Written by Hailun (Marco) Feng
Search engine algorithms are constantly changing, but if there’s one thing that remains consistent, it’s that unique assets and fresh information always triumph. Earlier this year, the rising star MarcoFeng.com, a trusted source for travel, food and crafts, has launched its first non-editorial initiative, working with illustrators to update the best content to add that “uniqueness”. Some examples are “best waterfalls in oahu” and “whale watching tours in Maui.” The visuals use the style of the children’s storybook and summarize the main content; they are engaging, informative and pleasing to the eye.
This strategy, long used by iconic brands such as Verywell Mind, TripSavvy and The Spruce, helped improve the search engine rankings of tested pages and their social media and email engagement. For instance, This article published a few years ago on the best gay bars in New York increased organic traffic from 3k to 10k, an increase of almost 230%. It now competes with iconic travel brands such as TimeOut and Thrillist and even ranks for highly competitive “near me” terms. These visuals are now also placed on the home page of the site to offer a new look to old and new users.
Content that can benefit from visuals is identified through SEO tools like SEMRush. The methodology is simple; plug your domain into the search bar, hover over “SERP Features” in “Organic Search” and export pages and queries with “Image Pack” or “Image” on the SERP. Then go through the list and think about what you want in the visuals, write up briefs and send them in for artwork. There’s a lot of back and forth with the artists, but the results are worth it.
Additional Image Optimizations by MarcoFeng.com which are also common in the industry include adding descriptive image captions and compression for smaller file sizes. Choosing the right file format is also important. For example, PNG produces better image quality and is often used for web graphics, logos, and graphics. In contrast, JPEG is best for photographs and illustrations and offers more flexibility when balancing compression and quality. And don’t forget to add an image sitemap (many CMS now generate this for you), make sure the images are responsive, and add the appropriate credits!
While optimizations are important, the placement of visuals also matters. Images are less recognized by Google if placed in areas with little surrounding context. This page places a visual of the “7 Magical 35-foot-high Las Vegas 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. Since the Google bot won’t be able to crawl media content, it relies on surrounding text to understand visuals and the terms they should rank for.
In addition to visualization, many aspects can be optimized for better crawlability, indexability and user experience. And thanks to all these efforts, MarcoFeng.com has become one of the top travel sites, with over 1.5 million readers a year, answering over 60,000 questions about travel, food and crafts.
Hailun (Marco) Feng