How Using Alternative Text on Images Can Improve Your SEO
Following all of the rules can be challenging, especially if you’re an Aquarius. And in terms of Google rules, it can be even more of a challenge. Why? Because when it comes to explaining their rules, how to follow them, and why, Google thrives on obscurity.
The words “SEO”, “SERP”, and “Google Rankings” have permeated the digital world, but getting the rankings you want and showing up in the search results where you want to can be quite the challenge.
It’s not that Google doesn’t want to help. It’s just that in order to regulate and keep search results relevant—and not just littered with scammers and spammers—they have to keep some level of secrecy about how and why they do things. And even though this can be really hard on those of us trying to maneuver Google’s enigmatic rules with good intentions, it really is best.
Honestly, alt-text is kind of a little present from Google to help you help them. It is one of the most widely misunderstood and misused (or ignored altogether) Google Commandments, but it’s incredibly important. If you do it right, you can use it to boost SEO, help out the visually impaired, and make Google happy, all at once.
Ready to learn how and why?
Let’s talk about alt-text, baby. Let’s talk about JPG. Let’s talk about all the good words and the bad words that are key. Let’s talk about alt-text.
Sorry…we just couldn’t help ourselves.
What Is Alt-Text & Why Should I Care?
Probably the greatest reason for all of the confusion and nonchalance surrounding alt-text is that so many people don’t really understand its purpose. And when you don’t understand the purpose or point of something, it can be difficult to see the value.
So what is alt-text all about?
Alt-text or alt-tags are the words (usually 4-8) associated with a digital image.
Think of the last time you tried to open a website with a slow load time or the last time you opened an email that was littered with images that didn’t load. The words that show up with the image icon are known as alt-text or alternative text. In other words, it’s what shows up as an alternative to the actual image itself.
You may be thinking, I’ve done so much work to make sure that my site’s pages load in the blink of an eye, so why does the alt-text even matter?
There are really two reasons why alt-text matters:
- Remember Google’s spiders and bots that crawl the web to determine what a website is all about and how relevant it is to a search? Those spiders and bots read text, not images. So if your image is missing alt-text or has useless alt-text, you’re missing out on an opportunity to help Google help you show up in search results.
- Ever wonder what the user experience is like for the blind or visually impaired visitor? If your alt-text sucks, you can bet the user experience does, too. The visually impaired will be hearing your website, which means that all of those gorgeous images on your site will be reduced to words. Are the words helping the visually impaired see the purpose and content of those images, or is the alt-text completely useless?
Do You See What I See?
Say you’re a luthier. What happens when someone visits your site to see all of the exquisite guitars you have posted, but the images don’t load? Or what if Blind Willie McTell wants to buy his next guitar from you?
Which is better? If your image reads:
<img src= “guitar.jpg” alt= “vintage guitar”/>
<img src= “guitar.jpg” alt= hand crafted vintage inspired sunburst stargazer guitar”/>
Imagine where you’ll show up in the Google search results for a Stargazer if your alt-text simply says “vintage guitar”? You’ve got a much better chance of showing up at the top of the search results if Google sees that keyword in your alt-text.
Did you say keyword?
Alt-text is a great place to throw in a keyword, without looking like a keyword stuffer. Of course, that’s only true if it’s relevant to the image. When the keyword can be used to describe the image, the alt-text is a safe place to put it.
Some Tips For Alt-Texting
What if it’s an image of my logo?
This is a common alt-text issue throughout the web. Remember, the point of the alt-text tag is to explain the image to Google spiders and to visually-impaired visitors. In the case of logos, it’s better to simply write the name of your company as the logo alt-text. Writing “My Company Logo” doesn’t really benefit anyone.
What if there’s text in the image?
When there’s text in the actual image you’re creating alt-text for, it’s best to write the exact words used in the image. For example, if your image is of a dog and it says, “Playing by Google’s rules sure is Ruff”, you’ll want your alt-text to say the same thing.
What if my image needs more description than what I can fit in the 4-8 word alt-text?
Good question. It can be difficult to narrow your alt-text down to 4-8 words when you want to give more context. But that’s what the surrounding text is for! If you have contextual information surrounding your image (which you should), your reader will see or hear that. So don’t stress out if you can’t say it all in your alt-text – just be thoughtful and do what you can.
One final suggestion: Don’t include image specs in your alt-text.
Chances are, your visitor doesn’t care what size or pixel-to-size ratio your image is (unless they’re lifting it for their Instagram or Facebook). So, stop including that in your alt-text! Remember, you should focus on information that is relevant to Google’s spiders and to those not actually seeing the image. And whether the image is 300x40 pixels or 3000x1000, to Google, it’s just an image that it can’t see.
Now, Go Alt-Text With Purpose
Now that you know what alt-text is and can be, be sure to check all of your images for appropriate and beneficial alt-texts. Who knows? You might even start having fun! But, shhhh….don’t tell Google.