An image Alt tag is a short piece of text associated with an image. It’s intended use is to describe an image to people with visual disabilities: if you can’t make out the image your browser software will either display the text or even read it out to you (it is also shown in a little yellow box when you hover your mouse over an image).
A lot of people – including developers – are lazy with ALT tags and either leave them blank or just type in the first thing that comes into their heads. But in fact this is short sighted because Google places quite a lot of standing on what those ALT tags contain. Picking the right Alt text for an image is certainly an acquired skill, but one worth picking up if you want to boost the Search Engine Optimisation of your site.
You should be able to set your ALT tags through your CMS if you have one: if not then print out a copy of your website, write down new ALT tags and ask your developer to update them for you.
So, if you sell tungsten grinders for sharpening welding electrodes (for the record this is a made up example), then you might have:
- “” i.e. nothing – bad, what a wasted opportunity (and you’re falling foul of the Disability Discrimination Act by the way!);
- “TM3762” – That doesn’t help anybody;
- “Grinder” – well, it’s a start and at least it has a keyword in it;
- “Photo of a grinder” – No better because you don’t need ‘Photo of’ that’s a given (and it just make it slower for people with visual disabilities using ‘screen readers’);
- “Tungsten Electrode Grinder being used to resharpen Welding Electrodes” – now we’re talking: we’ve been descriptive whilst at the same time getting some relevant keywords into the phrase in a perfectly natural manner;
- “Tungsten grinder, welding grinder, electrode grinder, TM3762, re-sharpen electrodes …” – some people take things too far by giving something that isn’t a description of the image at all but just a list of keywords; something we call keyword stuffing. Google can spot this kind of thing and, along with other bad practices clearly trying to manipulate the search engine results, doesn’t look kindly on it: just don’t do it!
So the important thing is to pick ALT tags that are natural and naturally rich in keywords. This can be difficult for more ‘conceptual’ images, but there are tricks you might try like “visual representation of…” etc. Get creative!
And if you get really stuck then maybe you’re just using the wrong image?!