Should You Geotag Photos to Rank Higher in Local Search?

Should You Geotag Photos?

There is a lot of misinformation out there about whether you should geotag photos to help your business rank better in Google My Business and organic web search results. It’s one of the questions we get asked about most often during our weekly live Q&A sessions.

How to Geotag Photos
Geotagged Photo with Latitude and Longitude

Geotagging is the process of adding geographical coordinates to an image. You don’t see this data on the image itself. But when you look at the underlying data you’ll see latitude and longitude coordinates along with other meta data about the photo.

This underlying data is called EXIF data (Exchangeable Image File Format) and is typically automatically added to photos by smartphones using your GPS location.

Some high-end professional cameras that have GPS will also automatically geotag photos. And there are software tools that will let you geotag photos after the fact.

These geographical coordinates may correspond to those of your business … and that’s where the controversy comes in.

Does Geotagging Help Your GMB Listing Rank Higher?

The theory is that if you geotag photos before you upload them to your Google My Business (GMB) listing, it will help your business rank higher in a local search.

However, when it comes to GMB, Google already knows the location of your business. It doesn’t need geotags on your GMB photos to connect them to your business. Plus, Google strips all of the meta / EXIF data from photos when you upload them.

That doesn’t mean that Google might not read the geotags and store that info before it strips them (I personally don’t believe that Google wastes ANY data). But whether or not Google reads photo meta data on upload, geotagging doesn’t actually impact how well your GMB listing ranks in a local search.

The team at Sterling Sky did an in-depth test that showed geotagging photos had no impact on your Google My Business rank. Tim Kahlert did a follow-up test that also showed geotagging had no impact on how well a business shows up in a Google search. In fact, none of the Google My Business top volunteer product experts believe that geotagging photos helps your GMB listing rank higher.

Google won’t confirm or deny the impact of Geotagging photos on GMB, but I have never seen it work with any of my tests. The people that swear by it, however, are selling services, so of course they want it to work. 

Jason Brown, Platinum Google My Business Platinum Product Expert

Does Geotagging Help with Organic Search Engine Rank?

There are basically three types of results when people search for a local business: ads, Google My Business listings, and organic search results (e.g. website pages that match what the person searched for).

Geotagging photos has not been shown to improve the ranking of a Google My Business listing. But there is anecdotal information that geotagging and other photo optimization techniques may have some impact on organic search results.

However, don’t expect to geotag photos and see that alone make a huge difference in how well your web pages rank in organic search results.

I’ve heard of tests where people say photo optimization tricks (like geotags) impact organic ranking so I think that’s possible. What I don’t support is people using it as a strategy to sell their Local SEO tools by insinuating that it impacts ranking in the 3-pack.

Joy Hawkins, Google My Business Platinum Product Expert

So How Should You Optimize Photos for Local Search?

I want to be completely clear … geotagging and other photo optimization tactics don’t hurt how your business ranks in GMB or organic search results. But it’s important to know that they don’t really have a significant impact either. That being said …

Here are the best practices for optimizing photos for both Google My Business and organic search results when someone does a local business search.

Take great photos

More than anything else, take great photos of your business, products / services, customers and employees. High quality photos are a strong conversion factor. When people look at your website, Google My Business listing, or any other online business listing, the photos are one of the biggest elements that help a potential customer decide if they want to do business with you.

Upload new photos regularly

For most businesses, the best practice is to upload a few new photos to your website, GMB listing, and other online business listings at least monthly. In some more competitive markets, uploading new photos weekly might be advantageous.

Don’t worry about geotagging

Geotagging photos doesn’t impact your Google My Business rank and there is only anecdotal evidence that geotagging may slightly impact the rank of your organic web pages in a local search. It’s not worth the time, effort or money to geotag photos.

Use descriptive file names on website photos

The file name of a photo won’t matter when you upload it to GMB and has no impact on ranking or discoverability of your listing. However, it’s good practice to change the file name to something more descriptive when uploading a photo to your website. For example, a file name like refurbished-caldera-hot-tub.jpg is much more descriptive than image3-60a04741d77a1.jpg.

Use descriptive ALT text on website photos

Adding Alt Text to Images

Alt text (alternative text) is descriptive, invisible text that you can use to describe an image on your website. Alt text is especially important for visually impaired users to be able to understand what is on your web page. It also displays in place of an image if the image file cannot be loaded for some reason. But image alt text is just one more may to add descriptive keywords to your web page. For example, you would use Refurbished Caldera Hot Tub as the alt text for this image on your website.

So Why Is There So Much Talk about Geotagging Photos?

You will hear many SEO companies talk about geotagging photos.

These companies may simply not understand that it’s the act of adding high-quality photos to your listing on a regular basis that helps your Google My Business listing rank higher. But higher ranking in GMB has nothing to do with geotagging.

They may be confusing GMB ranking with organic ranking of your web pages. Again, there may be a slight benefit to geotagging and other photo optimization tactics when you upload them to your website. But it does not help with your GMB ranking.

Or they may be trying to sell you something that you just don’t need and hiding it in language that sounds good.

With citations declining in importance over the past few years, some SEO companies had to find new things to sell. This is where geotagging and adding keywords to image names comes from. The problem is these tactics don’t work in GMB.

Ben Fisher, Platinum Google My Business Platinum Product Expert

Bottom line, don’t stress out over geotagging photos. There may be some slight benefit on your website, but there is no benefit for your Google My Business listing. Focus your time, energy and money instead on making both your website and GMB listing extremely attractive for potential customers and you’ll see a much better return on your investment.