Search engine optimization, or SEO for short, is a combination of strategies that work together to drive traffic and to improve search engine rankings. There was a time when all you had to do to improve your Google rankings was to flood your site with keywords, but that is no longer the case. SEO strategies have changed and evolved and one aspect of SEO that many people overlook is alt text. Keep reading to learn more about what alt text is and how it can help your SEO.

Addressing Common SEO Myths About Alt Text

Before you can learn the basics about using alt text to boost your SEO, you need to learn what alt text is and what it is not. Alt text, or alt tags, are technically called “alternative attributes of an image tag” – you can see why most people use the shortened version. Basically, an alt tag is a modifier that provides a description of an image and it appears within the individual image’s tag in the HTML code for the page on which it appears. The purpose of this text is to provide a description of the image for people who are visually impaired. That brings up one of the most common myths about alt tags – that their main purpose is for SEO. In reality, these tags are used to improve accessibility for visually-impaired users.

Another myth associated with alt text is that all images on the site need alt attributes. If you think about it, your site probably uses a number of images that contribute to the format of the site – things like bullets, spacers, and lines – these images do not require alt text. If you are a visually impaired user, imagine having to sift through alt attributes for every single image on the site. Not only will it greatly increase the time it takes for the user to get to the important content, but can easily become frustrating and might actually drive the user away from your site.

Alt attributes can provide some very useful benefits for your site, but contrary to popular belief, they are not something you need to tackle immediately. In terms of things that will boost your SEO, alt text shouldn’t be at the top of your list – you should worry about things that offer greater SEO value before worrying about your alt attributes. For example, things like meta descriptions and title tags will have a bigger impact on your SEO than a few alt attributes. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. If you are uploading new image anyway, you might as well update the alt attributes while you are at it. If you are working to improve the accessibility of your site, alt attributes play an important role. And finally, if image search is a primary driver of traffic to your site, alt attributes are important.

The Basics of Alt Text for SEO

As you have already learned, alt text is simply a small section of HTML code that describes an image that appears on the site – this helps visually impaired users to understand what the image represents. In order to add alt text for an image, you can input it within either the alt tag or the alt text of the image element. When it comes to actually writing the alt text, there are some simple rules to follow. For one thing, you want to keep the text short and sweet for indexing purposes. The exception to this rule is if the image plays a crucial role in establishing the context of the article – in this case you can add a little bit more detail.

Adding alt text to your images may not skyrocket your site to the top of the search engine results page, but it can certainly boost your rankings to some degree. If you include the topic of your page in the alt text, for example, it can give your rankings a little boost. This being said, do not load up your site with images and repetitive alt text – that could have the opposite of the desired effect on your rankings – there is no reason to use multiple versions of the same keyword. In fact, if you engage in keyword stuffing, you may incur a Google penalty.

Tips for Optimizing Images for SEO 

Whether you are a business owner, blogger, or online magazine editor, using images can provide some serious benefits if you use them correctly. Including images can make your content more visually appealing and it can also improve your SEO to some degree. You need to understand, however, how to optimize images correctly using alt tags. Here are some general tips for image optimization:

  • Adding a chart, diagram, or illustration is a simple way to solidify a point and to add some interest to a dull or difficult topic.
  • Take the time to find the right image – the image should match the subject of your article or it should serve an illustrative purpose within the content.
  • Take advantage of every opportunity to optimize the image – this means choosing the right file name, scaling the image appropriately, and reducing the file size.
    • The file name is a great opportunity to include your keyword – it tells Google what the image is about.
    • Scaling down your image will make it load faster which will increase the speed of your site and prevent users from getting frustrated and leaving.
    • When reducing the file size, make sure that the clarity and quality are not compromised – there are online tools you can use to do this.
  • Include a caption with your images – many people scan articles rather than reading them and images/captions are viewed 300% more than the body of the content itself.
  • Think about whether adding a title attribute to an image might be useful – title attributes are a good place to provide non-essential information like the context or mood of the image.

Now that you have a deeper understanding of the role images play in SEO, you should take another look at your site and look for ways you can make improvements. Writing alt attributes takes just a few moments because, as long as you choose your images wisely, it will be easy to incorporate your keyword and the topic of the page. Remember, keep your alt tags short and sweet and only focus on the images that play an illustrative role in your site – skip the bullets, lines, and spacers. If you dedicate just a little of your time to updating your alt attributes, you may be amazed at how it affects your SEO.

Mastering the art of SEO can make or break your website. When online users search for your top keywords they will be bombarded with hundreds, even thousands of results so you want to make sure that your site stands out. Using keywords effectively and updating your meta description and title tags are some of the best things you can do to improve your SEO but you must not forget about images. Using images effectively and updating your alt attributes can help to boost your rankings and it doesn’t even require much effort on your part!