How HubSpot Octupled Image Search Traffic to the Blog in 1 Year

As part of the Made @ HubSpot series, today we‘re taking a deep dive into how the HubSpot Blog team drastically increased organic traffic from image search through dedicated SEO efforts. Over the course of 2022, we managed to grow our image search traffic by an incredible 713% – from just 22,000 monthly visits to over 179,000.

Here‘s a look at our image search traffic growth:

HubSpot image search traffic growth 2022

Image Source: HubSpot Marketing Analytics

This massive increase in image search traffic contributed significantly to our overall blog traffic growth and opened up a whole new avenue for organic visitor acquisition. And the best part? The core strategies we used are simple, straightforward, and replicable for any blog or content site.

Let‘s break down exactly how we achieved these results, so you can replicate our success.

Optimizing Alt Text at Scale

One of the very first things we did was audit the alt text across all images on the blog. Alt text plays a vital role in images‘ SEO performance and accessibility, yet we found that it was often overlooked or hastily filled out.

We started by exporting an inventory of all blog images, which totaled over 25,000 at the time. Then, we used a script to identify images with missing or less-than-optimal alt text – generally those with alt text that was an exact match of the filename or under 5 words.

This narrowed it down to around 18,000 images in need of optimization. From there, we broke it down by blog post, prioritizing our highest traffic posts first. Over the next three months, our team of SEO specialists and bloggers worked to write descriptive, keyword-targeted alt text for every single image.

Here‘s an example of how we optimized alt text for a post about social media image sizes:

Before: "twitter-header-size.png"
After: "Recommended Twitter header image size of 1500 x 500 pixels"

By the end of the project, we had written over 40,000 words of new alt text. It was a mammoth undertaking, but the results speak for themselves. Many of the images we optimized now rank on the first page of Google Images for their target keywords.

Creating SEO-Friendly Image Templates

In parallel to the alt text optimization, we also worked with our design team to create a library of branded image templates specifically designed with SEO in mind.

The goal was to have a set of pre-made templates our blog team could easily customize for different topics, while ensuring all images followed SEO best practices.

Some of the key optimizations we baked into the templates included:

  • Space to overlay the post‘s target keyword in a natural, readable way
  • Minimalist designs with ample empty space to ensure visibility in small thumbnail previews
  • Prominent HubSpot branding to build brand recognition in search results
  • Standardized dimensions matching Google‘s recommended image sizes

Here‘s an example template and a couple actual images created from it:

SEO image template example

Blog image using SEO template

Blog image using SEO template

Image Source: HubSpot‘s Canva Account

Implementing these templates had two major benefits:

  1. It made our blog images more engaging and clickable in search results and social media feeds. We saw an average 15% increase in click-through rates from SERPs after launching the new formats.

  2. It dramatically sped up our bloggers‘ workflow by reducing the back-and-forth with designers. Bloggers can now produce professional, branded images in a matter of minutes rather than days.

Leveraging Search Insights for Content Planning

The third core pillar of our image SEO strategy has been leveraging search insights to inform our editorial calendar and content creation.

Each quarter, our SEO team analyzes image search trends and compiles a "search insights report" to share with our blog leads and content strategists. The reports include data points like:

  • Rising image search queries relevant to our core topics
  • Keywords where images make up a high share of overall search results
  • Estimated monthly image search volume for topics we‘re considering covering
  • Examples of top performing images for priority keywords

Armed with these insights, our blog team is able to plan out content that will perform well in image search and allocate resources accordingly.

For example, one of our target topics last year was "customer persona templates." Our search insights showed an estimated 2,400 monthly searches for this keyword in the US, with images making up 35% of page one results. We also saw that illustrated, fictional persona examples tended to get the most engagement.

Based on this data, we decided to create a comprehensive guide to building customer personas, featuring a pack of customizable persona templates. We invested in creating original, high-quality illustrations for 10 example personas, each showcasing different demographics, roles, and pain points.

The result? Our persona templates now make up 8 of the top 10 image results for "customer persona templates" and drive over 3,000 organic visits per month on their own.

Customer persona image search results
Image Source: Google Images (March 2023)

We‘ve replicated this strategy across dozens of topics – looking for keyword opportunities where great images can capture outsized interest and traffic. By being intentional about aligning our content and image creation with search demand, we‘ve been able to get a lot more mileage out of our efforts.

Investing in Original, High-Quality Visuals

Building on the last point, a major factor in our image search success has been a shift towards original content over stock photos. While stock images can work fine for certain types of blog posts, we‘ve found that original, custom visuals are far more effective at driving search traffic and engagement.

Over the last year, we‘ve made a concerted effort to include more original graphics, photos, and illustrations in our posts – whether that means photoshoots, data visualizations, or custom designs. We‘ve built out an in-house creative team and also expanded our network of freelance designers and artists who we can tap for specific visual needs.

This definitely requires more time, planning, and resources compared to just grabbing a generic stock photo. But the payoff in terms of SEO and user experience is more than worth it. Posts with original, high-quality visuals consistently outperform those without.

For example, we published a post last year about office design ideas that included a number of original photos from our own offices. Within a month, the post was receiving over 1,000 organic visits per day, largely driven by the unique images ranking in search.

Office design photos in image search results
Image Source: HubSpot, via Google Images

Similarly, our "State of Marketing Report" has become one of our most linked-to and trafficked assets, in large part due to the dozens of original data visualizations and charts it contains. Many of these graphics go on to take on a life of their own, getting featured and linked to from all sorts of external sites.

State of Marketing graphic featured in search
Image Source: HubSpot‘s 2022 State of Marketing Report

Of course, investing in original visual content at this scale is no small feat – it requires getting buy-in from leadership, building the right creative team and processes, and committing significant time and budget.

But for the HubSpot Blog, it‘s becoming an increasingly core part of our content strategy as we see time and again the outsized returns original imagery can provide in organic traffic and audience engagement.

Technical Optimizations and Best Practices

Finally, while the above strategic initiatives played the biggest role in our image search growth, we also implemented a number of technical best practices to ensure our blog was well optimized across the board:

  • Image Compression – We use Kracken.io to compress all blog images, reducing file size without sacrificing quality. This helps our pages load faster.

  • Structured Data – We add ImageObject schema markup to key images to make them eligible for Google‘s Image Search features and filters.

  • Image Sitemaps – In addition to our regular XML sitemap, we also submit a dedicated image sitemap to ensure maximum indexation of our visuals.

  • Responsive Images – All blog images are served responsively via the srcset attribute to ensure optimal display across screen sizes and devices.

  • Lazy Loading – To further improve page load times, we lazy load all images below the fold using the loading="lazy" attribute.

  • Descriptive File Names – Our editorial guidelines call for descriptive, keyword-rich file names for all uploaded images rather than generic names like "img12345.jpg".

  • Contextual Captions – In addition to alt text, we also add contextual captions under key images to provide additional helpful information and naturally feature target keywords.

Here‘s an example of how these optimizations come together on one of our top performing posts for the query "B2B sales funnel":

B2B sales funnel post with image optimizations

Note the descriptive file name, the keyword-rich alt text, the structured data markup, and the informative caption underneath the image. All of these small touches add up over time.

The Future of Image Search and SEO

Looking ahead, we believe image search is only going to grow in importance as a traffic source and audience engagement channel. The rise of AI and machine learning is enabling search engines to better understand the contents and context of images, making it easier for users to find what they need through visual search.

At the same time, the way people are searching is evolving, with the rise of voice search and more conversational queries. Users are increasingly expecting search results to be more visual and interactive.

For content marketers, this means two things:

  1. Visuals need to be a core part of your SEO strategy, not an afterthought. Every image is an opportunity to rank and drive traffic.

  2. Images can‘t just be decorative – they need to be helpful, informative, and optimized to answer specific user needs and queries.

At the HubSpot Blog, we‘re doubling down on visual content and interactive formats like infographics, videos, and data visualizations. We‘re also investing in new tools and technologies to scale our visual content creation while ensuring quality and consistency.

Ultimately, our goal is to create the best possible experience for our readers – whether they arrive through traditional search, image search, or any other channel. By prioritizing visuals and letting search insights guide our strategy, we‘ve been able to dramatically grow our traffic and better serve our audience. Hopefully this in-depth look at our approach inspires you to do the same.