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Text links vs. image navigation in the webmaster guidelines

 11:35 am on Aug 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

I used to be under the impression that, while text link navigation within a site is best, using image links for navigation is also fine as long as the images are equipped with the proper ALT and TITLE tags. Recently I reread Google's webmaster guidelines and noticed the following as the #1 "design and content" guideline:

"Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link."

Does this mean that Google has shifted it's affection even more from image links to text links than they had, let's say, a year ago? Maybe because they found out for themselves that they can't really ever be sure that someone isn't putting false keywords into those ALT tags?

And of course there's a reason why I went with image links so far. For human visitors, putting links on a widgets site that say "Red" "Blue" and "Green" is really good enough, but in times of anchor text hysteria I still made the ALT texts "Red Widgets" "Blue Widgets" and "Green Widgets" to help Google understand what the link is about. Two questions bother me - will I lose rankings for the red, green and blue widgets when I switch to pure text links, or is Google smart enough these days to realize that a "Red" link on a widgets site can only refer to "Red Widgets", and give me an extra boost for the "honest" text links? Or am I already a bad girl for putting an ALT text that differs from the text human users can see?




 5:40 pm on Aug 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

Text links help you more. Note that these are "guidelines" and not "rules".

am I already a bad girl for putting an ALT text that differs from the text human users can see?

Not so very bad - in a case like this you can make a good case that it helps the user. But if you go to text links, you are probably smart not to repeat "widgets" too many times. As long as your url is clearly about widgets, you should be OK, but it's not a bad idea to have the full phrase appear at least once on the page.

Why are you switching to text links? Is it just because of Google's webmaster guidelines, or are you also hoping to improve ranking?


 5:42 pm on Aug 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

< moved from another location >

I use images for my onsite navigation. Should the alt tags that go with the images be identical with the text that the images show, or may they differ? Thanks!

[edited by: tedster at 6:12 pm (utc) on Aug. 4, 2008]


 6:20 pm on Aug 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

Some of what Google has to say is here: [google.com...]

Essentially, the algo will try to judge your intention. If your "extra" alt text goes to extremes then you may be penalized. But there are many situation where a person using assistive technologies may need a bit more explanation than a literal translation, because factors like visual proximity to other page elements are no longer in play.

So there is a reasonable amount of room for play here, and total rigidity is not required. But legitimate intentions and "purity of heart" may be ;)


 6:46 pm on Aug 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

Why are you switching to text links? Is it just because of Google's webmaster guidelines, or are you also hoping to improve ranking?

Well the longer story is that I'm starting to take Google's quality guidelines more seriously. I plan to submit a reinclusion request (most important of all, I've recently nofollowed all my paid links). But before I state that I plan to stick to the guidelines in the future, I thought it's only prudent to actually make sure I kow what they are. ;)

So as far as the navigation elements are concerned, if changing them helps my ranking I'm not gonna say "no" to it, but basically I just want to make sure that I come across as playing a fair game.

My main concern is whether or not I need to change my alt tags. They are several years old, and I'm not sure if substantial changes will be seen as inconsistency or not. It's not only the "Red Widgets" vs. "Red" but I've also labled an image link that reads "Black and White Widgets" with an alt tag that reads "Colorless Widgets" (attempt to cover more keywords) and on another incident I labeled an image link reading "Red Widgets" with the alt tag "Ruby Red Widgets" because "Ruby Red Widgets" is a better search term in my industry. Back in the days this didn't seem an issue to me - colorless is just a synonym for b&w, and the Red Widgets category really does start with the Ruby Red Widgets before dealing with the other shades of red. Nonetheless, it's also 100% clear I did these things with SEO and keywords in mind, so technically it's "wrong".

As a matter of fact, the text links are only an afterthought. If I need to change my alt tags to say the same thing that people see on the images, then I can just as well turn to text links. Still not sure though what the equation is. Will changing "Red Widgets" to "Red" cost me my decent ranking for "Red Widgets"? If yes, will turning it into a text link give me a boost and help me rebound? Or is messing with my traditional main navigation texts at this scale something I need to avoid more than anything else?

[Btw. sorry for the double post - after a couple of hours I thought that this thread might not show up at all, so I posted a second time reducing the topic to a core question.]


 6:55 pm on Aug 4, 2008 (gmt 0)

Or am I already a bad girl

I have to agree with tedster - it depends on your intentions. I find the simplest balance and check method is read it aloud. If it reads like a logical sentence, fine. If not, questionable.

As for images, if the images are not words, you can have text links with background images and get the same effect, more or less. I, as others, often use a background image and put the text link centered right over top. Kills two birds with one stone, so to speak.

And as for "alt" and "title" the "alt" should describe the image and the "title" should describe what it does. The "alt" tag is designed to appear when an image does not download. It was not meant to serve the purpose of a "title" tag as IE displays it. Also remember, in a text only link, there is only the title tag.


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