Alt Tag Tips

Early in 2006, most experts were claiming that ALT tags were useless in improving SERPS rankings in the search engines.  However, in my own experience, ALT tags were still indexed by spiders and could be found by executing a search, so I kept using them.

Common sense told me that if ALT tags were indexed, then they were being examined by search engines and should be created with SEO in mind. It certainly could do no harm at all to continue to use ALT tags in the method for which they were intended, and that’s why I continued to use them. It took Google’s Universal Search to come along, before most people agreed that they did again matter.

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Since search engines do not reveal all of the specifics of how rankings are determined, we need to examine what we do know about SERPS ranking – No matter what we’re discussing, content, links, or meta tags, relevance is crucial.  All content should be relevant to your website and useful to the user, but an ALT tag needs to be relevant to the IMAGE, and boosts its relevance.

If I am looking at a site and I find an interesting image, I might hover over the image to look for more info from the ALT tag.

If I hover over the image and the ALT tag displays nothing at all, or “BlahBlah123.JPEG”, or the file path location of the picture, I will not have gained any knowledge about the image and therefore the image becomes irrelevant.

If, however, the ALT tag displays “Widget Company Logo by MTM Designs”, then I now have relevant information about the graphic that first caught my attention.

It’s important to note that if I am sight impaired, and I’m using a screen reader, then it will read aloud from the ALT text for each image, making any excessive and repetetive keywords unbearable.

Remember, this is all about a positive “user experience”! Does this ALT tag really describe the image, or is it just obnoxious overkill?  Can you see why it might be better off if it were described as “Image of a hungry dog digging in the surf” ?

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As a consumer, this well planned relevance speaks volumes about the business whose webpage I am viewing.  It communicates professionalism too, since they are not only are knowledgeable of ALT tags, but took the time to use them, showing they are dedicated to their customers, they are not a fly by night organization, and are mindful of small details- You can communicate all of that from a tiny yellow ALT tag box!

An appropriately configured ALT tag appears after the file name and before the align indicator like so: <IMG src=”images/name.jpeg”ALT=”alt text phrase here” >

As with keyword meta tags, you should use keywords in your ALT tags in moderation and only if your keywords are relevant to the image being tagged.  Limit your description to one or two sentences, and include two to three relevant keywords if appropriate.

Do not stuff your ALT tags with keywords!  Spiders will recognize keyword over usage and give your website a lower ranking.  They may also put your website on the tail end of a very long waiting list of sites waiting to be recrawled.

Dishonest SEO may pay off quickly for some, but with the risk of being banned from a search engine, it’s just not a wise decision to employ grey or black hat SEO strategies.

*update –
Google’s Matt Cutts gives a video about proper Alt tag use and FURTHER debunks the myth that “Alt tags don’t matter anymore”.

“This article was originally published in Scott Hendison’s SEO 101 section as Alt Tag Tips and was reprinted with permission.”

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