I want to finally tackle a Blogging 101 topic that has been on my mind for a while – ALT tags. Huh? I know many of you don’t use them, or understand the significance behind labeling your images. Decided to skip the ALT tag for your image can mean a loss of potential rankings, so why are you skipping it when the task should take less than 5 seconds to complete?
We all know that we have to optimize our blogs for search keyword terms and everything else, but are you maximizing your traffic with the usage of ALT tags? Search engines use the ALT tag to identify what the images are, what the images are on your blog, which is another fantastic way to draw in visitors! Plus, Google recently revealed the new Related Search Previews for their Google Images product, so now is the time to start paying close attention!
Think of it this way… search engines can only read text, so we need to help them "SEE", or identify and label your images to help users find them – and eventually lead to YOUR blog!
We’ll get into the why’s and HUH?’s later, but first let’s talk about WHAT.
What is an ALT tag?
ALT tags are a vital component to your images that are featured on your blog or website. You spend a lot of time taking pictures of your family, or a delicious platter of cookies to show off on your blog. Photoshop is constantly open and you are churning out over a dozen custom made banners or clipart images to display in your posts.
Are those images working for you? Sure, I know your readers are obviously seeing the images when they find your post that you shared on Facebook, but did you know that your images can actually do more than become a visual pleasure in your blog posts?
ALT tags are the alternate text that is displayed when the images is not available. Have you ever seen a broken image, or a site loading slowly – and a placeholder is set for images in the form of text? It may look something like this →
We’ve all seen it, but have you implemented the ALT tag onto your images? Do you know why it is there or what it is essentially doing? It does more than give the reader an idea of what they COULD be looking at. I’ve always grown upset having to see ALT tags like "Most amazing picture in the world" over a broken image. What was that image? Was it really amazing? I will never know since it was broken, but at least I can use my imagination (boo to that!).
The ALT tag is going to be used as a label or description, but actually stand for much more than that. It seems confusing (I know), but try to think of the ALT tag as something that is an exact text equivalent to your image and will help convey the same purpose or message as your image would by itself, but in WORDS.
How Google Classifies Images
Before I tell you what is the best word(s) to use for ALT tags or how to create the best title your images, I think it is important to know how Google is going to use those tags. This will help you decide what the best keywords or phrases you should use for your images.
Google wants to help people find the right image(s) they are looking for based on a keyword or phrase. The very first thing that Google is going to do is look for unique images before replications or duplicates, which is the same concept as content. The more unique your images are in Googles eyes, the better your chances will be to have your images found on the top of the Google Images results.
Next, Google is going to allow the user to filter images based on size, type, and color. Different types includes face, photo, clip art, and line drawings. Categorization of images are very important because people are going to try and narrow their image searches, which may give you an opportunity to showcase your blog post when users have very specific search requirements.
Creating ALT Tags
Ask yourself this question while creating ALT tags for your images: If you were to replace the image with text, what word or phrase would best describe the message you want the image itself to display or portray?
Coming up with a great ALT tag to use on your images should not become a long and tedious task. Try not to think too far into it, or make yourself crazy and start notebooks or journals to create a PRO’s and CON’s list for every keyword to describe a single image. The process should be… breezy! Look at your image, focus on the key component or item you want readers to identify with, and give it a name. Done!
Here is a list of some short and simple tips and guidelines to follow while creating your ALT tags ⇒
- Keyword Stuffing is a No, No!
- Google HATES seeing keywords stuffed into anything – content, META descriptions, and no exception goes to ALT tags! Do not stuff keywords into your ALT tag. It won’t do any good and Google may also penalize your SERP (search engine rank position) if it finds out what you are doing (and they do know and see all!)
- EXAMPLE ⇒ alt="chocolate chip, chocolate chip cookie, chocolate chip cookie recipe" — repetition nightmare!)
- Keep It Simple!
- Self explanatory!
- EXAMPLE ⇒ alt="easy chocolate chip cookie recipe"
- In the example above, I used all relevant keywords – and only ONCE. DO not repeat keywords more than once and make sure your phrase is relevant!
- Avoid Generic Terms and Simple Words
- Google likes unique. Google hates repetition. Avoid using generic and overused one-word phrases or words, such as "blog". It is not specific enough and there is going to be millions of images competing against you on the rankings. Get a little more descriptive and help improve your changes of search engine traffic through your images!
- Rename Your Images!
- This is a VERY important part of the entire image optimization game. I will expand on this later, but you basically want to avoid image files that are named "image009642.png" and rename them to something identifiable, such as "reindeer_christmas_cookie_cutter.png". Google will love seeing this and apply it into the identification of your image!
- Avoid SPAMMY Alt Tags
- Try to keep your ALT tags to around 5-7 words. Anything longer will be considered SPAM. Anything shorter may not do the job!
I also want to cover a tip that needs its own paragraph – it’s THAT important and I think it deserves to be seen more than any other tip!
Let’s say you are inserting 10 images that are largely similar, but maybe its for a recipe you are showing off on your blog and each image shows a different ingredient or step. Do NOT name the image files or use the same ALT tag between images. Remember that each image needs to be UNIQUE? That goes for images in the same post!
When naming image files, I always try to use an extra word or two that is different or a unique identifier that makes the labeling of images better or much more "likable" for search engines.
For example, I always love to post "jokes" for holidays, pregnancy humor, funny pet captions, or other hilarious humor that is just … hilarious. One great example is a recent post that I did for funny street signs.
*These examples each have the SAME ALT and Title tags. Also notice the file names are largely similar and do not help to describe what the images are at all! Plus, I am also using "sign" and "signs", which is considered SPAMMY!
<img src="http://mamanyc.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/funny_signs003-1.jpg" alt="Funny Signs Street Sign" title="Funny Signs Street Sign">
<img src="http://mamanyc.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/funny_signs004-1.jpg" alt="Funny Signs Street Sign" title="Funny Signs Street Sign">
*These examples each have a UNIQUE ALT and Title tag, which is descriptive and tells the visitor and search engines all about the image I am trying to display. Also notice the file names are different and feature UNIQUE keyword identifiers!
<img src="http://mamanyc.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/funny_school_bus_street_sign.png" alt="Funny School Bus Street Sign" title="Funny School Bus Street Sign">
<img src="http://mamanyc.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/funny_stop_sign_humor1.jpg" alt="Funny Street Stop Sign Humor" title="Funny Street Stop Sign Humor">
Using Title Tags
While the title tag is not as important as the ALT tag, it is definitely something you should not skip while you are "at it". The title tag is what your visitors will see when they hover their mouse over the image. It should be used to describe the image accurately and represent exactly what its name says – act as a "TITLE" for your image!
Image Captions should help to describe your picture in great detail. Be sure to provide a great and detailed image caption in order make the job easier for search engines to rank and identify the image!
I promised to go deeper into this tip, which I talked about briefly above. Just because your digital camera decided to name a picture as "image_file_02142012.jpg" does not mean you need to upload it onto your server with that same name. Renaming images is a MUST, especially when they have generic or repetitive names or numbers used in them.
Change your image file names into something that will tell the search engines more about what it is, such as a descriptive word or phrase. The image name is going to be used for the URL, which is going to be used by search engines and within the HTML of your post to "locate" that image.
If your file name is "image_009.jpg" on your computer hard drive, uploaded onto your server it will turn into something like http://www.mamanyc.net/images/image_009.jpg. Does that tell us anything about what the image is, or who is in it, or what I am trying to tell my readers?
Use a more descriptive file name to reflect upon the objects or message you are trying to give the readers. Give the readers more about your image and less about the order it was taken in on your digital camera. Image_009.png and Image_008.png means nothing, but black_eyeliner_tips.png and cosmetics_eyeliner_sharpener.png will do the trick!
Use something Which image name tells you more about the image: tf7g9.jpg or yellow_banana.jpg? Naming your images to reflect the substance of the image is important. This image name also shows up in the URL where the picture is located. So your url would look like this: http://example.com/yellow_banana.jpg This URL, in addition to the alt tag, title tag and caption, helps search engines understand what the picture contained on the page is.