Use Alt-Tags for Image Optimization

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Search engines still have difficulty understanding images on your Web site, but as Google’s Matt Cutts explains, you can help them out by using an alt-tag.

The alt-tag is attached to an image; you often see it as the yellow box that pops up as you roll over an image. The original purpose of the alt-tag was to help the visually impaired better understand your Web site. It was then used as a place for Web site owners to cram as many keywords as possible in the hopes of ranking higher for a desired search term.

As search engines matured, however, meta-data (the information not readily seen by the human visitor) was discounted in favor of the information they could see, such as titles, headers and body copy.

Then came universal search. Now, when you do a search at Google you may get more than just 10 text links, you may also see images and videos embedded in your results. Because of this reason, alt-tags and image optimization are getting a closer look.

In the video below, also available at the Google Webmaster blog post “Use Alt Attributes Smartly,” Matt explains more about the alt-tag and how Google wants you to use it.

As Google commands, we obey….

Rich Brooks
Alt = Maine Search Engine Marketer

  • http://www.jebswebs.com john e brandt

    Interesting, but has some flaws. You might want to scan the dozens (hundreds?) of comments made after the video clip was posted in Dec 2007. While I understand that many web designers are more interested in SEO than accessibility, you will see that this mindset is challenged in the comments. Screen reader users NEED to have accurate ALT attributes particularly if the image is of text (e.g. part of a logo or header). But very often the image with a long, highly descriptive ALT attribute may actually detract and/or confuse the screen reader user. The screen reader will read the ALT information in the same sentence (based upon its location in the HTML) and this may be totally irrelevant to the topic of the page. So issues related to semantics are also important in choosing the proper ALT text. I know this sounds like a rant…probably is. But this is a complicated issue and I have been wrestling with for some time. And I often choose to encourage designers to choose the NULL ALT (ALT="") so as to NOT confuse the screen reader user. Other thoughts?

  • http://www.jebswebs.com john e brandt

    Interesting, but has some flaws. You might want to scan the dozens (hundreds?) of comments made after the video clip was posted in Dec 2007. While I understand that many web designers are more interested in SEO than accessibility, you will see that this mindset is challenged in the comments. Screen reader users NEED to have accurate ALT attributes particularly if the image is of text (e.g. part of a logo or header). But very often the image with a long, highly descriptive ALT attribute may actually detract and/or confuse the screen reader user. The screen reader will read the ALT information in the same sentence (based upon its location in the HTML) and this may be totally irrelevant to the topic of the page. So issues related to semantics are also important in choosing the proper ALT text. I know this sounds like a rant…probably is. But this is a complicated issue and I have been wrestling with for some time. And I often choose to encourage designers to choose the NULL ALT (ALT="") so as to NOT confuse the screen reader user. Other thoughts?

  • http://www.jebswebs.com john e brandt

    Interesting, but has some flaws. You might want to scan the dozens (hundreds?) of comments made after the video clip was posted in Dec 2007. While I understand that many web designers are more interested in SEO than accessibility, you will see that this mindset is challenged in the comments. Screen reader users NEED to have accurate ALT attributes particularly if the image is of text (e.g. part of a logo or header). But very often the image with a long, highly descriptive ALT attribute may actually detract and/or confuse the screen reader user. The screen reader will read the ALT information in the same sentence (based upon its location in the HTML) and this may be totally irrelevant to the topic of the page. So issues related to semantics are also important in choosing the proper ALT text. I know this sounds like a rant…probably is. But this is a complicated issue and I have been wrestling with for some time. And I often choose to encourage designers to choose the NULL ALT (ALT="") so as to NOT confuse the screen reader user. Other thoughts?

  • http://www.buraq-technologies.com/ ambreen11

    Alt text is another way for search engines to determine what the content of an image is so that you can gain a better SEO ranking. The alt text should describe what is happening in the image and include a maximum of two keywords.Great post!

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