Alt tags and SEO

Some of you may have heard of the term ‘alt tag’ when researching SEO. You may have even heard of its importance in terms of SEO, but are wondering ‘what is an alt tag and why is it important?’Some of you may have heard of the term ‘alt tag’ when researching SEO. You may have even heard of its importance in terms of SEO, but are wondering ‘what is an alt tag and why is it important?’

What is an alt tag?

An alt tag is the alternative text a browser shows when it can’t render an image. If an image can’t be displayed on a page for some reason (the filename or folder the file resides in may have changed on the server for example), the alt tag will be shown as text in place of the image.

what is an alt tag SEO example

Sometimes called alternative text, alt tags, alt text or alt attribute, this handy little element can help boost your search engine rankings (along with other elements of course).

How can I tell if an image has an alt tag?

 The easiest way to tell if an image has an alt attribute is to hover your mouse over the top of it. If hover text (also called a text bubble, popup text, tooltip or mouseover) appears with some text in it, that’s the alt tag showing. 

Some browsers don’t display this by default so you may need to right click on the image and choose ‘inspect element’ and look for alt=”alt tag goes here” in the code. Alternatively, log into your content management system and look at the properties of the image on the page to see if there’s an alt tag in there. 

Alt tag inspect element

Alt tags and SEO… how important are they?

If you’re new to search engine optimisation you will learn very quickly that no one element can make or break your website. Some SEO experts report that their testing shows the alt tag has little or no weight when used in relevancy scoring for algorithmic ranking factors. 

Others have found that using an alt tag on their images has improved their rankings. As with all things on the web, I tend to take everything I read with a grain of salt and break it down to its simplest form.

In other words, I take an organic approach to building websites and sometimes this means getting back to basics and stripping things right down to the core. In doing this I look at the original purpose of why the alt tag was set in place by the WC3; to describe the image on the page.

This tells me that if you stuff your alt tag with keywords, this isn’t going to work. If you add a relevant description of the photo that relates to the content on the page, this will always be looked at in a kinder light by search engines than keyword stuffing ever will.

Tips on using the alt tag on your website

OK, so now you should have a pretty good understanding of what the alt tag is and a general idea of how it can be used. Here’s some tips to remember when using the alt tag for the images on your website:-

  • When it comes to SEO, relevancy is the key. Don’t keyword-stuff your images with hundreds of keywords. Use a targeted keyword phrase within your alt tags.
  • Instead of adding something like “dog washing Sydney”, a descriptive alt tag could be something like “a bubbly dog washing in Sydney for owner Jack and his Border Collie”.
  • Remember the purpose of the alt tag – to describe an image to people who have images turned off or have a page read aloud to them.
  • You may want to think about using a description below the graphic as well (sometimes called a caption). This will be read more than the alt tag will be by general visitors.

The thing to remember is that the alt tag is one of between 100 - 200 different factors that search engines use to determine the relevancy of your page and then rank it. 
Using alt tags heavily as a single strategy in your SEO just won’t work. It has to be part of an overall approach to SEO that encompasses many different elements of your site.

Just remember, if you write naturally this will help you more in the long term than using underhanded tactics like keyword-stuffing and spamming the engines to manipulate your rankings.