SEO Best Practices When Using GIFs

From buzzfeed lists to Twitter clapbacks, GIFs (short for Graphics Interchange Format) are part of the language of the web.

If you search Google Images or Giphy, one of the biggest GIF aggregators, you can see a wide variety of GIFs from around the world.

An animated GIF (pronounced both “jif” and “gif”, and arguing over pronunciation is a surefire way to start an argument online) is a type of media file that appears in both personal messages and public content online can be inserted.

A quick Google search defines GIF as a “lossless format for image files that supports both animated and static images,” which became increasingly popular in the 1980s.

GIFs can express emotions or scenarios in a more dynamic and fun format.

GIF story

Steve Wilhite of CompuServe created the GIF to save space when viewing images.

The Wilhite team has found a way to provide these images using a compression algorithm and to limit the number of colors.

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The algorithm identified repeating patterns and made GIFs great for creating high-performance photorealistic images.

Because the file contains multiple versions of the image, you can string these images together to create a repeating video.

The GIF then had a rich history; Unisys Corp, the company that owned the GIF algorithm, began collecting royalties on GIFs in 1995 – and the patent didn’t expire in 2003.

Google Images hit the market in 2001, but didn’t get an explicit feature to search for GIFs until 2013.

In 2019, Google added shareable GIFs to search results.

How does Google crawl GIFs?

At this point, Google seems to read GIFs just like any other image – just with a stronger focus on being able to find and share them through Google Images.

You can use Google image optimization techniques to ensure that your GIFs are crawled, analyzed, and indexed.

Are GIFs Good for SEO?

GIFs can be good for SEO, just as any well-designed image can be good for SEO – they can generate clicks and keep people on a page busy.

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GIFs can be shared, and a well-tagged, shareable GIF can survive long in the meme ecosystem.

People who like and use GIFs can break up long articles and add relativity to the content.

Are GIFs Bad for SEO?

GIFs aren’t bad for SEO – as long as you present them correctly and don’t let them slow down your website.

GIFs can be bad for SEO if you rely on them for text or make them too heavy.

They can also affect accessibility. You need to make sure that GIFs adhere to accessibility guidelines.

How to fix your GIFs

Customize your GIF filenames, use unique GIFs, and make critical alt text good – for people and for SEO.

You can add GIFs to your image sitemap to make sure Google knows exactly where they are.

According to Google, adding images to sitemaps using image tags is good.

Use descriptive filenames and alt text, and make sure the GIFs work with the surrounding text.

If you want your GIF to be well indexed in Google Images, you should tweak the placement of the GIF – near the relevant text and at the top of the page.

Your GIFs should be fast, responsive, and have good URL structures.

Let’s get meta on metadata

Google wants to know what’s going on behind this rich media file with the correct alt tags, descriptive file names, relevant image contexts, captions and associated links.

It is also recommended that you follow Google’s best practice guidelines for images. However, this is at odds with some of the users who love GIF content.

For example, Google’s best practice guidelines for publishing images, including GIF files, state that it should not include image text because it will not be indexed. If context is added, that context is likely to be lost.

You can work around this by adding descriptive labels. For example, GIF description:[description of gif, words in the gif].

Users rely on limited alternate descriptions, and Google relies on these, filenames, and surrounding page context elements to figure out what a GIF is about.

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You can always stay one step ahead of the GIF package by creating these elements Good.

Your alt text should flow with your content with accessibility in mind, and Google will be able to retrieve and use your GIFs.

GIF Performance & Core Web Vitals

GIFs can slow the performance of the web pages they are on.

With Google’s increasing focus on Core Web Vitals as a ranking factor, it’s important to keep the pages fast.

There are many ways to improve performance.

How to optimize your GIFs

There are several methods that you can use to speed up your GIFs.

  • Lossy Compression.
  • Lossless optimization.

You can use image compression pages or Photoshop to cleanly reduce the size of your GIFs and speed up your webpage.

Lossy compression is the art of degrading your GIFs in a way that people won’t notice they’re getting faster. The GIF quality will be worse, but your website will be much faster.

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Lossless optimization does not remove pixels, colors, or information. However, it is not as fast as files that have been lossy optimized.

There are dozens of tools online that can be used to compress your pictures.

You can also convert your GIF to an APNG file to keep more colors for better file size.

Using better settings when saving GIFs in Photoshop can also save on website speed.

You can also convert your GIF to HTML5 video.

Please visit the web.dev website for complete instructions on converting GIFs to HTML5 videos.

You can convert GIFs to MP4 videos and then set them up in web videos. Make sure they loop, play automatically, and are silent (like GIFs).

Using a video also allows for better accessibility. According to WCAG’s “pause, stop, fade” guidelines, users must have control over moving images.

This is easier to do with video than with GIF.

Sounds easy, but GIF go-getters be careful

Let’s go back to how Googlebot crawled a website for a minute.

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Keep in mind that if there is too much dynamic content on a website, the website may perform much slower than a website without that type of content.

In other words, if a site is made up of thousands of GIFs, it can result in slow loading times, regardless of how they’re presented with metadata or otherwise.

Slow page loading times can affect a website’s search engine ranking.

Website owners and operators need to balance the competing interests of users and search engines in order to keep page loading times low while enabling a more entertaining and dynamic presentation of the page content.

While a number of local factors can affect page load time, the most common solution to the problem with GIF content is to have developers reduce the size of the images.

There are several ways to reduce the size of an image on a website depending on how the website is built.

GZIP compression

A technique of compressing or emptying images by up to 70% without compromising image quality.

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This technique must be implemented by your web host on their servers. This test can help you determine if your website has been GZipped by your web host.

Image optimization

Desktop programs such as Photoshop and web programs such as Smush.it can use the “Save for Web” function to reduce the image size.

Image quality degrades alongside the image, and so developers need to find the sweet spot between image size and quality.

Developers who rely on HTML to reduce image size (e.g. WordPress blogs) don’t really create more space on the server.

On the contrary, a web browser would still have to load the original image size before reloading the image and changing it to the height and width you assigned it.

In either case, you are already doing your website and search engines a favor by opting for a GIF format over other larger image formats.

Accessible GIF Issues

Accessibility is a hot button problem that overlaps with SEO: good SEO practices usually contribute to accessibility and vice versa.

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WCAG compliance is important to ensure that users can conveniently access your website.

The WCAG guidelines state:

“Move, blink, scroll

For any moving, blinking or scrolling information that (1) starts automatically, (2) lasts longer than five seconds, and (3) is displayed in parallel with other content, there is a mechanism by which the user pauses, pauses, or appears can fade out unless moving, blinking, or scrolling is part of an activity where it is essential; and

Automatic update

For all information about the automatic update, which (1) starts automatically and (2) is displayed in parallel with other content, there is a mechanism with which the user can pause … “

For GIFs, it is recommended to set animated GIF images so that they stop blinking after a certain number of times within 5 seconds.

You can use HTML elements like

/

to provide more information quickly and to easily meet this WCAG criterion.

Next generation image formats

Google has started promoting next generation image formats.

An important one is WebP, which can be used to significantly reduce the size of images while maintaining quality.

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WebP is both lossless and lossy.

Closing GIF content

When used effectively, GIF content can increase engagement for a particular post or content.

GIFs are good for users and they can help increase traffic to your website.

All of these factors work together to send an indirect thumbs up to Google.

However, if you’ve gotten GIF crazy, you need to make sure that Google can index your content as effectively as possible without GIF content.

This can be achieved by giving Google as much information as possible about the content.

You also need to make sure that the presence of GIFs on your website doesn’t slow down your page load times.

Moving images go nowhere.

Look for marketers, enable your GIF, and take care of it.

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