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The Importance of Alt Attributes (AKA Alt Tags or Alt Text)

Alt text for SEO

We covered another hot topic in our latest 9 Clouds Academy consulting session: alt attributes. Alt attributes, commonly referred to as alt tags or alt text, are an essential element for an effective online presence.

If you manage or help run a website and you aren't sure what this “alt stuff” is all about, this post is a must-read for you. If you do use alt text on your site but you're not really sure if you're using it correctly, this post will help you learn how to make the most of alt attributes for a nice search engine optimization (SEO) boost.

Introduction to Alt Attributes

The purpose of alt attributes is to provide a description of the contents of an image file. One of the most cited uses of alt attributes is to provide text for visitors who can’t see images in their browsers. This includes visitors using browsers that cannot display images or have image display disabled, visually impaired visitors, and those visitors who use screen readers. If a viewer can see your images, alt attributes will also show when the user hovers over your image.

If images do not show in a browser, for whatever reason, the alt text will show in place of the images, giving context to what the images actually contain for those who can't see them.

In addition to ensuring the content in your image is communicated whether the image shows or not, effectively using alt text can also be a great way to improve your site's placement in search engine result pages because it allows the images on your pages to rank in image search results.

For example, the alt attribute on the image below is “photo editing tools for non-designers google search results.”

I used this image that critiqued popular online photo editing tools for the average internet user. Using this alt text helps my image show up in organic results when someone searches for a something regarding free online photo editing tools. In addition, the alt text would show in place of the image if it failed to load.

As I mentioned above, if the image does load, the alt text will still display when a user hovers over the image in most browsers.

example of an alt attribute on a photo

The HTML code for this image's alt tag looks like this (the alt text is shown in italics).

<img alt=”photo editing tools for non-designers google search results” src=”https://9clouds.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/photo-editing-tools-search.jpg” width=”558″ height=”389″ /></a>

Tip: If you use WordPress, it's quite easy to insert alt attributes into photos. When you upload an image, just insert your text into the “Alternative Text” dialogue box and your image will be all set with alt text.

Edit Alternative Text

How Alt Attributes Help Search Engine Optimization

Just like the visually impaired, search engines can't see images on websites. Even if an image has text embedded within it, search engines are unable to crawl that text. So by not creating alt attributes for each and every image on your site, you lose a huge opportunity to be as visible as possible online.

But in just what way do alt attributes help SEO? Search engines use the information that alt text provides to determine the best image to return for a search query. This is a great way to bring new visitors to your site and it helps to increase your rankings with the search engines. In the process, you will also give yourself an SEO edge over your competitors.

Thus, alt attributes are a great place to utilize your keywords and help increase your chances of showing up in image searches. However, make sure that the attributes are appropriate for the image. For example, you wouldn't want to label an image of a dog with alt text “affordable digital marketing services in Sioux Falls” — this just doesn't make sense. If you try to trick search engines like this, you could actually hurt your SEO instead of help. So be true to your images.

Create Effective Alt Attributes

Rather than merely providing a label for an image, the alt tag should instead convey the same contextual information that a visual user would see if the image displayed.

Google recommends that you make them as useful for the end users as possible. Considering that Google is the world's largest and most widely used search engine, we like to take their advice when it comes to search engine optimization!

Below are a few quick tips for creating effective alt attributes.

  • Keep it simple
    • Master the art of saying a lot with a little.
  • Be descriptive yet succinct
    • Be strategic with your descriptions.
  • Consider the text surrounding the image
    • Placing images with alt tags near relevant text will help create a coherent experience for non-visual users
  • Utilize keywords to help your site rank better in search
    • It's a great strategy to use your site's keywords in order to help your images rank
    • Be careful not to misuse your keywords as it could end up hurting your SEO instead of helping

Alt Away

Now that you've had a chance to learn a bit more about alt attributes and their importance for your online efforts, go forth and apply alt attributes to all your site's image. For more help on using alt text, read our Beginner's Guide to SEO eBook or visit the Official Google Webmaster Blog.

As always, 9 Clouds is a great place to ask questions and get answers to all of your digital marketing questions.

Image credit: Maximiliano Martin