ALT Text: The Ins & Outs of Using Photo Description Tags
By Chloe Mark | October 2015
If you have a blog or a website, chances are you've questioned the purpose of ALT text. Similarly, you've probably been tempted to skip over this feature in the rush to produce content. Read on to discover why you might want to take a closer look.
Google's search algorithms are getting more and more advanced each day, crawling your site for relevant content for any search query. You'll want them to know what your images are saying.
What once was a tool to help web users know what was on a page before the images were able to load, an ALT tag now serves as both an SEO tool and a way for visually-impaired web users to hear what an image is through a tool that reads off the text.
What is more, images are as important as words, if not more important. This means web users may depend on image search tools more frequentally. Google image search has been known to drive traffic to your site, tweets with images in them are more likely to grab attention, and Pinterest (an image-driven platform) is becoming more popular than Twitter (Search Engine Journal).
You should take advantage of any opportunity to optimize your content, especially when it's as easy as describing your photos.
Some helpful pointers:
1) Before ALT text, start with the filename - Google can start by using the image filename itself.
For example, if you have an image of your latest home design for your architecture firm, by changing your image from its default name of "12345.jpg" to "home-redesign.prairie-home.2015", Google will be able to tell what you're talking about.
Sometimes, if they can't find the image title, they'll even use this to name the image in search results.
2) Don't forget titles - You can use image titles to draw in web searchers. ALT tags are important for the search engine crawlers to understand the image, whereas titles are important for web users. These should be descriptive titles, more than just one word.
Back to our example, don't just entitle it "Home Design," but perhaps include the specific style and architect like "Prairie Home Style Design by..." In this way, relevant searchers will see how your image pertains to them. Plus, your more descriptive phrase will increase your likelihood of showing up early on in their search results since it is less common than the short keyword.
2) Don't keyword stuff - The SEO guidelines for content apply in tags as well -- you can't stuff everything with keywords or your rankings suffer. Use an array of wording for each image with the title, ALT text and description. Here are examples from Google:
Not so good:<img src="puppy.jpg" alt=""/>
Better: <img src="puppy.jpg" alt="puppy"/>
Best:<img src="puppy.jpg" alt="Dalmatian puppy playing fetch">
To be avoided = Keyword Stuffing: <img src="puppy.jpg" alt="puppy dogbaby dog pup pups puppies doggies pups litter puppies dog retriever labordor wolfhound setter pointer puppy jack russell terrier puppies dog food cheap dogfood puppy food"/>
3) Craft a tag for each image - Ideally you would be able to specifically craft each ALT tag to the photo. You can think about what would be helpful to someone if they couldn't see your image: how would they understand what it is about?
4) Make images relevant - This may seem obvious, but make sure that your images are next to the right content. If you are putting your image in a mostly unrelated context, search crawlers will be receiving contradicting messages and you might not rank for the right (or any) search result.