Images: they give a post visual context, they break up the large blocks of text, they make a post look way better, they…
…Add to the SEO and ranking of a post?
Yes. In fact, image optimization can make a huge difference in whether your post is ranking at the top of the SERPS.
But how do you optimize an image? Hint: it’s not color correction or cropping. It’s your alt text.
What is Alt Text?
Alt text (also known as “alt attribute” or “alt description”) is a short description that you apply to images on your website within the HTML of the page, describing what the image is. For those of you who use WordPress, you can find it here on the right side of the screen when you insert an image.
Alt text is not immediately visible and often goes unnoticed by the average visitor to your website (it’s usually only seen when you hover your mouse over the image), but don’t think that means it’s not important. Between being a good SEO practice and making your website more accessible, there’s a lot of value to including good alt text.
Alt Text for SEO
Alt Text is incredibly valuable for SEO purposes for one big reason—without Alt Text, your images have no effect on your SEO ranking. Having a well-crafted alt text makes sure your images are properly accounted for in Google’s crawl and prominently placed in search engine results.
Google’s bots are very effective in crawling text, identifying keywords, and heading organization, but they can’t recognize and understand visual elements. This is why you need to have text associated with the picture, ideally written in a descriptive, relevant way so they actually contribute to your ranking.
And depending on the context of what your webpage is intended for, images can be even more important than your text. If you’re creating a sales page or a landing page for a clothing company, or a restaurant or food service, or if you’re writing an article that’s completely based on infographics, for example.
In all of these cases, a large percentage of your webpage will probably be made up of images as opposed to text because they are the main thing that you want your visitors to see. So, especially in those cases, you definitely don’t want your informative, visually appealing webpage that you put a lot of effort into, to get next to no traffic. A picture says 1000 words, but it doesn’t matter if no one sees it.
Alt Text for Accessibility
Alt text also makes your webpage accessible to anyone and everyone who may visit it. And, it’s by far one the easiest accessibility principles to adhere to. Although many people will hardly ever see alt text, your blind and visually impaired audience rely on it to have a cohesive and comprehensive understanding of what they interact with on your site.
Remember how Google is bad at crawling images? So are many of the “text to talk” programs used by visually impaired people. So when they come across an image on a site, there is no context for what is contained in the image without an alt text description.
And again, if a major part of your article or webpage is images and other visual elements, then you need to make sure that everyone can interact with it. If you fail to include the proper alt text, you’re leaving out an entire chunk of your potential customers. That’s doing them and yourself a disservice.
Alt Text as a Fail Safe
There’s one other way that alt text will help you out: technical failure. It happens to everyone and every, and they are going to happen to you sooner or later.
Whether it be on the user’s end—like a connection issue, loading issue, or some other problem with their computer or phone—or on your end in the form of a coding error or backend glitch, it’s entirely possible that your images on your website won’t correctly populate for every single person that visits your website.
When images don’t populate, the alt text that you assign to the images will pop up in their place. It allows your visitors to still get an idea of the point you’re trying to get across, especially if your images are an essential part of your audience understanding what you have to say. Something will go wrong eventually, and your alt text is your fail safe in place when it does.
Best Alt Text Practices
1. Use alt text for every image
Just because one image on your website has alt text doesn’t mean you can be done. You should really make sure every image on a webpage has at least some sort of alt text description, even if it’s just a few words.
2. Make your alt text descriptive
You typically have around 100 characters to work with when creating alt text for an image, and you most certainly don’t have to use every single one. But the more descriptive, the better. Let’s use a stock image as an example:
You could just describe this picture as “man drinking coffee” and that would be technically correct. There is a man drinking coffee, but is all that is worth noting about this to where someone could get an idea of what’s happening without even seeing it? You could easily say “a man drinking coffee from a roof, looking out at a city at sunset,” and that would be well under 100 characters. Adding that extra bit of description in there is worth it, and it really doesn’t add much more work.
3. Only describe the image
Don’t try to add unnecessary fluff into your alt text. You should be contextualizing the picture with the rest of the article within the body copy; there’s no need to do it in the alt text. Make your descriptions descriptive, but also keep them simple. There’s no need to make it overly intricate. It will only inhibit everyone’s understanding, especially in the case that you can’t see the picture at all.
4. Use your keywords in your alt text
This is the best way that your images can help your ranking. Including your keyword in your alt text shows the Google crawlers that yes, this post is really super helpful and informative. Does that mean you should try to fill your Alt Text with your keyword as much as possible? No. But should you at least try to include it here and there? Absolutely. (Remember, if your keyword doesn’t fit into your article at least 5–7 times and in a few images, it’s probably not a good keyword to target.)
Now that you know what alt text is, you can integrate it you’re your web design and marketing, and you’re going to have a leg up on your competition!