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What Are Alt Tags and Are They Really Still Important?

So many of the websites we come across are missing something that's incredibly simple to use, and it has a huge payoff in terms of SEO and the user experience. Here's everything you need to know about alt tags.

Written By Matthew Martin

SEO

July 6, 2020

If you’re not sure whether or not your website uses alt tags, you could be missing out on a simple thing that has a huge impact on search engine ranking and the user experience. An alt tag could also be called an alt attribute or alt description. At Spade Design, we apply alt tags to help search engine bots, and people understand what’s in a photo.

What Is An Alt Tag for Images?

Alt tags are HTML attributes. Keep reading, we’re not about to start talking code, this is actually something pretty useful and easy to understand.

You see, search engine bots can’t “see” images. When you look at a page, in a fraction of a second your eyes take in images and use them to assign meaning to the text. However, search engines can’t do that.

One huge mistake we see clients make over and over is assuming photos are self-explanatory. For example, once we started working with a personal injury lawyer. The pages on his website had very thin content – there wasn’t much on each page at all. He had the photos you would expect. There were a few images of the scale of justice, one of a gavel, and a few of car accidents.

The text on the page listed the locations he served and told prospective clients to get in touch for a free consultation. There wasn’t anything that actually said he worked with people to get the most out of their car accident, he just assumed visitors would get that from the photos.

However, when search engines visited his page to crawl, index, and rank it, they couldn’t understand what the images were about. When people who were visually impaired or using a browser that can’t process images, they couldn’t figure it out either. To search engines and people with disabilities those images were basically invisible and offered no clues about his services.

What Alt Tags Aren’t

Image alt tags aren’t the same thing as image titles or image captions. When you save an image, you should absolutely give it a name that describes what it is, but that’s your image title. Captions are the text that always displays underneath a photo. It’s a good idea to be specific and precise with those, too.

With some browsers, alt tags show up when you hover over images. If you’re using Chrome or Firefox you probably won’t see them unless images don’t load.

The Biggest Reason You Should Give Every Image an Alt Tag

Nearly 40 million American citizens have a disability. If you don’t use alt text to describe what’s in your images, many people with disabilities can’t experience your content the same way as other visitors. While many people process websites as self-explanatory from a visual standpoint, others rely heavily or completely on screen readers to convey meaning.

Screen readers convey cues from alt tags.

Someone who is blind can’t see the images on web pages at all, but through screen readers, they can still access everything formatted as text. Users with impaired vision do the same.

As people age, they often magnify text to make it easier to read, but that causes images to become pixelated or not display correctly on the screen. People who are color blind may have trouble making out what’s in photos with low color contrast.

Other users have cognitive impairments that interfere with visual processing. People with certain types of epilepsy find flashing lights and images can trigger seizures. In each case, these users deserve access to the same information and content as you give other users.

If you don’t give each image an alt tag, the browser will most likely just display the file name. If you saved your image as image00003_2579.png, that doesn’t give them any clue you’re showing them your products and services.

Alt Tags and SEO

The other extremely strong reason to give every image an alt tag is that when search engine bots or spiders crawl and index your pages, they “read” alt tags to decide what that page is about. Correctly used alt tags boost SEO.

For example, if you have a real estate agency, the images on your website probably have to do with property. It makes sense to give images alt tags that describe what’s in the photo. You might give that waterfront property the alt tag “Tyler Tx Lakefront Home.” Another image might be appropriately tagged “Bullard Tx Barndominium.”

Search engines index your page, noting that it contains information on waterfront property in your area. When people search using those terms, search engines know your page has relevant information.

Why Does Google Care?

Alt tags are first and foremost for users. Google’s top priority is to get users what they need. Pages that are less accessible for all users are also less likely to be the best result for a related query.

Also, in a way Google has the same processing issues as people who are blind or cognitively impaired. The algorithm can’t make any more sense of images than a blind person can unless you provide support.

You put photos and graphics on the page to enhance understanding and engagement. If you want those images to count, add alt text.

How to Add Image Alt Tags in WordPress

If you use WordPress for web design, adding alt tags is incredibly simple. You can do it when you first upload images, or, if you have an existing website, you can go through your entire media library and add to what’s already there.

Either click the “Add Media” button or go to your library. Once you’ve selected an image, you’ll see it in the right-hand column. Under “Attachment Details” just type in what you want to tag it. Then insert like you normally would.

What Should You Put in an Alt Tag?

Remember, the most important reason for using alt tags is to enhance understanding for people with disabilities. Don’t stuff keywords into your alt text, use natural language to describe what the image shows. Here are a few tips:

  • Be brief – use less than 125 characters.
  • Don’t say “picture of a girl with pizza” or “image of a red rubber ball.” If it’s alt text, you don’t need to say it’s a picture or an image. Just tell what’s there.
  • Use keywords, but only when it makes sense to use them with the image.
  • If your image is just there for decoration, leave the alt tag blank.
  • If you’re posting an image of text, use that text in your alt tag.

How to Know If Your Current Website Uses Alt Tags Correctly

One easy way to check your existing website is to let us do a website audit. Alt tag use is just one of the critical factors our website audit checks. We’ll also discover if your website needs important updates and whether key issues are keeping you from getting leads, clients, sales, and revenue. Schedule your consultation in seconds to turn your website into your best sales platform.

 

 

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