Alt text, also called alternative text (also known by the more inaccurate “alt tag”) is an incredibly important accessibility point. If you have a website that has images on it, they need to be accessible. By default, images are not accessible.
The alt attribute allows web browsers to display an image if there’s no other way of displaying the content. This means that people with visual impairments can still see your site.
In addition, alt text is an accessibility factor for blind people. Blind people use screen readers when they are browsing the web. These screen readers speak out the alt text on your site so that blind people can hear it. This way, they understand exactly what’s in the image, since they cannot see that image due to their disability.
Because of the inclusion of the right alt text when done correctly, this also helps improve the user experience and makes visual content more accessible for the disabled, which is reason enough to really make sure that you include optimized alt text. The better your user experience, and the better that you make your visual content available to the disabled, the more users – and different types of users – you can attract to your website.
And if you don’t focus on accessibility as part of your SEO efforts, you can even run the risk of being the target of an accessibility lawsuit.
Alt Text: What is it, Exactly?
Have you ever rolled over an image on your browser, and little text popped up next to the image as a result? That’s known as alt text, or alternative text.
This text is important, because it helps Google understand images better than they would if the image had no alt text.
It also provides greater context about what your image is about than what Google can understand from the image filename alone.
Its technically incorrect name – that most SEO professionals use and should be familiar with – is known as “alt tags.” This is never correct, and is actually one of those pesky misnomers, because there is no such thing as an alt tag. Instead, it’s the alternative text attribute of the image tag.
This is different from image titles, however. The image title attribute is a W3C factor, and is something else that we will cover in another article. Additionally, you shouldn’t use the same image alt text within your image titles, either. We will cover more on this in a future update.
How is Alt Text Usually Used?
When you upload an image to your website on WordPress, you’re given the option to enter some descriptive information about the image.
This typically takes the form of alt text, and title text. We recommend making sure that you always fill out your alt text field with a descriptive phrase that describes your image.
If an image file cannot be loaded, alt text will typically be displayed in place of that particular image.
These image elements also help aid search engine crawlers by providing additional context of the image that’s not obvious from the file name, or from the URL of that image.
This information allows crawlers to better index an image properly.
Examples of What Alt Text Should Look Like
Below is an example of what alt text code actually looks like:
<img src=”filename.png” alt=”This is an example of a file.”>
That’s the nuts and bolts of it right there.
What Is the Best Format for Your Alt Text?
You may be asking right now: “So what is the best format for my alt text? How should I do this?
Here are a few examples that should get you started writing some excellent alt text:
Average: <img src=”strawberries.png” alt=”strawberries”>
This is really not a great way to write your alt text. Why? Because it just contains one word: “strawberries.” This doesn’t add all that much in the way of context, and could get in the way of how Google understands this particular alt text. We do not recommend writing alt text in this manner.
Awesome: <img src=”strawberries.png” alt=”This is a group of strawberries with chocolate-covered syrup.”>
Now this is a much better way to write alt text. Notice how this example is very descriptive, contains keywords, and also adds contextually-relevant information in a natural way.
That is the best way to write alt text: making sure that it’s entirely natural while you still include keyword mentions and what the image contains.
Advice for Writing Great Alt Text
Alt text is not easy. It can be challenging to arrive at a level of proficiency with alt text, because it’s an accessibility factor. It’s also quite technical, because you have to describe the image exactly all while including keywords, and making sure that you are not too verbose.
It can even harm accessibility if it’s done poorly.
The adage “none is better than terrible” is usually the rule to follow in this case, because you don’t want to harm your SEO efforts by writing terrible alt text.
There are a few rules of thumb you want to follow in order to get your alt text right, every time:
Specificity and Succinctness Are Our Main Watchwords Here
It’s important to describe the image, but you don’t want to write too long on this one. Just say what the image depicts. Be careful about things that may be out of shot, other issues with gender or ethnicity, assumptions about someone’s motivations in the photo, and other assumptions that have to do with anything that may be out of the shot.
You want to make sure that you describe the image briefly, sort of how you would describe the image briefly to someone you are talking to.
This means that you should limit alt text to really just a few words, and don’t worry too much about writing so much that you go beyond that.
There IS a cutoff point, however: 125 characters is usually the limit at which screen readers cut off text, so make sure any important text you want your reader to know is within that particular limit.
Including the Type of Image is A Mistake on Some Images
While we want to give as much information about the image to search as we can, sometimes we can go overboard. Over-optimizing alt text is easier than writing the correct alt text.
For example, say that you explain that it’s an “image of…” something. This is not always needed, and likely a little too obvious and verbose. Imagine the screen reader repeating this text over and over.
But, it’s still a good thing to provide more context to people, because they are blind, and they can’t see that this is a certain type of image.
Don’t Make the Alt Text All About Keywords
Images should be relevant to your target keyword. This is an important point. Don’t include images that aren’t relevant to the overall article.
The focus here is also making sure that your alt text appears natural to search engines. Like other SEO methodologies, you don’t want to overstuff alt text with keywords.
You also don’t want to stuff your entire article within the alt text.
No, you don’t want to stuff half your article within the alt text either.
You also don’t want to make your alt text all about keywords.
Even though search engines cannot really recognize the full context of bad alt text, it’s possible that you might be ranked lower because of keyword stuffing that alt text.
Make no mistake: Google is advanced enough to recognize when you are keyword stuffing.
This is why you must be specific about your alt text, and you must be succinct about it. It’s better to hit the nail on the head than push the nail further into that tire.
Do Include any Text That Shows Up Within the Image Itself
The term image content refers to any text that shows up within the actual image (that is not metadata, its filename, or its title text). This image content is important to optimize for as well, because you don’t want to run the risk of Google not understanding your image at all. And this image content includes things like text, people, and other attributes that are not part of anything that Google would read.
There is speculation that Google is able to read text within images, however, that is just speculation. There is something called metadata, which is the embedded data within an image, that Google can read. Google can also discern what’s in the image by reading the file name. But, it can’t optically discern text within an image between other text in an image.
That kind of thing is too advanced for Google, which John Mueller confirmed.
This is why you may want to consider actually including it within the alt text of your image, so that Google can further understand it.
The absolute exception on this is if this would result in duplicate content because you mentioned the text elsewhere on the page. Another situation where this would happen is if you were repeating yourself with other alt text (which can happen).
Another situation is if it would lead to keyword stuffing. This is also why, like any skill, practice makes perfect when it comes to alt text!
Don’t Forget About Alt Text Within Images On Your Form Buttons
Some websites have utilized images within their “submit” buttons. If your website does the same, you may want to make sure that you include alt attributes within these images too.
Submit buttons are not decorative images, in fact, they are quite functional. And the alt text that you enter here in the alternative attribute should describe this button per the W3C guidelines (mentioned further down in this article).
This applies to any buttons that are physically clickable, whether they are labeled “apply now,” “contact us,” “search,” and other variations.
How Does Image Alt Text Impact SEO?
Google explains image alt text in the following manner:
Google says that they use alt text along with computer optical algorithms, along with the content on the page, in order to fully understand the image’s subject matter.
Alt text can also be used as anchor text when you utilize an image as a link.
Google recommends that, when creating alt text, that you observe the following:
What Do the W3C Guidelines Say?
The W3C, or world wide web consortium, which is a standards body who provides instructions along with standards for a wide variety of markup languages, describes the following:
They also explain the following about the various types of images you may run into, as you manage your SEO website:
Decorative images: Provide a null text alternative (alt=””) when the only purpose of an image is to add visual decoration to the page, rather than to convey information that is important to understanding the page.
Functional images: The text alternative of an image used as a link or as a button should describe the functionality of the link or button rather than the visual image. Examples of such images are a printer icon to represent the print function or a button to submit a form.
Images of text: Readable text is sometimes presented within an image. If the image is not a logo, avoid text in images. However, if images of text are used, the text alternative should contain the same words as in the image.
Complex images such as graphs and diagrams: To convey data or detailed information, provide a complete text equivalent of the data or information provided in the image as the text alternative.
Groups of images: If multiple images convey a single piece of information, the text alternative for one image should convey the information for the entire group.
Image maps: The text alternative for an image that contains multiple clickable areas should provide an overall context for the set of links. Also, each individually clickable area should have alternative text that describes the purpose or destination of the link.”
The W3C also provides a decision tree document that is helpful for determining how you should use the alt text attribute of the image tag in your HTML documents.
Traffic From Google Images
Image alt text is very important when it comes to roping in traffic from Google images. This alt text can help you drive traffic from those sources by appearing either within Google images, or showing up as image packs (special snippets) within the search results.
These types of image elements on the search results, or within Google images, is really just another way to receive organic visitors.
The more you provide methods for receiving organic visitors on your website, the better, right?
It has the potential to increase your traffic by thousands. So, it pays not to ignore alt text and the benefits it can give your website, especially from Google images.
This traffic from Google images can be very valuable, so be sure to implement an alt text process in your website creation tasks, if you have not done so already.
As You Can See, It Pays to Pay Attention to Your Image Alt Text Optimization!
There are many benefits to optimizing your image alt text. From driving traffic via Google Image search, to making sure that you hit accessibility factors, to ensuring that you help people understand your site, it’s worth it to make sure that your alt text is optimized.
Aside from that, you can also avoid accessibility lawsuits, especially if you have your site optimized for all accessibility factors in mind.
There are many SEO professionals who tend to ignore alt text at their own peril. By considering these tips and making sure you develop a procedure where you optimize your own alt text, it’s possible to implement this almost automatically by the time you’re finished.
Are you using alt text? If not, when do you plan on optimizing your own?