This Digital Publisher Is the First to Invest in Illustrations for Organic Search
Google's algorithms are constantly changing, but if there is one thing that remains consistent is that unique assets and information always triumph. Earlier this year, newcomer MarcoFeng.com, an online source of travel, food, and craft, launched its first non-editing initiative to leverage original illustrations for its library. While adding images to articles isn't new, this is the first time such a format is being utilized in online publishing. For instance, this illustration for the "best pottery classes in NYC" uses the children's storybook style to tell a story and draw visitors the moment they land on the page. It is engaging, informative, and pleasing to the eye.
While search engines cannot crawl images or videos, original media assets improve on-page engagement, a significant factor that Google, for instance, considers for ranking web pages. The less often readers bounce back to the search engine result pages (SERPs), the stronger the signal is to the algorithm that there is something done right and that the content deserves to rank well for its targeted terms. Though many other factors, including a great user experience, brand reputation, and high-quality content, are at play for organic performance, visuals are one area that search marketers should not ignore.
Not all content benefits from illustrations, and identifying those that will isn't straightforward or just relying on "your guts." According to Feng, SEMRush is a great tool for this; put your domain in the research bar, hover over "SERP features" in "Organic Research," and export pages and queries with "Image Pack" or "Image" on the SERP. Then, vet through the list and brainstorm what you want in the visuals, write briefs, and send them to get illustrations. "There are lots of back and forth with the artists, but the results are worth it," Feng said. The illustrators would often do sketches of the assigned articles and send them for review. The team then provides feedback before the illustrator starts coloring and adding watermarks. If you hold the copyright to your images, you can let others take and reuse your assets in return for promoting your business.
This strategy boosted the site's search engine rankings and engagement on social media. For instance, this article published a few years ago about the best gay bars in NYC jumped in organic traffic from 3k to 10k, which is almost a 230% increase. It now competes with publishers like TimeOut and Thrillist and even ranks for highly competitive "near me" terms. Another success is the article about Maui whale-watching tours, published in early May this year, which now ranks over 100 highly searched terms. This illustration also ranks in Google Images and improves the chance of appearing in the universal search result, letting you stand out on the SERPs with a mini image carousel at the bottom of the organic listing. These visuals are also placed on the site's homepage to deliver a fresh look for both old and new users.
Additional SEO strategies for images by MarcoFeng.com include adding descriptive image captions and compressing for smaller file sizes. Choosing the right file format is also important. For example, PNG produces higher image quality and is often used for web graphics, logos, and charts. In contrast, JPEG is best for photographs and artwork and offers more flexibility when balancing compression and quality.
While optimizations are important, the placement of visuals matters too. Images are less recognized by Google if placed in areas with little surrounding context. This page places a visual of "Las Vegas's 35 feet tall Seven Magic Mountains at night" in the section that discusses the best times to visit the attraction. And thanks to the descriptive caption, the image now ranks #1 in Google's Image Pack.
MarcoFeng.com is an online resource that shares guides to the world's best destinations, ideas for home crafts, and everything you need to live a happier, simpler life.
Hailun (Marco) Feng