As a Columbus website design firm, when we put website proposals together we refer to a lot of SEO terms, such as "alternate text fields." We like to illustrate those SEO terms using visuals, because for people hearing these terms or the first time, visuals help. (Actually, visuals help anytime you're learning something new.)
But interestingly, as we were searching Google to find a website that showed what an Alternate Text field was, it was way harder than we expected. All we wanted was a blog that had an image like this:
...but after looking at 15 or so websites, they were all so convoluted, we decided we had to create our own visual. So we made it a blog. This is an excellent reason to create your own blogs: when you're looking for something and you just can't find the answer you need. Or at least you can't find it easily!
So here we are creating our own simple, and visual, answer.
What is an Alternate Text field used for?
It's used for a few reasons:
- For sight-impaired individuals. Those folks have software on their computers that speak the text you place in the Alternate Text field. So if you're a Medical Marijuana distributor or retailer, and people buy your product to help with their glaucoma, you can see why having descriptive text in the Alternative Text field is a good idea.
- To help relate to your image content. While most people don't ever see your Alt Text content, search engines d, and they index those images based on both the Alt Text field, as well as the name of the image itself. If you've ever done a Google search for anyone, then clicked on the "Images" link to see photos relating to that search, that's how the images end up there: Google (and other search engines) are using Alt Text descriptions on images to display them, and
- To help with your website's ranking by bringing your website up to World Wide Web Consortium standards. By using Alt Text fields (and other SEO elements), it makes websites universally-accessible. And when you play by the rules for accessibility, you are rewarded by getting more SEO juice for your website.
Even if you might not have sight-impaired prospects or customers, having your website meet the Word Wide Web Consortium, and Google's, accessibility standards, helps your website rank better.
Eventually, as technology becomes wearable (ie: Apple watches) that won’t show images, it's a safe bet the Alt Text fields will become even more important.
How to write Alt Text
Your goal is to have your Alt Text accurately describe the image it's representing, because it helps visually-challenged individuals understand what images are on your website.
When it come to SEO, the Alt Text field provides another spot for you to use the keywords you're targeting. As with anything SEO-related, there's a right way, and wrong way to write your Alt Text tags.
- Since it's a best practice to name your image with both descriptive text and a keyword, the same text should appear in the Alt Text field.
- Keep it as simple as you can. Alt Texts should be between 8 and 15 words.
- However, avoid what's called "keyword stuffing." This means you should only use ONE keyword per Alt Text field.
All good content management systems make it simple to include Alt Text in these fields. If you're a total nerd, you can add Alt Text directly into the HTML of your code, but who wants to do that?
What's the difference between Alt Text fields and captions?
There is, of course, a time to use photo captions, but unlike Alt Text fields, captions are optional.
Captions obviously are used to describe images, and there aren't really word limits to captions. Since captions are ready by both people and search engines, you should write them for people first and foremost. Like Alt Text fields, it's best to keep captions concise, but the 10 -15 word limit isn't as critical. While captions can be helpful if for some reason, search engines aren't able to "read" the content from an image name.
What if you don't put an Alt Text description in?
Say you don't name an image what it should be, nor put in an Alt Text description. Then what happens? Well, when a search engine "reads" an image name like "image_0035-A," the algorithms take whatever text is around the image and attempt interpret the context of that image. The result, of course, can be that Google might put in text that has nothing to do with the image.
Google already does this for the Meta Descriptions it displays in their search results. For example, a search for "Periwinkle websites" (1) shows us Google pulls words from the websites in it's results from somewhere on that web page (2). You can tell because the Meta Descriptions (2) only relate to "Periwinkle" and not websites.
So search engines will do it for images as well.
Don't leave it to chance, and don't forget your SEO, because if you do it right, the benefits are huge.