Writing Alt-text For SEO

September 18, 2020 | Category:

What is Alt-text?

Alt-text in HTML code black computer screen

Alt-text, also known as ‘alternative text,’ serves to communicate the subject and context of images on websites. Alt-text originates from HTML code, which contains the descriptive text of the image. 

What’s The Difference Between Alt-text and Alt-tags?

Both refer to similar things, though there is nuance to it. 

Alt-tags refer to the HTML that contains the alt-text, whereas the alt-text is the syntax itself. 

They both refer to very similar things, but technical differences should be noted. 

What Does Alt-text Do?

Alt-text describes an image to both machines and people alike. 

Initially, it was used for describing images to machines. That sounds very bizarre since pictures are visible. However, an important thing to remember is that machines do not have the same senses as humans. 

Therefore, alt-text allows machines like Google’s crawler, to ‘see’ the image by reading the text. As you know, Google crawler scans and promotes relevant information. It also serves to index images on webpages. 

For humans, alt-text increases the accessibility of a website by catering to those with disabilities. When an image does not load properly, the alt-text is visible to read and to be read aloud by a program for those with visual impairment.  

It is commonly used to aid in SEO blog writing

In essence, alternative text is some behind-the-scenes work that has a very real functional purpose. 

How Does Writing Great Alt-text Improve your Ranking? 

black tablet screen printing press cubes

Alternative text provides increased accessibility to your webpage, and also allows for keyword optimization. 

It increases accessibility by catering digestible content to both machines, and visually impaired users, as said before. 

Accessibility is a core part of SEO, as it caters to the consumer. Thus is something Google would like to promote with their algorithm. The same reflects on mobile site speed, which affects ranking. 

Of course, the alternative text also provides an opportunity to include your focus keywords. This is excellent because those keywords can be associated with a vivid image, which will bolster your chances of ranking higher. Consumers love images popping up in their searches. 

One thing to note is that while you can put keywords in alt-text, some may give in to the temptation of keyword stuffing. This is because the text is primarily invisible, due to images usually loading. 

This semi-obscurity offers the temptation of increasing keyword count while not affecting the language of the actual blog.

Regular keyword stuffing is easy to spot because of how spammy it sounds. Alt-text may appear as a secret way to include spammy language without it being obvious. 

But Google is not so naive, so don’t even try it. 

How to Write Alt-Text Properly

Writing good alt-text is much different than writing for a blog post, or any other writing task. Writing excellent alternative text could be considered an art form, due to how difficult it can be. 

The goal of alternative text is to describe an image in as few words as possible. Particular restrictions like a max character count make this problematic, especially with images that have a lot going on. 

Be Concise, Yet Descriptive

While the cap for alternative text is 125 characters, it is optimized if you can summarize an image in 7-8 words. One of those words will be your keyword, so using descriptive language is the best way to accomplish this. 

This is because a ‘screen reader’ used by the visually impaired will stop reading after 125 characters. Keeping things short also translates to a general idea, which is much easier for the person to understand. 

Additionally, using the 5 W’s can help narrow down the very core idea of the image. For a refresher, the 5 W’s are who, what, when, where, and why. All of these fundamental questions build the entire context of an image. 

Don’t Be Tempted By Keyword Stuffing

As mentioned previously, it is optimal to include your keyword at least once in your alternative text; however, it does not give the freedom to create spammy language that is usually ‘unseen’ by regular users. 

Machines will still see the text, and if Google picks up on spammy or nonsensical language, it will deem your content untrustworthy. 

Written Alt-Text Examples

Cappuccino black cup on wood cafe table

Let’s use this stock photo of a cup of coffee. The ideal is to describe this image in 7-8 words using the 5 W’s. 

A helpful trick to process this would be to describe the image to yourself while not looking at it. Depriving yourself of visuals will force you to think of the image’s fundamental structure and critical points. 

Ok Alternative Text

alt=” Cup of coffee”

This is a bare minimum description of the image, but it is still better than keyword stuffing or nothing at all. If you manage to fit a keyword in such a small word count, then it still offers some optimization.

Better Alternative Text

alt=” Black cup of coffee on table”

This text is better because it expands on the context of the image. It’s no longer just concerned with the cup of coffee. Now we know that the cup itself is black, is filled with coffee, and is set on a table. 

Great Alternative text

alt= “Black cup cappuccino set on wood cafe table” 

This is an example of great alternative text. It describes the specifics of the image like the wooden table, and the exact type of coffee included. Additionally, the context of a ‘cafe’ setting is established, unlike previous examples. Best yet, it is done in 8 words exactly. 

Keyword Stuffing Example

 


At smartwebpros, we know better than to do keyword stuffing. By all means, we don’t advise anyone else to do it under any circumstances, as it is detrimental to ranking 100% of the time. Trying to manipulate or game Google’s algorithm will eventually lead to consequences. 

Yet it often helps to view exactly what NOT to do for a better understanding of things. Below is an egregious example of keyword stuffing. 

alt=” coffee black coffee London Ontario Best Coffee restaurant.” 


It’s Your Turn To Create Descriptive, Accessible Images For Your Users. 

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