A blueprint to select visuals that boost SEO in a TikTok-centric world

30-second summary:

  • Creating an emotional connection through visuals is crucial to connect with consumers
  • The ever-changing landscape of consumer visual processing requires marketers to thoughtfully select visuals that align with their content, boost SEO performance and drive higher conversions
  • When visual content can increase search visibility, more than 43% of marketers struggle to constantly produce it for SEO
  • Matthew O’Such, Vice President of Digital Marketing & SEO at Getty Images and iStock helps brands navigate visual processing through compelling imagery and video to boost ROI

The advent of TikTok and its meteoric rise in popularity throughout the pandemic has changed the way consumers process information, possibly forever. And, it has proven to be an incredible platform for customer conversions. In fact, 78% of SMB owners saw a positive ROI after integrating TikTok into their marketing strategy. The platform’s dynamic and highly targeted video content has set a new precedent for how consumers expect to receive information.

In 2023, content needs to connect with consumers on an emotional level in order to resonate. Because of this, the careful selection and optimization of visuals are critical for brands and businesses.

Now more than ever, businesses must be strategic about how they incorporate both video and imagery into their content platforms and SEO strategies if they want to appeal to their customer base, garner better rankings and get more traffic from search engines. Since the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than plain text, something that social media platforms have expertly capitalized on, it’s no surprise that eye-catching imagery can significantly boost page rankings, conversions, backlinks, and traffic. Content that integrates images appears higher in SERPs and is viewed up to 94% more than those without, and most search results require imagery to rank.

However, creating high-quality imagery, videos and illustrations for content can be a challenge. Marketers are under increasing pressure to provide fresh visuals that align with constantly changing trends and news cycles. This is an especially difficult challenge for small businesses that are working with limited resources and staff. More than 43% of marketers claim they struggle to constantly produce visual content for SEO.

So, how can small businesses select the right visuals that align with their marketing goals and appeal to their customer base?

Take stock in stock visuals

There’s a common myth that stock photos and imagery are not good for SEO and that original content is needed to rank a brand’s content. This simply isn’t true. These days, there is an incredible amount of high-quality photo and video content available; it’s more about ensuring that the visuals you select are both authentic and relevant to your target audience.

Take time to consider if the imagery or video you’ve selected properly aligns with the content it accompanies. Rather than selecting stock visuals that are generally appealing, consider the emotion that the visual embodies and the action that a customer may take as a result of that emotion.

It’s also important to evaluate visuals in the broader context of your brand or business. From color to imagery style and everything in between, the stock content you select should complement your brand’s voice and reflect your target audience.

Lean into videos

For many years, SEO revolved exclusively around written content. In 2023, a video is 53 times more likely to reach the front page of Google if it includes video. Understandably, video is being used by brands and businesses more frequently. 87% of marketers are now using video as a marketing tool and 97% report that video helps users understand their product or service better and helps increase sales.

In addition to improving SEO, the use of video tends to build trust, drives website traffic and boosts conversion rates. Consumers have a tendency to make a purchase after watching branded videos on social platforms. Video can increase organic search traffic on a website by 157% and including video on a landing page can increase conversions by up to 80%, according to HubSpot.

Quality content is king and size matters

Image resolution is critical to performance as it relates to SEO. Higher-resolution images rank better as they display more visual information and provide a better user experience, a factor we hear frequently from Google as a best practice for users. In addition, high-resolution images are sharper and clearer; two very positive attributes in visual communication.

A high-resolution image is considered one that is at least 1,200 pixels (px) wide, with an aspect ratio of 16×9, 4×3, or 1×1. When selecting an image, make sure you’re not using images that are too big, but also not of low quality/resolution. For example, if your hero image space is only 1,200 px wide and 628 px high, don’t use an image file size larger than that. Download, resize, or crop an image that closely matches your intended use of space as this can be a page-speed performance factor search engines take into account.

You can read more on standard image sizes here.

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Banner Ads
  • Brochures
  • Vinyl banners
  • Postcards
  • Business cards
  • Flyers

Words are still important – be descriptive

The words you put on the page in the form of text play a big role in the success of your overall content strategy and the imagery used with it. Being as descriptive as possible with titles, captions, the image file name, “ALT” (alternate) text, and article copy around and near an image, can often determine how your content is found. If descriptions accurately convey the many facets of your content, the right audience will find it.

In addition, it’s important to use relevant SEO page titles and descriptions, as search engines typically use this to describe the page the image is on, or the image itself if it appears in Google Image Search.

Be smart about social

Because social platforms like TikTok and Instagram are increasingly important conversion channels for small businesses, it’s critical to understand how to optimize advertising and SEO for these channels specifically.

In general, video is massively preferred on social channels, particularly for brands and businesses looking to convert new customers. A recent iStock VisualGPS survey found that after in-person store visits, video posts on a brand’s social media pages were the next deciding factor in whether or not consumers purchased from a small business.

On TikTok, the method of how consumers discover your business is a key differentiator. Hashtags are used to help users find and sort content, so brands and businesses need to be aware of the popular hashtags that are trending in relation to the content they’re posting. It’s also important to have a good idea of ​​what types of keywords your customers are using to discover your content. Videos that look handheld or homemade tend to resonate better with audiences on the platform, and sound is crucial to success. 70% of users watch ads on TikTok with sound on.

On Instagram, it’s important to optimize your brand’s profile with keywords. Incorporating keywords into your brand’s username and/or bio will greatly improve your chances of showing up in relevant searches. Instagram also makes it easy to reach specific audiences through advertising, allowing you to target using demographics, locations and other behaviors. An excellent way to get users to click through ads is to include a call-to-action button that redirects to your website.

The evolution of how consumers process visuals will continue to keep marketers on their toes. However, thoughtful consideration of video, imagery, and illustrations that complement your content, reflect your brand or business, and are relevant to your customer demographics, will drive stronger SEO results and conversions.


Matthew O’Such is Vice President of Digital Marketing & SEO Getty Images and iStock. He is responsible for overseeing and designing the brand’s digital marketing and SEO strategy globally.

With over 20 years of experience, Matthew has developed marketing solutions, lead customer engagement, as well as drove growth and innovation for both agency and in-house large enterprise brands, including WeWork, Ziff Davis, and Razorfish. While working on the agency side, Matthew led teams and SEO strategy for multiple brands, such as American Express, Marriott International, Patron, and Smart Car, as well as many pharmaceutical companies.

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