Adding attractive images to your blog posts encourages your audience to read them. Well-chosen images also help to back up your message, as well as to get you great rankings in the image search results. It’s important to give your images the best alt attributes you can because alt text strengthens your article’s message with the search engines and greatly improves your website’s accessibility.
But, if you’re still wondering what the difference is between the alt text, alt tag, and image title (and if you should keep them all the same), then read on to get your answers.
In this article, we’re going to look at everything you need to know about these attributes, including the difference between image alt attributes, image file names, and image title text. You’ll discover why you should optimize them, and how you can go about doing that the right way.
An Important Note Before We Begin:
When most people think of the ‘alt text’ of an image, they immediately associate it with ‘alt tag’ which is a commonly used abbreviation for what is actually an alt attribute of an image tag. In reality, alt tag is a misnomer. It doesn’t exist at all since alt text (alternative text) refers to the alternative text attribute for the image tag.
Alt text should describe whatever is on the image. Screen readers for people who are visually impaired read out the text, so it’s important to make your images accessible. You can use blank alt attributes (alt=””) for unimportant design-based images on your site so that screen readers will simply skip over the image.
OK. Let’s get started!
What is Image Alternative Text (Alt Text)?
The alt text of an image is used to describe an image to various ‘alternative’ sources. Its primary goal is to make images more accessible to blind people who use screen readers. It makes the web a lot more accessible according to the W3C Accessibility Guidelines.
The secondary goal of alt text is for those people who have images turned off in their browsers (for whatever reason). In addition to that, alt text also satisfies user agents that aren’t able to ‘see’ images.
As a general rule, alt text needs to include targeted keywords in the context of what’s going on in the image. If there’s no alternative text for the image, it’s going to be displayed as an empty image. The image alt text is the text displayed in place of an empty image.
And since Google can’t crawl images in much depth, the search engine uses alt text as the main focus when trying to determine what an image is about.
This is the W3C’s Alt Text Accessibility Guidelines:
When you use the img element, you need to specify a text alternative with the image alt attribute, the value of which is referred to as alternative text or ‘alt text’.
If an image contains words that are crucial to helping readers understand the content, then those words should be included in the alt text. This means that the alt text plays the same role on the web page as the actual image. Keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily have to describe the visual features of the image, but it definitely must convey a meaning that matches the image.
What is Image Title Text?
This attribute is used to provide more information about an image. Having said that, the image title isn’t used for ranking in search which means it’s not as important to optimize for. However, if you have SEO OCD (a term I made up to describe obsessive completionists who want to optimize for everything according to the most stringent W3C optimization guidelines…) then go ahead and include both the alt and the title text for each of your images.
Luckily, title optimization doesn’t require anything super insane. Just use a short and catchy title to complement your already optimized alt text, and you’ll be good to go.
Your Main Focus Should Be on User Intent and User Experience
When optimizing your image attributes, focus mainly on the intent and experience of your users. Not much has changed over the past decade, in this regard. Your alt text and image title attributes should not only include targeted keywords (if possible) but they should also be focused on user intent. That’s the primary ideal you need to strive for during your optimization process.
But remember, don’t stuff keywords! And it’s alright to switch out keywords whenever appropriate. Even when it comes to optimizing image alt text and titles, stuffing keywords is still a big no-no. Spamming these attributes can land you in very serious trouble with the search engines.
Here are the 3 things you need to focus on:
1. Will the alt text and title help your users?
2. Will they satisfy user intent?
3. Will they improve user experience?
Google’s Image Recommendations
Use these recommendations, direct from Google’s Image Publishing Guidelines, to help you improve the user experience factor for your image alt text and boost the visibility of your content in Google Images.
Provide Good Context – Your visual content has to be relevant to the page topic. Only display images where they add value to the page. Pages with images or text that aren’t original content are particularly discouraged.
Optimize Placement – Place images near the relevant text, whenever possible. Try to place the most important images at the top of the page.
Don’t Embed Crucial Text Within Images – Using images as text isn’t recommended because not everyone can access these. Avoid embedding text elements like menu items and page headings in images. Also, page translation tools don’t work on images, so keep all text in HTML and provide alternative text for your images to ensure maximum content accessibility.
Create High-Quality, Informative Content – Great content on your web pages is just as vital as visual content is for Google Images. Your text provides context and helps to create a more actionable result. The page content can be used to generate a short text snippet for your image, and Google also takes the quality of the page content into account when ranking your images.
Make Sure Your Site is Device-Friendly – More searches on Google Images are conducted from mobiles than desktops. Because of this, it’s vital to design your website for all device sizes and types. Use a free mobile-friendly testing tool to see how well your site pages perform on mobile devices. You’ll also be able to get feedback on anything that you need to fix.
Create Good URL Structure For Images – The URL path and the file name are both used by Google to help in understanding your images. Consider arranging your image content to ensure that your URLs are logically constructed.
Optimizing File Names
Google makes use of the image file names to determine the subject of each image. When you optimize the file names according to the optimization of alt and title text, it’s possible to give the search engine a better understanding of your image that will help to rank it high in image search.
You don’t need a long file name with lengthy descriptive text, for the most part. A keyword phrase generally describing the image will do fine. Always make sure that your file name text is an accurate reflection of what the image is actually about.
Optimal Alt Text Format
The best way to format your alt text is to ensure that it’s sufficiently descriptive without containing any spammy keyword stuffing tactics. If you could read the alt text to someone and have them be able to imagine a version of the image that is reasonably accurate, then you’re on the right track.
Below I’ve listed some examples to help you understand what good alt text looks like:
Example #1: Say your image is of a scrumptious-looking stack of chocolate chip pancakes:
- Good Alt Text: ‘Pancakes’ (This is okay, but it isn’t very descriptive. You can say a bit more about the image).
- Better Alt Text: ‘Chocolate Chip Pancakes’ (This would be a better alternative as it is a bit more descriptive about what is in the image).
- Best Alt Text: ‘Stack of chocolate chip pancakes with golden syrup’ (This is the best alt text because if someone closed their eyes, they’d be able to imagine something close to what’s contained in the image).
Not-Recommended Alt Text: ‘Pancakes Chocolate chip pancakes Breakfast food Hotcakes Top recipes Pancake recipes’ …that’s just sad!
Here Are A Few More Examples of What Good Alt Text Looks Like
Example #2: If you had an image of a rooster, you might have the following alt text:
- Good: Rooster
- Better: Rooster crowing
- Best: Large orange-crested rooster crowing
Example #3: If your image was one of a girl on the beach, you might have:
- Good: Girl on beach
- Better: Girl walking on the beach
- Best: Girl wearing hot yoga pants walking along the beach (…or something like that)
Example #4: Say you were writing a review for a keyword research tool, your image might include:
- Good: Kw tool
- Better: Keyword research tool
- Best: Jaaxy Keyword Research Tool for competitive SEO keyword research
8 Tips for Writing Great Alt Text
1. Do your best to describe the image specifically – Remember that the first goal of alt text is to provide an explanation of images for those users who cannot see them. If your image doesn’t convey any value or meaning (if it’s only for design or positioning purposes), then you shouldn’t include it in the HTML. It should live in the CSS.
2. Use Your Keywords – This is yet another opportunity for you to include target keywords on your page. It’s another chance to signal to Google and other search engines that your page is very relevant to a specific search query.
Your first priority has to be describing the image and providing context, but it is also important to try and include your keyword in the alt text of one or more images on the page (if doing so makes sense).
3. Avoid Stuffing Keywords – Google won’t take away points for alt text that is poorly written, but they’ll certainly penalize you if you stuff as many keywords as you can come up with into your alt text (just like in the pancake example above). Make sure you write descriptive alt text which provides context to your images. If possible, add your target keyword, and you’re done.
4. Don’t Include Important Text in Images – I briefly touched on this earlier, but this best practice is less ‘alt text-specific’ and more ‘general SEO-friendly’ tenet. Search engines can’t read the text in your images, so avoid using images as text. If you want to use an image in the place of words, make sure that your alt text explains what your photo says.
5. Don’t Include ‘Picture of’, or ‘Image of’, etc. in Your Image Alt Text – The search engines already assume that your alt text refers to an image. There’s no need for you to specify that.
6. Use The longdesc=”” Tag – This is something you should explore when using more complex images that call for a much longer description.
7. Don’t Forget About Form Buttons – If you have forms on your site that use an image as the ‘submit, signup, or order’ button, you need to ensure that the image also has an alt attribute that describes the function of the button, such as ‘search’, or ‘order now’, or ‘sign up’, and so on.
8. Keep it Short and Sweet – The majority of screen readers cut alt text off at around 120 characters or so. That’s why it’s advisable to keep your character count less than that.
The Bottom Line
While it’s necessary to optimize your images, try not to overcompensate. Your images need to be optimized properly, but don’t spend too much time on that and end up losing sight of the big picture. Only spend what is necessary to supplement your online marketing activities and help your images to rank on image search – and in doing so, keep the ultimate goal in mind.
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