Image searches are getting more popular than ever. According to Moz, a third of searches on Google are searches for images and 12.5% of the SERPs are packed with images. And let’s not forget that visual search is coming up as the new trend.
With consumer behaviour changing like this, you can no longer ignore the importance of clearly marking up your images. You really just have two options, adapt or lose rankings.
So, how can you adapt to image searches getting popular? The answer is alt text for images, aka image alt tags.
What is alt text for Images?
You would usually expect your page to look something like this to your visitors. Heading at the top, images on the left, text on right, or any other orientation you prefer.
But, there might be some people who cannot see these images. For example, some people choose to surf the web without the images and some use text readers. Now, text readers can’t actually see the images. The text reader, as the name suggests, will read the text to people using them. So, if the the text reader can’t read something, it simply skips it. But, what if the pictures are important to the content and need to be explained?
Well, this is why alt text for images was created initially by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) community. They wanted the internet to be easily accessible to all.
Alt text or commonly known as alt tags are pieces of text used to describe images. This not only explains the images to people using text readers but also people who cannot see the images due to a weak internet connection.
Note that image alt text is different from image titles. Image title is the text that appears when you hover over an image. This has a negligible impact on SEO and if you are going to choose between image titles and alt text, always choose alt text for your images. Instead of focusing on image titles, your time will be better spent on working out the page titles and meta descriptions.
As you can imagine, image alt text greatly impacts the user experience on the page and so the rankings. But this is not the only reason to use image alt text.
Importance of Image Alt Text in SEO
Just like text readers can’t see the images the way most people do, search engines like Google cannot either. If you add an image on your page, Google will know it’s an image, but it won’t know what the image is about and if the image is relevant or not.
As you would know, Google and other search engines need to know that your content is relevant to the search query to rank it in the SERPs. This is another place image alt text can help. The image alt text can explain to search engines what the image is all about.
Apart from the SERP, when the search engines know what the images represent, they can also show the images in the image searches. This will also help you drive traffic to your website as when people will find the relevant images, they may decide to visit the website containing that image.
So, how can you add alt text to your images?
Alt text is written within an HTML tag, so that needs to be added to the code. If you are editing the code, add alt= “Your description” inside the image tag. Once done, the image tag should look something like this
<img src=“img_eg.jpg” alt=“Example for alt text” width=“500” height=“600”>
If you are using WordPress, then you will be prompted to add the alt text when you are selecting an image from the image library.
Types of Alt Text
Although you can have many types of images on your website, all those can be categorized into 7 broad types. All these types use slightly different alt text language.
1. Informative images:
These images represent concepts and other information. The alt tags for these should convey all the essential information. For example, advertisements should have alt text indicating that it is an advertisement.
2. Decorative images:
These images do nothing but make your page look visually pleasing. For these, the alt tag should be added but left blank, like this – alt = “”.
3. Functional images:
These images are used as CTAs. For example, The Facebook symbol, if clicked, will enable you to share the page on Facebook. The tag for this could be something like alt= “click icon to share on Facebook.” The alt text is usually in the form ‘click…. to….’.
4. Images of Text:
The alt tags for these should include all the text in the image.
5. Complex Image:
Here you should describe the image in short and point to the area in your blog that explains the text in detail.
6. Group of images:
If the images have similar content only one image needs to explain the purpose. The rest can be left as blank alt tags.
7. Charts with clickable areas:
For these, you need to first describe the overall context and then describe each clickable area separately.
Image Alt Text Best Practices
While adding image alt text seems like a simple task, there are some things you should keep in mind.
- Alt text is 100 characters long, so use your words wisely.
- Assign alt text as and when you upload an image so that you don’t miss any.
- Describe the image in short in the alt text. If you feel the explanation is not enough, add accompanying text.
- Try to use your researched keywords in the alt text. If you have space left, you can also add brand keywords.
- There is no need to add “image of…” or “picture of…” in the alt text. This will only eat up your characters.
- If your website is in multiple languages, add alt text in all the languages.
- Use natural language to explain the image and avoid generic terms. Write like you are writing for a human, not a computer. For example, don’t write “puppy playing park”. Write “puppy playing in a park”.
- Don’t worry too much about alt text because it doesn’t have a huge impact on your rankings unless you have an image heavy website.
- However, do add alt text as it can easily improve user experience and accessibility.
- Add a space before the image alt text if there is no space between the image and the text. This will help reduce confusion when a screen reader is being used.
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