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Alt Tag SEO


If you are using a CMS? You could be missing a trick. How many authors and copywriters know what the this little tag does?

Ask your self these question:

  • Alt tag functions within the browser – name 3.
  • Alt Tag Accessibility – when should and shouldn’t it be used?
  • Al Text SEO – What rules apply to it’s usage?

The alt tag has always been one of those tags that many coders have ignored. Now that many sites are created using Content Management Systems (CMS) and off the shelf templates, there usage has decline further. It’s not just the owner of the site that is losing out it is the very people that site is trying to attract.

Alt tag functions

Called ‘alt text’; short for alternative text, these text descriptions are:

  • Displayed when the mouse pointer hovers over the image (by most visual browsers)
  • Displayed when images are not downloaded (by most visual browsers)
  • Read by screen readers and voice browsers

A typical alt tag within the code would look like:

  • <img “./bramley-apple-pie.jpg” alt=”Warm Bramley Apple Pie” width=”100″ height=”100″ />

Alt Text Accessibility

Without the use of the alt tag the usefulness and usability of the page is drastically reduced for visitors reliant on a screen reader and voice browser. Often, images are used to convey vital information, without which, pages can lack all focus (Gallery web-pages are prime culprits).

For small images such as home-page and email icons, especially when they are encompassed in a link (<a href=…..>) it is acceptable to set this tag to null (alt=””). On many pages, if every tiny icon had descriptive text, it could take an age for a text reader to cover a page, by which time the user will have become annoyed and left. 

Alt Text Usability

There was a brief period when most people had moved away from slow dial up connections, to super fast, high speed broadband. During this era, the speed that images loaded at was often insignificant. So, because of this, web-designers increased the resolution and size of images. Now, with the widespread usage of web enabled mobile phones, the average connection speed has been dropping quite sharply. For mobile users trying to view huge images, the alt tag is again very important.

For mobile users trying to download pages with large images, the alt text is important as it lets the user know the reason for the long loading time

Alt Tags SEO

Unlike a human, a search engines’ spider does not have eyes. Spiders rely upon the alt text for categorising the content of a web page. This where our old friends ‘keywords’ come into play. I’ve always considered images on a page to be very good. Lets face it, a good image can hold a humans’ attention for several seconds, if they also get a search engine spiders’ attention; everyone is happy.

When writing copy for a page; being old school SEO; I start with a list of keywords and key-phrases, that I would like to put somewhere on the page. However, like this page, the text just doesn’t seem to go to plan. On a customer’s web-page, I’d rely on the hidden text, like alt tags on images or title tags on links to fill the gaps.

Alt Tag SEO Tips

  • Every significant image should have alt text
  • Keywords in alt tags are good
  • Do not repeat keywords more than once.
  • Use descriptive tags, do not just cram with keywords
  • Use less than 50 characters
  • Do not keyword stuff alt tags!

Alt Tag SEO Warnings

Some sites have been penalised heavily for keyword loading these tags. Search engine algorithms change almost on a daily basis. There have been several major updates that have seen sites guilty of keyword stuffing disappear off the scope, probably never to be found again. Remember, keywords within alt tags is good, but the the alt text must still be meaningful, readable and brief.

I’ve seen some sneaky use of the alt tag on web-site templates, where the alt is set the the web-address of the template’s originator by default. Many people using these templates are simply using them either for speed or because of a lack of coding knowledge, so these tags are; in many cases; left unchanged. This is just one of many reasons why I never use web-templates for anything other than visual inspiration. It’s your website, so why advertise someone else’s for free?


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