34% of Google searches yield image results. The Internet is centred around images, graphics, and information.
What happens when people see those images, though? Some people leverage screen readers because they have difficulties with processing visual content. These screen readers relay information through words.
That’s where alt text comes in. Alt text is the description of the image that is found in the backend. It’s often only visible when you hover over an image, save it, or dig into the HTML.
Alt text matters for a few reasons. For starters, it helps make your content more accessible. When you include alt text, screen readers don’t need to trip up if images are included.
Alt text is also crucial for best SEO practices. If you aren’t including best alt text practices, there’s a critical gap in your SEO strategy.
That’s why we’ve assembled a guide to alt text: why it matters for SEO, how it impacts accessibility, and more. Let’s get started!
1. What is Alt Text?
Alt text is known by a few different names. It’s also known as alt attributes, alt descriptions, alt tags, or alternative text. All of these names mean the same thing: text used within HTML code to describe an image on a page. This text is to describe how an image looks and functions.
Here’s an example. Say that an image shows a stack of blueberry pancakes with syrup. An example of leveraging best alt text practices is writing it out as a stack of blueberry pancakes on a plate with syrup.
Here’s a test. If you can imagine a picture based on a short phrase, it’s probably good alt text. Calling it ‘pancakes’ isn’t very informative. Writing a small novel on the colour of the plate, the number of pancakes, and the amount of blueberries isn’t helpful either.
2. Why Does Alt Text Matter?
Google’s algorithm exists to bring the right content to the right people at the right time. In the past, people have tried to cheat the algorithm with low-value, keyword-stuffed content.
The goal is to write high-quality content that provides value to your target audience. Every step of SEO is intended to signal this value to Google’s algorithm and to human readers.
However, if Google doesn’t know what’s on the page, it can’t rank the content accordingly. That’s what alt attributes matter. Alt text is to describe the contents of an image.
This helps Google immensely. When a user plugs a search term into Google, what should the top answers be? What most closely matches the original search intent?
Alt text helps Google accurately return images (and the associated content) in response to a search term. It also helps because Google uses keywords to rank content importance (to some extent since brands are often penalized for nonsensical keyword stuffing.)
Alt text also matters because it provides more value to more users. If users have visual impairments, poor Internet connection, or are using screen readers, they may not be able to see your images. This means that your content is then providing less value to fewer users.
This means you’re missing out on an opportunity to reach more people. Thus, your content may rank lower if you don’t leverage alt text.
3. How Does Alt Text Contribute to Image SEO?
Site crawlers are responsible for crawling through every portion of your site and categorizing it. This helps Google decide how your content gets ranked. As far as site crawlers go, they are vastly intelligent and crucial pieces of technology.
However, that doesn’t mean they are human. Say that you write an expose on pop culture and how different characters indicate certain shifts in the wake of the #MeToo movement. This article is insightful, well-researched, and well-crafted.
What about the images? If you’re trying to make a point about implicit power dynamics in the popular Marvel series Jessica Jones, you might include a few screengrabs or gifs.
To a site crawler, these images look like a woman in a scarf. They don’t really add relevance for people looking for Marvel content, feminist exposes, or articles on Jessica Jones.
If you don’t add alt text, site crawlers don’t have the context to rank images accordingly. With the addition of alt text, your image SEO gets a necessary boost.
Without alt text, you might not rank for your intended keywords at all. However, it’s equally possible that you will rank for the wrong keywords. This can be disastrous for your SEO, since you’re sinking a lot of time and money into keywords you might not even be ranking for.
4. How Do I Write Good Alt Text?
If you’re sold on the benefits, how do you write the best alt text? We’ve assembled some tips for you.
Start by creating highly specific descriptions. Of course, SEO is one of the primary reasons that many people focus on creating alt text. But its core function is still to serve people with visual impairments.
That means each image should matter. Each word that you include in the resulting alt text should matter, too. If an image is ‘hard to describe’ or ‘doesn’t mean anything’, that is a strong signal that cutting it might be a good idea.
It’s also important that you keep this text short. Why? Most screen reading technology cuts off the alt text at 125 characters. That’s why it’s important to keep it short and concise.
SEO Best Practices
Alt text is also where you can leverage SEO best practices. The goal is to include your target keywords where they are relevant and logical.
Use your primary and secondary keywords in alt text if possible. Of course, the description still needs to make sense. In the above example, don’t write “pancake recipes top ten tips for pancakes how to make organic blueberry pancakes.”
That’s a string of keywords. It’s not alt text. This brings us to our next tip, which is to avoid keyword stuffing. Don’t overdo it—the goal is to balance climbing the rankings of the algorithm, and bringing value to users.
It’s also important to consider those infographics that you may include. Search engines and site crawlers can’t read the text located within these images. This content is relevant to some users, but it’s not relevant to site crawlers or screen readers.
Sometimes, using images in place of words is unavoidable. But it’s still important to focus on making content easily accessible and visible to everyone.
It’s also important to avoid redundant text. Remember that you only have 125 characters to work with. This means you should avoid starting your alt text with phrases like ‘image of’, ‘picture of’, and so forth. It’s already assumed that it’s an image or picture, so this is redundant information.
5. Don’t Waste Precious Space
When it comes to alt text and image SEO, every tiny detail is important. Remember that SEO is a cumulative process. You likely won’t experience jaw-dropping success overnight. Instead, it’s a game that requires iterative effort, every single day.
Alt text also applies to how you choose to name your files. Take a look at the files that you upload to WordPress or any other CMS system that you are using to publish your content. If your file names say something like IMG1234, this doesn’t mean anything.
It’s a way to find the file on your computer. But in the greater scheme of things, that image/file title means absolutely nothing. It doesn’t offer any information to site crawlers, users, or CMS systems.
That means that you need to edit your file names to describe the actual subject matter of the image. You should also be aware of the public-facing nature of this title.
Using Google Image
When someone uses Google Image, the search results will display as image snippets. Your file name may be displayed as the image snippet. That’s why you should ensure that, much like the image’s actual alt text, this name is relevant.
Start by describing the subject matter of the image. If you can work on your target keywords, that’s even better. You should use hyphens to replace the usual spaces in these filenames, too.
This can actually be a little confusing because these are two different things. Technically, if you were to look at the code, the filename is your source, and the title text is the image’s title.
You should also consider the title text. This isn’t crawled by search engines, which means that it doesn’t impact your SEO. (Of course, this is subject to change at any time.) However, it does usually appear when people hover over images.
Leveraging Alt Text As Part of Your SEO Strategy
When leveraging alt text, paying attention to detail is crucial. There’s always something new happening with the algorithm and with your target audience. Updating your approach and serving up valuable content is a great way to start seeing success with your SEO strategy.
If you’re looking to showcase your expertise and attract ideal clients, we can help. Contact us today!