Why does Google sometimes return images in search results?

Why does Google sometimes return images in search results?

During his SEO (search engine optimisation) office-hours hangout last Friday, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Jon Mueller provided some insight as to why some search queries return text results, while others display images, videos and other media.

Mueller read out a question from a web user who wanted to know why they were sometimes getting images when they search for a term, and what metrics Google uses to decide whether to display them.

His response implies that when a query is entered into Google, the search engine looks for a compromise between relevance and speed. In what he confirms is an automated process rather than a manual one, Mueller stresses that queries are sent out to “a lot of different indexes” in the pursuit to find what the user is looking for. In many cases, text results will be enough and will mean a quicker answer to the query. However, in cases where the algorithms detect that images are “super important”, Google is likely to display an image box at the top of the page.

The question and Mueller’s full response can be seen in the video below, beginning at the 23:21 mark:

We can see this in action with a Google search for three different terms: “fish”, “picture of a fish” and “how to draw a fish”. The screenshots below show that Google is finding a way to assess what we really want from these queries and is returning text, image and video results accordingly:

Search Engine Journal has pricked its ears at Mueller using the word “relevant”, a term SEO analysts traditionally think of in terms of keywords. What Mueller says, however, hints of “relevance” as going beyond words, with it being taken into consideration to decide even the type of media that best suits what we are looking for.

Moreover, it highlights the importance of images and videos being used on websites, and for their files to be named and tagged in ways that allow search engines to crawl them, thus increasing the chances of a site appearing in image or video boxes, as well as Google’s Featured Snippets.

For advice on how to get your site to rank for what your customers are searching for, contact us here at Engage Web.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray

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