November 1, 2022

Alt Text through the Lenses of UX and SEO

Time Read
10min

Alt Text through the Lenses of UX and SEO

It’s not enough to choose beautiful, high-definition photos to go with your home page or blog posts. Adding alt texts to your images can tick the boxes for both your usability and search engine optimisation efforts. 

What is an Alt Text? 

An alt text or alt tags is a written descriptive text about an image that informs and aids the users in case said image fails to load on a webpage. It also helps screen-readers to read back the text for people with visual impairment. For digital marketers, it is recommended to supply images with alt texts so that the search engine spiders can crawl it and help it rank in the SERPs. 

How Important are Alt Texts? 

The Importance of Alt Texts for SEO

SEO-wise, alt text is important because it is part of the many ranking signals of Google’s proprietary search algorithm. Crawlers run through an image’s alt text to know more about the image and the web page’s subject matter. Well-written alt texts on images help Google more about what the page is about, which makes it more decisive to show your page up to users with intent close to what your brand means or offers. 

There are searches where answers should be in the form of images rather than text. For example, if a user wants to create an account in an app, he’d be happier to see screenshots of the process instead of reading through a detailed step-by-step procedure in text. 

If you do image optimisation well, your page can receive a much-needed boost as Google Images can bump your image on top of the results pages instead of the usual hyperlinked results. Image packs, or special results that appear as a horizontal row of image links, are a great way to earn organic traffic. 

The Importance of Alt Texts for UX

For User Experience, adding an alt text makes your content more accessible to people with disabilities. In 1999, W3C included in its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 the guideline to “provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content.” This means that web pages that contain images, videos, or sounds must have equivalent information (alt text, transcripts, subtitles, etc.)  to its auditory or visual content. 

In terms of navigation, when a web page has an image of either a downward or upward arrow, a text equivalent might read “Go up on top of the page” or “Go down to the bottom of the page.” If a visually impaired user visits the website, a screen reader or any piece of assistive technology can help give auditory feedback to him, provided the textual information is present. 

The Proper Way to Write Alt Texts

If you’re using a content management system (CMS), there’s likely an option to write the photo’s alt text in its rich text module. In most cases, while you’re in edit mode, you can change the alt text of an image by clicking the image itself.

When you write your alt text, there are two principles to live by: descriptiveness and specificity. Remember that when writing alt text, it pays to consider the image’s context. 

Need more tips to make your image optimisation yield better results for your overall SEO campaign? 

  • Don’t just describe the image, indicate its context. If the subject of the image is a “teenage boy playing with his pet dog,” it helps to write where they are playing (In a public park? In a backyard?). Do the clothes of the boy need mentioning? How about the dog’s breed? Being descriptive pays when the photo doesn’t feature any recognizable subject like a famous person, place, product, etc. If you’re using stock photos, you can add more context by describing it in a way that may not be obvious just by looking at the image. For example, a stock photo of a person holding a meeting could be “A Scrum Master facilitating the Daily Scrum inside the conference room” or “Leader showcasing effective communication skills.” 

  • Keep the alt text short. Recommended length of alt text should be fewer than 125 characters. Anything longer than 125 characters can get truncated by screen-reading tools and must sound inflexible especially to the ears of the visually impaired. 

  • Add keywords sparingly. Intuitively, it’s good to inject the keywords you want to rank for in every alt text for every image. Fight the impulse to do that. Add the keywords only when it can be added easily and naturally in the description. You can use semantic keywords for hard-to-infuse long tail keywords or keywords that don’t sound organic or grammatically correct. For example, if your keyword or keyword phrase is “how to run Sprint retrospectives,” you can use “Sprint Retrospective” instead as the extra words might be risky to include in the alt tag. 

  • Cut the fluff. Drop obvious descriptors like “image of”, “photo of”, or ‘a picture of.” 

  • Mind your spelling. Because you only have a few characters to describe the image through its alt text description field, it’s better to run a spell-checker on your draft alt text. A misspelled word, especially if it's part of your keyword, can result in poor user experience and might confuse the crawlers indexing your web page or site. Proofread your alt text the way you proofread other long form content that are published on your website. 

  • Not every image should have an alt text. You read that right! For the sake of SEO and User Experience, most images on your website must have an alt text, except for photos that are purely decorative like buttons, icons, background images, etc. 

Alt Text as a Staple of your SEO Strategy 

It’s never too late to develop good alt texts for your images, whether they’re published on a landing page or a blog post. You can start by doing an audit of all images on your website and see which ones do not have an alt text or those with poorly written alt texts. Monitor and see how your organic traffic increase for those pages you optimised the images for. 

SEO Premier is a full-service digital agency that offers a wide range of online marketing solutions, including image optimisation. Outsource your digital marketing needs today! 

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