Images and alt tags – are they important?

Laptop with Google browser

What’s all the hype?

If you’re looking at how your website can organically reach the dizzy heights of page 1 when someone searches for the services you provide on Google, you need good Search Engine Optimisation (e.g. SEO).

There are lots of ways to do this and it takes time to build strong SEO, but one important element is through what we call “image alt tags“, which are small pieces of text which get added to an image in the background.

Surprisingly, this is something that often gets overlooked.

it’s not just about SEO

In order for Google to rank your website and decide where it appears when someone searches for the services you provide, they do something called “indexing“.  Website indexing is the process of downloading data from webpages and storing it into databases by search engines, and they do this because they need to process data to display most relevant results to their users.

Images can’t be indexed, but by labelling images with alt tags, they can.  This isn’t just useful for SEO either – the alt tag is used by screen readers, which are browsers used by blind and visually impaired people too.

Does your alt tag describe the image?

Sometimes this can be tricky, but ideally an alt tag needs to describe the image in one or two sentences – short and succinct is good.

If you’ve done  your homework on what keywords are important, ideally you’ve chosen an image which links up to this so you’re sending clear signals to search engines about how you would like the web page to rank.

Another good approach is to think about the experience someone who is visually impaired will have when visiting your website – how can you make your site as clear as possible so you’re getting your message across in both the copy and the visual content.

So what does a good alt tag look like?

Something I often do is look to market leaders for example of best practice.   I don’t know about you, but whenever I search for anything food related these days, one of the first websites to appear at the top Google is BBC Good Food.  If you type in “burger” for example, this is the top ranking website that appears.

The alt text for this on their website is simply “four burgers in a bun”.  This is a really easy and simple example because it’s simply describing the recipe, and links in really well with their keywords for that page.

However, a lot of websites including mine, include lifestyle type shots which can make this is a bit more tricky.  Try to choose images that are on theme,  as this gives you an opportunity to mention your keywords in the alt tag.

So, your priority should be providing context to the image, and if it makes sense to do so, include your keyword in the alt text of at least one image on the page.

Why is alt text important

Don’t cram keywords in

You’ll get into trouble if you use your alt text to stuff as many keywords into your site.  You need to focus attention on writing alt text which is descriptive, and provides context.

If your website contains lots of imagery, include your keyword in at least one of those images, but avoid the temptation to go mad and cram too many in.

So, where do you start when developing alt text for your website?  A basic audit of of your existing content will really help, to see where you can incorporate alt text or sense check the quality of the alt text used. As I’ve said at the start of this article, good SEO involves time and effort and this is just one element, but the more  you optimise your images, the better your SEO strategy will be in the future.

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