How Alternate Text can Help Search Rank

by Zach Prez on February 17, 2010

Alternate text can be extremely helpful for ranking a page or especially an image in search engines. If you’re not familiar, alternate text (often called at tags) is the HTML code behind an image that allows search engines like Google to interpret what an image is about since it can’t view a photo like a human can. An alt attribute is displayed in HTML code as:

img src=”image.jpg” alt=”Short description here”

The benefit to search is that the keywords placed within the alternate text help describe the content of the image, and typically the image represents a broader majority of what the rest of the page is about. So strategically using your image descriptions can go a long way for those actively doing search engine optimization. Like the page title, Google will use it as an indicator to understand what your page is about. And if it thinks you have a page about the Golden Gate Bridge, and that s what the user typed into a search query, then you have a better chance of ranking your page or image in search results.

There’s a couple rules to follow when writing alternate text. Most importantly you want to describe the image using a natural statement and avoid spam techniques like keyword loading. Many users fail this step by trying to out think the search engine and generate their image descriptions purely based on what they want to rank for in search. The truth is that Google can spot this from a mile away. It prefers natural sounding text that a human would write and will give your content more credit when it is written this way. The best way to rank is just to describe the image. For more about how to craft great alt text read my post 5 Things to Know When Writing Photo Alt Text.

Alt text can be a tricky thing to access. That’s because it’s sometimes generated automatically by the website photo system or blog platform. Check with your website provider to see how it generates these. For example WordPress will dynamically generate the alt text based on the image title field. This is all the more reason to fill out all of the image fields when uploading images using your image tools, and those other fields will also provide additional SEO value.

My last piece of advice – understand that alternate text alone will not significantly change the rank of your site, images, and pages. There are many other factors in ranking well such as text on your page and links to your website. Use your judgment in how much time you spend tagging your images.

Previous post:

Next post: