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Alt Tags: An Introduction To Optimizing Alt Text

In simplest terms, an alt tag is a short descriptor of an image on your website. This tag is used to help tell Google what your image portrays, or what this image means in context of your site. You might think of it as giving the image a proper name to help Googlebot catalog it during its crawl of your site. Alt text was originally designed toward accessibility purposes, such as allowing software to read an image description for the visually impaired. However, Google has taken this a step further, using alt tags as a way to get information about your images and pages.

Concise but descriptive alt tags help Google catalog your image properly, which leads to better search rankings for both the image and the page it inhabits. An image’s alt tag should tell Google, and potential users, what the image is and its purpose on the page. Optimized alt tags are specific and descriptive and should convey the essential content of the image for somebody who isn’t able to see the image.

Sometimes the browser does not load a graphic and it displays the alt tags in the image container in its place. Alt Tags are also used by screen readers to assist visually impaired people who are active on the web. We should try to keep it below 8-10 words or around 125 characters in length, but in most cases 5 or 6 words are enough. 

We can use keywords in the image alt text but only if it can be easily inserted or makes the alt tags meaningful. We audit websites to see which images are missing alt tags and incorporate meaningful alt tags on the previously untagged pictures. We optimize all of the images available on the website to get more out of our SEO efforts. – Kanika K., SEO Tech Manager

Let’s look at some alt tag examples:

Anatomy of an Alt Tag

An alt tag is the descriptor for a given image on your page and should align with the image source. Here’s an example of an image source and alt tag pair:

Image Source: <img src=”french-pastries.jpg”

Alt Tag: alt=”French Pastries”

As we can see, we might think of image sources as “HTML titles” for images, while alt tags serve as “written titles,” or titles meant to be read by a user or user-facing program, such as a screen-reader.

For optimization purposes, this is a fine but not spectacular alt tag. It lines up with the image tag, which is good, but it gives us an extremely vague idea of what’s actually shown in your image. Let’s see a better example:

Image Source: <img src=”french-pastries.jpg”

Alt Tag: alt=”Croissants in Pastry Display Case”

This is much more specific and gives the reader an idea of what we’re talking about: a neatly stacked pile of croissants in a glass display case, like you would see in a bakery or diner. The ideal alt tag is descriptive without attempting to spam keywords. Google puts much more emphasis on images with proper tagging than on images that have the most keywords attached to them. That said, you should certainly not avoid situations where using a keyword makes sense.

Images can also have a <title> element, a tooltip that comes up when users scroll their mouse over the image. If added to our previous example, this might look like:

Image Source: <img src=”french-pastries.jpg”

Alt Tag: alt=”Croissants in Pastry Display Case”

Title: “Fresh Croissants On Display”

The only place Google requires title elements is for accessibility, such as on <iframe> tags. There are even some instances where image titles might not be necessary, such as on mobile versions of your site where cursors aren’t in play.

Alt Tags, Images, and SEO

Alt tags should primarily convey the purpose of each image on each page. At least one image on every page should have one of your primary keywords in the alt tag, while spamming keywords will quickly lead to negative effects on your image and page search rankings. Alt text is meant to be descriptive and helpful, rather than a space to pile on more keywords.

If an image doesn’t have a purpose, it is possible to leave alt tags blank. This is not recommended, nor is having pictures on your pages without a purpose, but it is possible. This is still most often a waste of SEO opportunity, if not an active hampering of your SEO.

Also, be careful not to go overboard with your descriptions. The above alt tag should definitely not read like, “Authentic hand-made croissants fresh out of the over stacked into a decorative pyramid on a silver platter sitting in a halogen-lit glass display case in your favorite local bakery.” This gives Google (and users) unnecessary data to sift through as they try to understand the image’s purpose.

Instead, make sure each image has a purpose, and that each alt tag conveys that purpose in concise but detailed language. This is the core effort of alt text optimization and makes your website more organized for you and your team and more legible to Google’s crawling process.

Your alt text tells Google not only what your image portrays but also what the image is doing there in context of the page itself. As such, tags should have some keyword alignment but most of all need to be good descriptors of their images. Google describes the optimal alt tag as “information-rich.”

Coalition Can Help!

At Coalition, we take all aspects of SEO and work to find the optimal solutions for each of our client’s individual needs. As part of our comprehensive reporting process, we inspect the entirety of clients’ web pages for best SEO practices in regards to all relevant factors, including design, copy, and alt tags. If our initial examination of your site shows improper or insufficient use of tags, we work with you and our respective teams to furnish your site with comprehensive and helpful solutions. With our teams’ joint expertise in design, development, and content management, we’re fully prepared to turn even the most frustrating of web or ecommerce problems into new opportunities for your business.

You can find more helpful tips and information about SEO best practices on our blog. There you’ll find a wealth of information on ecommerce, SEO, keyword and image optimization, and more. You can also learn more through our portfolio of case studies. There you can get an inside look into how Coalition works for our clients and how SEO can help your business.

If you’d like to get in touch with us directly, feel free to call us at 310-827-3890 or email us at sales@coalitiontechnologies.com. We offer a free consultation to potential clients and take on new clients year-round, meaning there’s never a bad time to get in touch. Reach out today and see how Coalition can help!

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