What is alt text?
Images: they give visual context to a post, they break up the big blocks of text, they make a post look much better, they...
...contribute to the SEO ranking of a post?
Yes, indeed, image optimization can make a big difference in whether your post ranks at the top of the SERPS.
But how do you optimize an image? Hint: It's not color correction or cropping. It's your alt text.
What is alt text?
Alt text (also known as "alt attribute" or "alt description") is a short description you apply to images on your site within the HTML of the page that describes what the image is about. For those of you using WordPress, you can find it here on the right side of the screen when you insert an image.
Alt text isn't immediately visible and often goes unnoticed by the average visitor to your website (it's usually only seen when you hover over the image), but don't think that means it's not important. Between good SEO practices and improving your website's accessibility, there's a lot of value in including good alt text.
Alt text for SEO
Alt text is incredibly valuable for SEO purposes for one important reason - without alt text, your images have no impact on your SEO ranking. Well-designed alt text ensures that your images are properly considered in Google's crawl and are placed prominently in search engine results.
Google's bots are very effective at crawling text, identifying keywords, and organizing headings, but they can't recognize and understand visual elements. For this reason, the text needs to be associated with the image, ideally written in a descriptive, relevant way so that they actually contribute to your ranking.
And depending on the context your website is intended for, images can be even more important than your text. If you're creating a sales page or landing page for a clothing company, restaurant or catering business, or if you're writing an article based entirely on infographics, for example.
In all of these cases, a large percentage of your website will likely consist of images rather than text because they are the most important thing you want your visitors to see. So especially in these cases, you definitely don't want your informative, visually appealing website that you've put a lot of effort into to get next to no traffic. A picture is worth a thousand words, but it doesn't matter if no one sees it.
Alt text for accessibility
Alt text also makes your website accessible to anyone who may visit it. And it's by far one of the easiest accessibility principles to adhere to. Although many people are unlikely to ever see alt text, your blind and visually impaired audience depends on it to have a cohesive and comprehensive understanding of what they are interacting with on your website.
Remember how bad Google is at crawling images? So do many of the "text to talk" programs used by visually impaired people. So when they come across an image on a website, there is no context for what is in the image without an alt text description.
And again, if a large part of your article or website is made up of images and other visual elements, then you need to make sure that everyone can interact with them. If you fail to include the proper alt text, you're leaving out an entire section of your potential customers. By doing so, you are doing a disservice to your customers and yourself.
Alt Text as "Fail Safe
There is another way Alt Text can help you: technical failure. It happens to everyone and anyone, and sooner or later it will happen to you.
Whether it's on the user's end - such as a connection issue, a loading issue, or some other problem with their computer or phone - or on your end in the form of a coding error or a backend error, it's entirely possible that your images on your site won't display correctly for every single person who visits your site.
If the images are not filled, the alt text you assign to the images will populate in their place. This way, your visitors can still get an idea of the point you're trying to get across, especially if your images are an essential part of your audience's understanding of what you have to say. Something will go wrong at some point, and your alt text is your "fail safe" in place when it does.
Best Alt Text Practices
1. use alt text for each image
Just because an image on your website has alt text doesn't mean you're done. You should really make sure that every image on a web page has at least some sort of alt text description, even if it's just a few words.
2. make your alt text descriptive
When creating alt text for an image, you usually have about 100 characters to work with, and you certainly don't have to use every single one. But the more descriptive, the better. Let's take a stock image as an example:
You could describe this image simply as "man drinking coffee" and that would be technically correct. There's a man sitting there drinking coffee. But is that all that's remarkable about it, that someone can get an idea of what's happening without even seeing it? You could easily say "a man drinking coffee on a rooftop looking out at a city at sunset" and that would be well under 100 characters. It's worth adding that extra bit of description, and it really doesn't add much more work.3.
3. describe only the picture
Try not to include unnecessary fluff in your alt text. You should contextualize the image with the rest of the article in the body text; there is no need to do this in the alt text. Make your descriptions descriptive, but also keep them simple. There's no reason to overcomplicate them. It will just make it harder for everyone to understand, especially in the case where you can't see the picture at all.
4. use your keywords in your alt text
This is the best way your images can help your rankings. Putting your keyword in your alt text shows Google crawlers that yes, this post is really super helpful and informative. Does that mean you should try to fill your alt text with your keyword as much as possible? No. But should you at least try to include it here and there? Absolutely. (Remember, if your keyword doesn't fit into your article at least 5-7 times and in a few frames, it's probably not a good keyword to address).
Now that you know what alt text is, you can incorporate it into your web design and marketing, and you'll be one step ahead of your competition!