File Naming Conventions and Digital Asset Organization for Web and SEO
Have you ever tried to search for a file or download an image only to find a name like “F17361_OE_PS_FY18.pdf” or, worse, “Screen Shot 2021-11-29 at 10.45.58 AM”? Undoubtedly confusing!
Taking the time to strategize your file naming conventions and digital assets not only creates a great experience for users, it can also provide an added bonus for your SEO strategy.
- Simple, Yet Descriptive
- Make it easy to maintain and update documents
- Remove version numbers
- Always use lowercase characters
- Avoid spaces and underscores
- Skip prepositions, definite articles and special characters
- Be consistent
- Optimizing for SEO
- Utilize keywords (but don’t overuse them)
- Don’t embed text in images
- Avoid abbreviations
- Utilize tags and captions
- Change stock image file names
- File Types
- Convert to .jpg for images whenever possible
- Utilize SVGs
Simple, Yet Descriptive
While it may seem like an oxymoron, there is an achievable simple yet descriptive file name. Users should be able to search and find exactly what they’re looking for. When assets are downloadable, users should be able to quickly and easily gauge what the file might include. At the very minimum, a “file-naming-conventions.pdf” file is much more informative than “F17361_EO_PS-FY18PF.pdf.” But there are a few more key strategies to keep in mind before uploading files to your site.
Make it easy to maintain and update documents
Having organized and appropriately named files will help you maintain and update documents in the long run. Your team will be able to find and replace outdated files and avoid broken links.
Remove version numbers
Version legacy matters as content is being created internally but it’s best to remove version numbers before uploading. Again, this avoids broken links or sending users to an older version of the file.
Always use lowercase characters
Using all lowercase letters in filenames is generally a good habit to get into. Some web servers interpret uppercase and lowercase separately, which can lead to confusion or technical issues.
Avoid spaces and underscores
Spaces should also be avoided. Hyphens are the preferred alternative, rather than underscores, because search engines interpret an underscore as its own character. It’s like naming your file “marketingxstrategy.pdf,” which won’t display the keywords someone is trying to search. Underscores also get lost visually when a link is underlined, as they often are on the web.
Skip prepositions, definite articles and special characters
It’s good practice to eliminate prepositions (words like for, in, with, etc.), definite articles (like the word the) and other special characters (~ ! @ # $ % ^ & *` ; < >) from file names. These take up unnecessary space and tend to make the file more difficult to organize and locate.
Last but not least, consistency! Standardizing your naming conventions is essential when it comes to organizing and uploading web files. It will help you stay organized and allow for a seamless user experience across the site.
Do This: content-creation-content-strategy.pdf
Optimizing for SEO
Leveraging keywords or descriptive text in your naming conventions is a great boost to your SEO strategy. But don’t go overboard. At the end of the day the focus should be on providing a great experience for users, not search engines.
Utilize keywords (but don’t overuse them)
The first five words of files and images are indexable by search engines, so those first five words should accurately describe what the file contains, in decreasing order of importance.
Google recommends placing images and files near relevant text whenever possible. The visual content and the web copy support each other to maximize your overall page quality and benefit SEO.
Don’t embed text in images
Important or quality information shouldn’t ever be embedded in an image. This includes images of graphs and charts. It’s always worth the extra effort to build the visual with HTML or create an .svg. Not all users can access images, so ensuring content is in HTML and providing alt text is a best practice.
Using full words instead of abbreviations will help searchers as well as search engines. Something like Printed Circuit Board Assembly (vs. PCBA) might be best spelled out, while something like HVAC is so widely used that perhaps you don’t have to spell out Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. Search inquiries don’t usually include abbreviations unless they’re very common usage.
Utilize tags and captions
Optimizing your alt tags and captions will ensure search engines are able to read and understand the content of the image of the file. You’ll want to keep them short—no more than 12 words—and written in plain text like regular sentences, complete with spaces.
Change stock image file names
While stock photos aren’t directly penalized by Google, poor ones could indirectly harm the site, because most people can tell when an image is a stock photo. One of the best things you can do to improve your website’s SEO is provide valuable, original content that is representative of your company. If you do use stock imagery, always be sure to change the original ‘istock-2760242-340×340.jpg’ download name.
Do This: industrial-manufacturing-hvac-services-maintenance.jpg
Not: Picture for the Industrial Page_899x 304_version 3.jpg
Convert to .jpg for images whenever possible
Images should always default to .jpg on your site. This format offers the best image compression to maximize page speed. When an image needs a transparent background, .png is your go-to, and choose .gif when an image has movement.
A Scalable Vector File, or SVG, is an image format used for a variety of graphics in a web environment. An SVG lets Google read the copy on an infographic, which in turn can help SEO rankings. The .svg format should be used for logos, images with text and images that need to be scalable.
If you’re providing downloadable assets on a website that’s indexed by search engines, you’ll want to follow best practices in file naming for the sake of SEO as well as to provide the best possible user experience. Following file naming conventions helps users organize their downloads and demonstrates a high level of attention and precision on your part. In the long run, it’s easier for your internal team, too.