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This 76 message thread spans 3 pages: < < 76 ( 1 2 [3]     
Experience with ALT tags
Triggering Google's "over optimised" alarm

 7:57 pm on Mar 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'd like to share some recent experiences with ALT tags and invite feedback from others. My SEO experience is probably a little unusual. I run a system that offers self-editing templates to around 300 clients. We hide virtually all technology from clients, but we seek to offer SEO partly by advising clients on content, but also (as it is usually over their heads) by automated means.

Up until the end of 2003, one thing that was working quite well was image ALT tags. Now it isn't. We'd automatically/dynamically tag all images which clients put in, with the appropriate target search phrase for a page. We'd also dynamically tag various parts of the template with their phrases.

Around December clients started disappearing from Google completely, and after some investigation, it appears that the ALT tags have been the problem. I have a few "theories", that I'd like to put forward to see if anyone has similar hunches.

1) Google has some kind of ratio between keyword presence in text content and keyword presence in non-text content, and if you overdo the non-content, you're out

2) Google favours large images (not sure if these are dimensionally large or file size large) and if you use keyword rich alt tags on small images you're in trouble, especially if you use them a few times

3) Repetition of the same keyword rich ALT tag is a no-no, unless there is plenty of rich content to balance it out. I have clients where the same keyword rich ALT tag is very relevant, and some do well with it, others are dropped out. Can't work out the difference though - possibly point (2) above.



 10:35 am on Mar 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

So maybe filtering out small size (let's say smaller than 60 px) would make sense.

I made that suggestion back in msg. 34, but rejected it in the same breath: In Chris_D's example the width and height were not specified, so how was Google supposed to know the size of the image?


 12:12 pm on Mar 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

I am going to move this thread back a couple of days. I have just noticed that I have a number two position on another site for the three word keyphrase "widget widgeting glasgow". This phrase only appears once on the page and this is as alt text on an image that is NOT a link.

All three words appear many times alone and in two word combinations like "widget widgeting", "widgeting glasgow" and "glasgow widgeting". Is this significant?


 7:19 pm on Mar 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

All three words appear many times alone and in two word combinations like "widget widgeting", "widgeting glasgow" and "glasgow widgeting". Is this significant?

Without looking at your site: couldn't it be explained by "stemming"? What i mean is: You have "widget glasgow" and Google knows that widget and widgeting are related.


 7:32 pm on Mar 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

It's got nothing to do with over-optimising!

Stop worrying about this!

My site(s) are stuffed with the relevant keywords, because that's what they're about! I'm not about to start using synonyms all over the place because Google has a poor, limited electronic thesaurus - based on a narrow Californian robotic view of the world, with a database populated by Adword product searches, written by a wobbly set of bots, and overseen by a bunch of white labcoats who don't even go out at Friday lunchtime, but stay in to torture their lab mice instead - (Only kidding of course ;)

One of the most interesting early, and heavily publicised, victims of the new super-prototype-Google-algo (because that's what it is - a prototype) was that poor lady who ran a business selling c*conut o*l

(for o*l read saturated fatty acid, for c*conut, read 'comes from a coconut tree' and is commonly called a nut.)

Her business was damaged for a simple reason: that's what she sold - and that's what she described, and so that was what her site was about. (Jees, what a sin!)

The new super-algo, literally, can't see the wood for the trees. In other words, it sees a bunch of trees, but won't classify it as a wood unless it mentions photosynthesis, furniture, sap, golf, false leg etc. - you get the drift.

V. poor. My site is still holding out though. Because there is a bit more to this, and Google is holding out on it ...

Watch this space (by space I mean interim, interval of time, architectural area, personal space etc. etc...

Good luck :)

By luck, I mean.. oh forget it... ;)


 8:45 am on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

Without looking at your site: couldn't it be explained by "stemming"? What i mean is: You have "widget glasgow" and Google knows that widget and widgeting are related.

Perhaps it could be explained by stemming but my point is that where a three word search is involved wouldn't you expect to see this occurring at least once in the page content?

I am struggling to think of an analogy .. let's say we are selling walking boots with a name like "Ridge Boots". The text of the page mentions the colours you can have. These include light blue, mid blue, dark blue and midnight blue. The name ridge appears several times on the page as does the word blue. We also mention the word "mountains" a few times because these boots can be used for hill walking and mountaineering.

Now someone is going on holiday (sorry vacation! :o) to the blue ridge mountains of Virginia. They do a search for "blue ridge mountains" and at the top of their list they get a site selling walking boots? According to what I am seeing this could happen if one of the images of the boots used the alt text "blue, ridge mountain boots".


 12:10 pm on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

The top site in my "widgets" categery for just "widgets" has ..
Title of page .."widgets"
Description ..."widgets"
H1 ..."widgets"
( no text ) just one image about 800 x 400 with "alt" tag..."widgets" ...
No page rank ..no reference to incomings or backlinks ...

The number 2 site uses over 20 alt tags for "image" areas which actually just contain "graphical" text...

Plus at least 10 alt tags for "single pixel" gif spacers wether stretched or left 1px x 1px sized ...

In another same themed search ie.."blue widgets" the number one spot is this exact same page but accessed through a "Frameset" set to zero all around but with the no frames rammed full of "blue widgets" etc.....

So one is forced to ask ....if there are penalties supposedly against these things either they are variable depending on the category or sometimes "g" just doesn't care ....just laps up the spam ...burps out the #1 slot and slouches onward muttering "...semantic ...schmemantic" ...

These sites haven't moved during the last year and dont even tremble on a minute by minute basis using a 10 data center dance tool ...

So if we rule out the theory that they might be owned by "g"'s mom ....any ideas .....?

I found another selling the same "widgets" ( but written in another language ) using the same technique as the first guy ...Neither he or the 10 "*bey" clones below him so much as twitch during any update .....?


 9:00 pm on Mar 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

Leosghost, a few days ago I tried to start a thread on the efficiency of the algorithm with respect to detection of offending sites but this was rejected. At the time I was looking at sites that were quite blatantly ignoring the same colour text as background law. Some of these sites still hold positions at the top of the serps.

So what's the story here? Why doesn't the algo find these sites and penalise them? It certainly seems to be capable of penalising people for minor offences like linking to "bad" neighbourhoods and using a few too many keywords. I mean who is the worst offender?

This looks to me like whatever the G guidelines say the algorithm is incapable of enforcing some of them.


 12:53 am on Mar 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

This has been a very interesting thread.

I have one site in particular, that had just started making it on to the first page or 2 of the SERPS for some (VERY) competitive terms...but then came the Florida update.

This site had dropped almost completely out of the SERPS for certain terms. (some terms I still hold page one results)

My biggest pet peeve was that the site was absolutely nowhere to be found by site title.

I think that I inadvertantly did this to myself with an alt tag. Throughout this site, I was using an image for a horizontal line. I used an alt tag for this image of "site title horizontal rule"

I have just today changed this alt tag globally on the site to see if it makes a difference. I will not make any other major structural changes or overhaul the navigation for a bit of time to see if my positioning improves for a few of my keyword phrases and also by site title.

For background:
These images were NOT linked.
The site has a total of 128 pages.
There were a total of 428 occurrences within 83 pages of the offending alt tag.

I will be sure to report the results here in a matter of weeks if there is any change.


 9:00 am on Mar 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

I think that you may be on the wrong track with this. If you have a small image or bullet point image that is used throughout your page or your site it is entirely possible that you would give it the same name. There are lots of sites that use stuff like alt="red bullet", etc.

In the past I used alt text like "widgets menu button" for all menu buttons when I knew no better and I could not be bothered to individually name them. I now know that this may have been an opportunity missed but I did not know it at the time. My point is that I was never aware of this harming my position in the serps.

As an example I would be very surprised if a penalty was imposed on a travel site that had named all of the navigation buttons on its Jibrovia destinations page with the generic text "Jibrovia destinations menu button". This is surely not considered to be spamming. In fact you could say that it is the opposite, again being an opportunity missed.

Also, I have noticed that some big sites like @mazon appear to use very little alt text, which is against the W3C guidelines on accessibilty. Shouldn't they be down ranked for this or are they too big?


 9:56 am on Mar 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

I will not make any other major structural changes or overhaul the navigation for a bit of time to see if my positioning improves

Welcome to WebMasterWorld [webmasterworld.com], universal4.

If wouldn't wait too long if I were you. BallochBD has found some examples of alt-text that appears to be indexed by Google, Chris_D found an example where a linked image was not indexed - and I have found a strange example myself yesterday. However, IMHO, these are still exceptions and there are always lots of alternative explanations: The text appears in anchor text, the page was recently altered, Google stemming, Google synonyms etc.

I like the simple procedure of using my own site: I have pages that have been indexed for years and when I search for unique words/sentences that only appear in alt-text for un-linked images, it is not found by Google. Anywhere. Simple as that.

If Google doesn't index alt-text for unlinked images, if follows -> that you cannot be penalised.


 7:37 pm on Mar 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

>> alt="red bullet" <<

Umm, no.

You should use alt="*" so that in browsers where the image fails to load, it still looks like a bulletipoint list.


Turn image loading off in your browser and see which YOU prefer:


* Sausage
* Bacon
* Egg
* Beans
* Toast
* Tomato
* Coffee



Red Bullet Sausage
Red Bullet Bacon
Red Bullet Egg
Red Bullet Beans
Red Bullet Toast
Red Bullet Tomato
Red Bullet Coffee


 10:14 pm on Mar 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

These sites haven't moved during the last year and dont even tremble on a minute by minute basis using a 10 data center dance tool ...

Hmmm - the sticky top sites have clearly got something right - its probably just a key word you've missed. Get the right word, stick it in, and bingo, you're number One (without ANY justification at all - such is the new, improved, Google!)


 2:09 am on Mar 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

Some very good points presented here.

I still think that it must not be too difficult for google to distinguish between useful and useless (for the user) alt text. And I also think web creators utilize the alt attributes for the benefit of the viewers above all.

As an example, if I have a page that presents a photograph of the goddess Athena which does not link anywhere. The correct way of presenting it would be to have a caption near by that states "Goddess Athena, Marble, date" along with more content (although an image can be the content in itself but this is another discussion). For the alt attribute I need to use text like so: "picture of the marble statue of goddess Athena. She stands on a square pedestal holding the lance on her right hand that is elevated above her shoulder, and with her left hand that is extended downwards to her side she supports her shield. She wears a Coritnian helmet on her head with two owls carved on each side and she gazes at some distant object. The whole statue appears white with few traces of color on the surface."

That's what alt attributes are meant for. For people who cannot see the image. I think google has an interest in indexing such tag. Any useful image would be large enough for people to see and if the size is present google should index it.

On the same line of thought, if I have a GIF button in a navigation bar it would also serve the viewers who cannot see it if I add some descriptive alt text like "link to more ancient gods". This kind of alt text should also be of interest to google, and google can index it easier because it can also see it in the context of the linked page.

On the other hand if I have four GIF images that round the corners on a table, there is no need to provide alt text for those. It would add nothing but clutter to those who rely on text readers to navigate the page. Same goes for bullet images.

I tend to think that what is useful to the users would be useful to google as well. Maybe I am just a bit idealistic, but I hope this is how google operates.


 9:16 am on Mar 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

Good point Cyberfish but your description may be a bit too long winded. Alt text is not only for accessibility but for users who are using text only or whose browsers cannot otherwise display images. Here's what the W3C consortium says about it ...

13.8 How to specify alternate text
Attribute definitions

alt = text [CS]
For user agents that cannot display images, forms, or applets, this attribute specifies alternate text. The language of the alternate text is specified by the lang attribute.
Several non-textual elements (IMG, AREA, APPLET, and INPUT) let authors specify alternate text to serve as content when the element cannot be rendered normally. Specifying alternate text assists users without graphic display terminals, users whose browsers don't support forms, visually impaired users, those who use speech synthesizers, those who have configured their graphical user agents not to display images, etc.

The alt attribute must be specified for the IMG and AREA elements. It is optional for the INPUT and APPLET elements.

While alternate text may be very helpful, it must be handled with care. Authors should observe the following guidelines:

Do not specify irrelevant alternate text when including images intended to format a page, for instance, alt="red ball" would be inappropriate for an image that adds a red ball for decorating a heading or paragraph. In such cases, the alternate text should be the empty string (""). Authors are in any case advised to avoid using images to format pages; style sheets should be used instead.
Do not specify meaningless alternate text (e.g., "dummy text"). Not only will this frustrate users, it will slow down user agents that must convert text to speech or braille output.


 9:29 am on Mar 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

I could go for some Red Bullet Coffee!


So now I'm wondering if they still figure all the alt text into the equation when looking at the page even if they only index the linked image alt text or if they just skim over the unlinked alt text as if it doesn't exist.


 11:08 am on Mar 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

<These sites haven't moved during the last year and dont even tremble on a minute by minute basis using a 10 data center dance tool ... >

<Hmmm - the sticky top sites have clearly got something right - its probably just a key word you've missed. Get the right word, stick it in, and bingo, you're number One (without ANY justification at all - such is the new, improved, Google!)>

I only wish this was the case ..!

the "clones" are there by using auto generated in response to google query pages ..three of them even have on the "results" page you arrive to via "g" ..the following "there is no entry in this catagory at the present time but if you would like to submit your site " ( I translated this from the french text which is there )...

"G" shows one ...thats right ..one use of keyword on page ...no incoming links use ...

They have over 20 uses of the word in their "auto generated" alt text ...

And they are all *mazon owned *elkoo etc ....
......Otherwise known as googles "mom".........

The number one guy is using more illegal ( according to google toc ) methods than I even knew existed ...and he's been their for 3 years...the rest since 2 years minimum ...

And I repeat they literally do not ever move ...

the rest of us who are under this group ( the group has under 10,000 "returns" for the one word keyword and in french you cant say the word any other way ..when you try the semantic equivalent doodads to please "g" you just vanish right out of the serps ...this I know because it's a very small field and I am in face to face or phone contact with the majority of the other site owners ..we all tried semantics at one moment or another ...que dalle! )

Makes me want to put on my black hat .....

Good thing it's not my only business...alythough sometimes having a focus on a "niche" area combined with the personal contact with your "competitors" can show up the bizarre areas of the serps for what they are ...
I've actually decided to make a directory covering the topic and sell supplies of "widget" to the others

...I might even mention *mazon on my site and so "g" would think ...

"Wow look who he linked to ..he really must be an expert in the field ..we'll make him # 1 in a heart beat! "

I begin to wonder if it isn't Chris Keeves's kid "K" who writes the algo in the plex since last year .....it sure thinks about language in the same way as he interviews ..

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