This digital publisher is the first to invest in illustrations for organic search

Google’s algorithms are constantly changing, but if there’s one thing that stays consistent, it’s that unique assets and insights always win. Earlier this year, newcomer, an online source for travel, food and crafts, launched its first non-editorial initiative to leverage original artwork for its library. Although adding images to articles is not new, this is the first time such a format has been used in online publishing. For example, this illustration for “Best Pottery Classes in New York” uses the style of a children’s storybook to tell a story and draw visitors in as soon as they land on the page. It’s engaging, informative and pleasing to the eye.

Although search engines cannot crawl images or videos, original media assets improve on-page engagement, an important factor that Google, for example, takes into account when ranking web pages. The less readers bounce off search engine results pages (SERPs), the stronger the signal to the algorithm that something has been done right and that the content deserves to rank well for its targeted terms. While many other factors, including great user experience, brand reputation, and high-quality content, play into organic performance, visuals are an area that search marketers shouldn’t ignore.

Not all content benefits from illustrations, and identifying which ones will is not simple or relies only on “your guts”. According to Feng, SEMRush is a great tool for this; put your domain in the search bar, hover over “SERP Features” in “Organic Search” and export pages and queries with “Image Pack” or “Image” on the SERP. Then go through the list and think about what you want in the visuals, write up briefs and send them in for artwork. “There’s a lot of back and forth with artists, but the results are worth it,” Feng said. Illustrators often made sketches of assigned articles and sent them for review. The team then provides feedback before the illustrator begins coloring and adding watermarks. If you own the copyright to your images, you can let other people take and reuse your assets in exchange for promoting your business.

This strategy boosted the site’s search engine rankings and social media engagement. For example, this article published a few years ago about the best gay bars in New York increased organic traffic from 3,000 to 10,000, an increase of almost 230%. It now competes with publishers like TimeOut and Thrillist and even ranks for highly competitive “near me” terms. Another hit is the Maui Whale Watching Tours article, published in early May of this year, which now has over 100 highly searched terms. This artwork also ranks in Google Images and improves the chances of appearing in the Universal Search Result, helping you stand out on the SERPs with a mini image carousel at the bottom of the organic listing. These visuals are also placed on the home page of the site to offer a new look to old and new users.

Additional SEO strategies for images include adding descriptive image captions and compression for smaller file sizes. Choosing the right file format is also important. For example, PNG produces better image quality and is often used for web graphics, logos, and graphics. In contrast, JPEG is best for photographs and illustrations and offers more flexibility when balancing compression and quality.

While optimizations are important, the placement of visuals also matters. Images are less recognized by Google if placed in areas with little surrounding context. This page places a visual of the “7 Magical 35-foot-high Las Vegas Mountains at Night” in the section that discusses the best times to visit the attraction. And thanks to the descriptive caption, the image now ranks #1 in Google’s image pack.

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Hailun (Marco) Feng
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