What Is Alt Text And Why Is It Important?
If you are new to SEO, you might be unsure as to what exactly the term alt text refers to. You may have seen it in SEO reports, you may have come across it online, but you might now know how it impacts a website’s rankings, or how to compose it well.
What Is Alt Text?
Alt text, or alternative text, is the text that appears instead of an image if said image fails to load. It is also used by screen reading tools to help visually impaired readers understand what the image is. Search engines use it to better understand and rank your pages.
Alt text is sometimes also called an alt description. You will also come across the term alt tag, which is the image tag that lets you add alt text to an image. Alt text is the actual words you use to describe the image.
Here is what an alt tag looks like:
<meta property=”og:image:alt” content=”alt text goes here” />
Alt text should be used to describe what’s in an image. While it does impact rankings and while it can be used to boost SEO, you shouldn’t treat it as a mere optimization opportunity. Use it to help your visitors, and the SEO benefits will fall into place.
Let’s use this image of two cats to examine what a good, a bad and an okay alt text looks like:
The alt text written by the blog this image was used on is “a cat playing with an adorable gray kitten in the garden”.
This is a decent solution, and describes the image well. Perhaps it is not entirely accurate, but it serves its purpose and provides enough context for someone who can’t see the image to understand what it is.
A slightly better solution would be “a large orange cat and a gray kitten sniffing each other in a garden”.
A bad alt text for this image would be “two cats”. It tells you absolutely nothing about these two animals, and it can apply to any image that features two cats. It is neither specific or descriptive enough, and would be considered a poor solution by SEOs.
Why Is ALT Text Important For SEO?
Alt text is a ranking factor, although not a major one. Not using it won’t harm your website in any meaningful way, but you will be missing out on the opportunity to show search engines you are doing your best to help them crawl and understand your pages. Whenever you can, make sure to tick these small optimization opportunities, as they will stack up.
Alt text gives you the opportunity to use relevant keywords in your image descriptions. This will better signal to crawlers what the page is talking about, and what terms they should rank it for. What you write in the body of the page will be more important of course, but don’t dismiss this chance to provide a cohesive experience.
Using alt text correctly will also increase your chances of ranking well in image search too. Search engines don’t actually see images (not yet, as far as we know, but AI may already have made a significant difference we are not aware of). They rely on alt text. If they know exactly what an image is, they will display it for all the most relevant queries. This can be a great way to drive additional traffic to your website.
Alt text is also a great way to improve the accessibility of your website. Boosting user experience will in turn reduce bounce rates, improve time on page, and further boost your SEO.
How To Check The ALT Text of Your Images
You can check the alt text of your images in the media gallery of your website. In WordPress, you just have to navigate to the Media menu in your dashboard.
Once there, just click on the image whose alt text you want to check. This is how it will be displayed:
You can also use a third-party tool to check the alt text of your images. If you crawl your website with Screaming Frog, you will get a list of all images and their respective alt text.
Scanning your website with an SEO tool like Ahrefs will also provide a list of all images that are missing an alt text. This will not be as comprehensive as a Screaming Frog report, as it only highlights images missed optimization opportunities.
How To Write Good ALT Text
Writing good, helpful alt text is not at all difficult. All you have to do is keep these basic principles in mind:
- Be specific – Just say what the image is of. Don’t overthink it, simply write a clear, specific description. Use a couple of adjectives if possible. You don’t need to use overly embellished phrases though. Stick to the simple facts.
- Keep it short – Keep your alt text under 100 characters, if possible. If you need to, you can go up to 125. This is usually where screen readers will stop reading, so adding any more text will defeat the purpose.
- Help visitors out – You want visitors to know what the image is even if they can’t see it. Write for them, and not for search engines.
- Consider the context – Think about the text surrounding the image. How are the two connected? Write alt text that gives the image some context and ties it to the rest of the page.
- Use relevant keywords – When describing an image, use its main keyword. For example, if the image features two Corgi puppies, use the phrase “Corgi puppies” in the alt text, instead of just saying “puppies”. You can also try using your page’s main keywords, when possible.
- Don’t stuff your keywords – However, make sure not to go overboard and try to force keywords into sentences they don’t belong in. Blatant keyword stuffing no longer works, and it will only result in poor alt text.
- Don’t say “image of” – You don’t need to waste characters by saying “image of two Corgi puppies playing with a chew toy”. Cut the “image of” or “picture of” phrase. Search engines and screen readers will both know what an alt text is and treat it accordingly.
How To Add ALT Text to Your Images
You can add alt text to your images when you upload them to your website.
In WordPress, all you need to do is fill in the “Alternative text” box. This is what it will look like:
If you’ve forgotten to write an alt text when uploading an image, you can just click on it in the text editor, and choose the edit option. You will be shown that same box, where you can type in the alt text.
You can also add alt text to an image from the media library at any time.
The process is similar in other content management systems too. You just have to find the image you want to edit, click on it, and there will usually be a box where you can add the alt text of your choice.
Now that you understand the importance of writing good alt text and how it will impact your SEO, take the time to check yours. Have you already done a good job of describing each image? Or is there some room for improvement?