Image Attributes (ALT Tag) Best Practices for SEO

Did you know that search engines are actually blind? Now, I know many people would question that statement, but to a certain extent, it’s true. Sure, search engines can read and interpret text, but that’s it. A search engine cannot ‘see’ an image, or ‘view’ a video. You could have a picture of a horse on your website yet have text that spoke purely about cows. The search engine in this situation has no idea that your picture is of a horse or a cow.

Since search engines rely on text for everything, you need to ‘tell’ a search engine about any images you use on your website. If you don’t, then you have lost what many now believe is a powerful SEO opportunity. Search engines, particularly Google, are looking to provide searchers with relevant and good quality search results. If you have a page about horses that is relevant to a searcher, then the search engines want – yes, WANT – to include your page in the search results. After all, the search engine’s users are finding the information they want, so they’ll be back to use that search engine again.

When including images on a webpage, there are a number of useful SEO techniques that work very well. With today’s technology, there are four areas where you can boost the effect of an image. The first is fairly logical – placing the image alongside text that relates to the image. Using the horse and cow example, an image optimized for horses is best used around text about horses.

Captions are another area that help boost SEO. Captions are little text snippets that appear directly below an image (although they are a part of the image frame). This is a little used option yet one that satisfies a search engine’s criteria, improving a users experience. The caption does help a user relate the image to the surrounding text, so be sure to create a short caption that does just that.

The image file name is another area that can be optimized. Rather than just referring to abcd.jpg, for example, using a keyword such as horse.jpg has a number of benefits. First and foremost, at a later date, editing your pages can be so much easier if there are accurate descriptors as file names. From an SEO perspective, a file name can incorporate a keyword, or key phrase, giving your SEO a small boost.

Finally, the most important area to optimize. When placing a image on your site, you have two attributes that are worth looking at. One is the ‘title’ attribute and the second is the ‘alt’ (alternative) attribute. When a mouse is hovered over an image, the text in the ‘title’ attribute will appear. For users who have images turned off in their browsers (or if the image link becomes lost), then the text in the ‘alt’ tag will appear (hence the reference to ‘alternative’).

These two attributes help improve user experience whilst also helping to boost your SEO activities. You can use keywords, or key phrases, in these attributes, however, what is most important is to accurately describe the image for users. It is possible to do this whilst still including keywords. Just be creative and natural. To use the ‘alt’ tag, for example, simply add alt=”your text here” to the image command. Likewise, the ‘title’ attribute simply requires title=”your text here”.

Most websites include images, yet many have forgotten the value of optimizing those images for both users and search engines. A good example of best practices for web design is to include an empty alt tag if you are not going to include text. This takes the form of alt=””, and whilst quick and easy to include, can have a big effect on users who can’t view images. Your page format will remain with just an empty area where the image should be. Fail to include that empty alt tag and you may see your pages format in disarray, especially if the browser in use wants to include a text message about not being able to publish the graphic. And remember, a search engine may well receive that message as well. Use the Alt tag wisely and include the title and caption options as well, if possible. You will then be gaining the full SEO benefits of an optimized image.

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