EVERY Image on Your Site Needs ALT Tags

Jan 30, 2013

new google images displaying titles and alt tags

Google Images got a facelift earlier this week, claiming to now provide faster and more reliable results in a prettier format. To speed things up, a larger view of a clicked image displays right on the same results page. Also right there, without pop-ups or redirecting you can see information about the image: the title of the page that the image is hosted on as well as the website's domain name - and easily click through to that site. You may wonder how does Google sort images when it can't see? It relies on the image's metadata provided by you: its title and ALT tags.

What are ALT tags, and Why You Need One on Every Picture

The ALT tag, also known as ALT text or the ALT attribute, is a piece of the HTML code that describes what the image is of. They are often overlooked during a website design, but are important for a few good reasons:

  • free website analysisSearch engines can't see images, but they can read text. If you have a big banner image and words are part of the image, maybe advertising a special offer, Google doesn't know what's there if there's no ALT text behind it. And if inside the image is the only place that information appears on your page, your headline, special offer and any other content you thought was important will never be indexed by any search engine. For example, all the words you see in the adjacent image are all part of the image; so, the image has an ALT tag that reads "free website analysis."

    Even worse, a lot of sites still out there use images for navigation buttons - without ALT text to spell out what the image button reads, there's no way for search engines to crawl any of the pages on your site!
  • There are over 1.5 million blind or visually impaired people just in the US who use a screen reading device to browse the web. If there are no ALT tags on the images on your site, they're missing out on what you're presenting, and you're probably going to miss out on their business. Furthermore, the American Disabilities Act (Section 508) was updated in the 1990s making it law that websites be accessible to everyone; and if you're missing ALT text on your images, you are out of compliance.
  • ALT text can help your page's SEO! If you're working to improve a page's rankings for a certain keyword phrase, you can work that keyword phrase into the image description in your ALT tag (as long as you're still describing the image - Google can sense keyword cramming and you don't want that.)

How to Make Sure You Have ALT Tags and How to Add/Modify Them

The easiest way to check if an image has an ALT tag in IE is to hover over the image and the ALT should display. In Firefox, just right-click on the image and choose "View Image Info" from the dropdown menu. It will tell you all about the picture, title, file type, size, and "Associated text" is the field you're looking for. Once this screen is open, you can check the info for every image on the page. Try it on the "Free Website Analysis" image above.

If your site is built on a content management system, adding an ALT attribute to your images is usually as easy as uploading the image itself. There's usually a "Properties" or "Edit Image" tab within the dashboard, and there will be a text field named "Image Text," "Title" "Alternate Text," etc., depending what CMS you're using. It's best if you sum up your description in under 80 characters, letter case doesn't matter and stick to letters, no symbols.

If your site is HTML pages in an FTP folder, it may be a little more intimidating. The biggest rule is to always make a copy of a page before you go in to make any changes, no matter how minor. Click "Command-F" (or "Control-F" if you're using a PC) to do a find for IMG or ALT. If you find a ALT="" just type your description between the two quotemarks, click "Save" and that's it.

This is a relatively painless process, but you might find a little tedious if you have hundreds of images without ALT attributes on hundreds of pages. If you're considering a site redesign or migration in the future, that would be the ideal time to fill them in!

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