Understanding What It Is and How to Write It

  • June 30, 2024
  • SEO
No Comments

In this comprehensive guide, you will gain an in-depth understanding of alternative text (commonly referred to as alt text): its significance for on-page SEO, correct implementation, and additional insights.

Despite its crucial role, alt text is often neglected. Every image on your website should include descriptive alt text to provide more information. This is essential not only for search engine bots that analyze your website but also for users utilizing screen readers.

Alt text serves as an additional source of information that interlinks ideas and content across your website.

This pragmatic guide offers actionable tips to improve your website’s image SEO and accessibility.

What Is Alt Text?

Alternative text (or alt text) – sometimes referred to as the alt attribute or the alt tag, though it is technically an attribute – is a text description of an image embedded within the HTML code.

What Are The Uses Of Alt Text?

Initially, alt text was designed to describe images that couldn’t be loaded. In the early days of the internet, when bandwidth was limited, this text provided insight into images that were too large to display promptly in browsers.

Although image loading issues are rare today, alt text still appears in place of images that fail to load.

Screenshot from Search Engine Journal, May 2024

Beyond providing fallback text, alt text assists search engine bots in interpreting the content and context of images.

Most critically, alt text is indispensable for accessibility, aiding individuals who utilize screen readers:

  • Alt text enables people with disabilities (e.g., those using screen readers) to comprehend the image’s content.

Like all SEO elements, alt text is sometimes misused or exploited. Next, we’ll delve into why alt text holds such importance.

Why Alt Text Is Important

The web is inherently visual, and most websites feature images or graphical elements.

Therefore, alt text is crucial. It translates image content into words, making images accessible to a broader audience, including users with disabilities and search engine bots that cannot yet fully comprehend every image’s context and meaning.

Why Alt Text Is Important For SEO

Alt text is a vital component of on-page SEO optimization.

Optimizing alt text can enhance your website’s likelihood of ranking in Google image searches.

Indeed, alt text is a ranking factor in Google image search.

Depending on your website’s niche, traffic from Google image search might significantly contribute to your success.

For instance, in ecommerce, users often begin their product searches with a Google image search rather than entering the product name in the standard Google search.

Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner]Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner], May 2024

Failure to optimize alt text may result in fewer product images displayed by search engines, reducing your potential traffic and customers.

Why Alt Text Is Important For Accessibility

Besides boosting visibility in Google image searches, alt text is paramount for accessibility.

Fortunately, there’s growing emphasis on making the internet accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities and those using screen readers.

Accurate alt text descriptions of images, rather than keyword stuffing, significantly aid people who cannot view the images in understanding the content of your web pages.

For instance, if your web page is an SEO audit guide with screenshots from various tools, describing each screenshot is more beneficial than using generic alt text like “SEO audit” repeatedly.

Let’s examine some examples to illustrate this point.

Alt Text Examples

Identifying both good and poor examples of alt text isn’t difficult. We’ll explore some, using an SEO audit guide as our context.

Good Alt Text Examples

Imagine our SEO guide includes screenshots from tools such as Google Search Console and Screaming Frog.

Good alt text examples include:

        <img src="google-search-console-coverage-report.jpg" alt="The coverage report in Google Search Console showing the number of indexed and excluded pages" />
        <img src="google-search-console.jpg" alt="Google Search Console tool from Google" />
        <img src="screaming-frog-html-pages.jpg" alt="List of HTML pages in Screaming Frog" />
        <img src="screaming-frog.jpg" alt="Screaming Frog crawl in progress" />
    

Tip: Providing descriptive file names is wise, though not a ranking factor. It’s simply good SEO practice.

Bad And/Or Spammy Alt Text Examples

Poor alt text practices, such as keyword stuffing or spamming, are common.

Turning the above good examples into bad examples could look like this:

        <img src="google-search-console-coverage-report.jpg" alt="seo audit, free seo, cheap, specialist audits" />
        <img src="google-search-console.jpg" alt="google seo, google search, console" />
        <img src="screaming-frog-html-pages.jpg" alt="seo auditor, seo audit, audits" />
        <img src="screaming-frog.jpg" alt="seo audit" />
    

These examples fail to provide meaningful information about the images.

Further examples and image SEO tips are available on Google Search Central.

Common Alt Text Mistakes

Besides keyword stuffing, other common alt text mistakes include:

  • Not using alt text or leaving it blank.
  • Using identical alt text for different images.
  • Using vague alt text that doesn’t describe the image. For example, using “dog” for a dog photo without detailing its breed, color, or actions.
  • Using the file name as alt text, resulting in unhelpful descriptions like “googlesearchconsole” or “photo2323.”

Alt Text Writing Tips

Here are tips for writing effective alt text to ensure it serves its purpose:

  • Avoid keyword stuffing in alt text. It won’t improve your page’s ranking.
  • Provide detailed descriptions but keep them concise. Avoid lengthy sentences.
  • Use target keywords naturally within the description. Only include them if they fit the image context.
  • Avoid embedding text in images. Add all text in the HTML code.
  • Avoid phrases like “this is an image of”. Focus on describing the content.
  • Ensure the alt text clearly visualizes the image. This confirms its validity.

How To Troubleshoot Image Alt Text

Knowing the best practices and common mistakes is one thing, but how do you inspect alt text on a website?

Use these methods to analyze alt text:

Inspecting an element by right-clicking and selecting Inspect is a straightforward method to check if an image has alt text.

For bulk analysis, consider the following two methods:

Install the Web Developer Chrome extension.

Screenshot of Web Developer Extension in Chrome by authorScreenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

Open the page you wish to audit, click on Web Developer, and go to Images > Display Alt Attributes. This will display the alt text content of all images on the page.

The alt text of images is shown on the page.Screenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

How To Find And Fix Missing Alt Text

For a comprehensive alt text audit, use a crawler tool like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb.

Upon crawling the site, navigate to the image report and review the alt text. The video guide below will show you how.

Export images with missing alt text to address those issues first.

Alt Text May Not Seem Like A Priority, But It’s Important

Every piece of information about your content holds value. Alt text aids visually-impaired users and bots by contextualizing the images on your site.

Although it’s a ranking factor only for image search, improving search engine understanding can enhance your site’s relevance and accessibility, a key aspect of modern digital marketing.

FAQ

What is the purpose of alt text in HTML?

Alternative text, or alt text, serves two main purposes in HTML. Its primary function is to provide a textual description of an image if it cannot be displayed. This text helps users understand the image content when technical issues prevent it from loading or if they use a screen reader due to visual impairments. Additionally, alt text aids search engine bots in understanding the image’s subject matter, which is critical for SEO, as indexing images correctly can enhance a website’s visibility in search results.

Can alt text improve website accessibility?

Yes, alt text is vital for website accessibility. It translates visual information into descriptive text that can be read by screen readers used by users with visual impairments. By accurately describing images, alt text ensures that all users, regardless of disability, can understand the content of a web page, making the web more inclusive and accessible to everyone.

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