
  • General information known about the site and page such as included in the title and H1 tags and meta data.
  • Computer vision and machine learning (and even facial recognition) to recognize known people, places, and things.
  • Title or Text tag for an Html image (<img>) element which is typically used for displaying hover (mouse-over) tooltips to further explain an image.
  • A caption that is wrapped with the image using a <span> or <div> element or using the HTML 5 figure elements.

For those of you using WordPress on your travel site, the attachment details page in the Media Library is where to look. Here you can edit or modify the Filename, Alt, Title, and Caption fields in one go.

WordPress Edit Image - Filename, Alt, Title, Caption for Travel Marketers

Want to learn more about image search and indexing? Here is an insightful Google Webmaster Central article on image indexing for all sites, not just hotels and tour booking websites.

Hotel Image Search Marketing How-To

So how can you leverage the power of image search to get more visitors to your hotel, B&B, or inn website? When a consumer searches for places to stay in your area, what will they find? By optimizing all of your property photos for image search you can accomplish three important goals. You want Google Image Search (and Bing too) to:

  1. Include a photo or two of your hotel in the gallery of best lodging matches so you rank near the top for your destination.
  2. Display the name of your hotel or B&B on the image results page to promote your brand and generate more inbound clicks.
  3. Show a welcoming picture of your hotel that is clickable to your website to learn more and book direct.

Here is an example of an image search results page for the Cape Cod search mentioned before. Note that two of the photos include the name of the property embedded in (written on top of) the image. That’s the trick I was referring to earlier. By overlaying text on your travel photos, you can include extra information that will appear within the image search results page. So which image are you more likely to click first to learn more-  a picture of a property without context or one that includes a name, destination, and welcoming text?

Hotel Image Search Embedded Name and Destination

Here is your guide to optimize hotel photos for both search and click (tour operators pay attention too). Since the Google algorithm is a secret, this advice is based on the help documented by Google and the best practices for SEO as published on top sites such as Moz, WordStream, and Search Engine Watch.

1. Optimize Hotel Photo Alt and Tooltip Text

  • Add image element “alt” text tags on every photo that showcases your property, rooms, and amenities.
  • When describing shots of your hotel, include the full name plus the city or destination.
  • Add the terms “hotel”, “B&B”, “boutique hotel”, or property type if not already part of your hotel name.
  • Include one or two other keywords for which you want to rank that is specific to each room, service, property, or amenity photo.

2. Clean Up Hotel Image Filenames

  • Rename your top image files to a short but useful description which includes your hotel name if applicable, similar to wording of the alt tag.
  • Use dashes (hyphens) to separate the key words listed in the filename for SEO (and human) readability.
  • Verify that none of your images go missing after renaming by using a site checker service and inspecting your Google Webmaster Tools reports after a few days.

3. Embed Text Labels within Travel Themed Images

  • Embed the name of your hotel in key property photos using a graphics editor like Photoshop or PowerPoint or give my recommended free online tool Canva a try.
  • Overlay the city or destination name across several hotel photos to make your location instantly visible within image search results.
  • Select a few photos to add a slogan, offer, amenity, or unique detail that encourages people to click your photo to learn more and book direct.

Hotel Image Search Marketing - Embed Text using Graphic Editor

4. Edit and Enhance Written Content Around Hotel and Travel Photos

  • Look for pages on your site that have photos which do not match the surrounding text so you can edit one or the other.
  • Rearrange photos to appear closer to the text descriptions and bullet points which sells the features and advantages of your tourism services.
  • Insert quality photos that sell onto keyword-rich pages so you can most benefit from hotel image search opportunities.
  • Add captions to travel photos that would benefit from a more detailed text description beyond the tooltip.

Image SEO for Tours, Activities, and Travel Agencies

While this article focuses mostly on hotel image SEO, all the lessons apply to tour operators, travel agencies, and vacation activity companies just as much if not more so. The goal regardless of which tourism sector you represent is to gain more traffic by optimizing your photos for travel image search.

More Image SEO Tips for Tour Operators

For tour and activity operators consider including and optimizing these types of photos so they rank highly on Google and Bing Image Search and get more clicks to book now or later.

  • Route and itinerary map graphics with descriptive alt text specific to each day-by-day tour itinerary in one summary photo.
  • Snaps of your past (happy) customers on tour with your guides, with proper permission granted of course.
  • Real photos of iconic destinations and bucket-list activities where you take travelers (avoid fake-looking stock imagery).
  • Embed the name of your tour company or travel agency in your top vacation experience photos to make them stand out among thousands of similar images (e.g. in from of the Eiffel Tower or hiking Machu Picchu).
  • Banners promoting special offers, but make sure discounts are kept up to date when embedding time sensitive text within images.

Travel Image Search Testing

Trying out image search to see how your hotel, tour company, or travel business ranks is fast and easy. First conduct a search for your brand name using an incognito window or private browsing session to make sure the results are clean. If your hotel or tourism business is web search optimized, your own website listing should appear first and not TripAdvisor or a booking site.

Now switch to the image results page by clicking the Images button at the top. Photos from your website should appear above the fold (without scrolling down) if you are fully optimized. Follow the action items and tips above if that is not the case. Also take the time to view the photos of competing properties and tourism operators that appear on the same page. Which travel photos are optimized to get more clicks (hopefully yours)?

Important: Take into account the situation where you rank highly when searching in one country, but not when potential customers are searching from another country. Search results are often localized, take into account the language of the person, page and image text, and country or locale specific. Ask your industry peers, staff, and friends in other locations to test on your behalf using both desktop and mobile browsers.

Next review your list of the top 10 search terms that prospects use to find your type of tourism business. Conduct image searches for those targeted travel and destination keywords to see how you rank within the image results. If you do not rank in the first page or two, inspect several top ranked travel images to learn from their example. Are they image SEO optimized for those travel related keywords in ways which are you not? Take notes.

Set a reminder to test every few months since with all SEO efforts, improvements happen over time. Refer to this BookingCounts travel image search optimization guide to see what else you can do to improve your ranking. I recommend that you create a Google document to write down your long-term plan. It’s likely that you’ll need to implement your own set of travel image SEO tasks in stages as you find the free time.

Finally do similar tests on Bing and Yahoo! as well. If you have followed best practices and avoided tricks (e.g. always be honest when using text to describe your photos), your travel photos will be worth a thousand words on the image search results page.

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