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Google Ditches IMG Alt Text

Inevitable, but sad.

     
1:41 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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During January, the Fresh listings weren't matching words in alt text or showing them in snippets, unless they were in a link. Since the update, it seems to be the same for the main listings. Note: a page with "keyword" only in unlinked alt text may still match due to anchor text from incoming links.

IMG alt text has been used for stuffing hidden text for as long as I can remember. Still, it's a shame to loose this key element of allowing robot accessibility for image heavy pages, just as business and even government bodies are starting to take Web accessibility seriously.

With any luck, Google will find that it wasn't a major spam problem and set things back (as they did after ignoring guestbook links for a while this time last year).

Gringo

1:50 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Confirmed - this is indeed a shame and will affect image-based pages a lot.

<added> ciml - have you also been able to confirm this for the TITLE tag? </added>

1:59 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Well spotted Ciml.

They'll have to find my well described alt texts through the Google image search then ;)

4:25 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Gringo, I don't know about IMG title, but A title has less affect than one 37th of the affect of adding the word again on a 50 word page (so it probably doesn't do anything).

vitaplease, your attention to detail will continue to be appreciated by visually impaired users.

4:57 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I'm seeing image ALT text indexed, they may be limiting what they parse out of that tag, try putting a reasonable description and see what happens.

The tag is not supposed to contain paragraphs or even long sentences, doing this is a disservice to visually impaired users.

--The "ALT" statement should describe the image sufficiently for users who can not see the image--

5:10 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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"Gringo, I don't know about IMG title, but A title has less affect than one 37th of the affect of adding the word again on a 50 word page (so it probably doesn't do anything)"

It all adds up ciml. ;)

(from a guy who titles his links as well- in the name of usability).

5:23 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Makes me feel like I accomplished something. I filled out a google complaint about this issue last month, giving an example of a flagerant abuser who I am sure only got his results ranking for bogus image alt tag stuffing.

-Pete

5:52 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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It has been sort of a trade off...

Many more (many, many more) of my pages with images are being picked up by the Google Image search.

I've noticed tons of referrels from the image search over the last two updates.

Is it related? Is alt text being used by the image search?

6:30 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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As john316 says, ALT test is definitely being indexed. I'm having no trouble searching for text that appears in ALT text but not on the page itself. It even shows up in the snippets Google displays.

I can't comment on pages indexed by the Freshbot, however. It's too soon after the dance for me to find a page that I'm sure was indexed afterwards.

6:39 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Maybe it depends how the alt text is formated.

Was the alt text written like a keyword list, or was it a natural flowing sentence? This may make a difference.

6:43 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Regarding the pages that I have checked, ciml has it right. As long as the image is not in a link, the according page was not found when searching for the alt text.
7:48 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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A company that today runs a site just with nice pictures and without a text version of the site has the wrong web designers ...

img alt text should describe the images not the site content. I understand that from the se's view the spam issue weights more than the design issue.

BTW: are there any published % of visually impaired surfers?

<added>i use img alt text the same way as meta keywords and description. I don't put any words in these tags that are not also visible at the page in text content. Even for navigation buttons etc. ... there's always a way to also provide a text link. This way the visually impaired user and the robots can navigate and understand my pages.</added>

8:37 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I agree with the removal. Image alt text's were meant to be used when being read by a text browser, or a browser with image support turned off. It's intended use was to BRIEFLY discribe to a viewer what the image was about.

It's use today is for more stretching, and perhaps more revealing now for those websites that utilize images to accomplish, what hours of content development would have done. I consider these websites to be frivolous and unimportant. It's a cheap shot and always will be.

I for one am glad to see Google do this. It will add revelancy to searches instead of glitter.

[edited by: sparrow at 9:03 pm (utc) on Jan. 29, 2003]

8:40 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Make sure that your TITLE and ALT tags are descriptive and accurate.

From Google Information for Webmasters - [google.com...]

One would hope that this admonition still holds and that it not only aids the page's usability, but somehow gets recognized in the Google algo, if heeded.

8:54 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I guess my assumption was wrong as far as the alt tag is concerned. I have always used the browser with the view image on. So I was unaware of sentences being used to describe the image.

I have always use alt to give a very brief description of the image.
Example <alt="image of the building/"> and so on. But I couldn't image me going into a long litany explaining what the image was about. I don't think I would even go there.

So if it was used for other than the intended purpose I guess if it was abusive then Google did the right thing.

Just my 2cents.

jaybee

9:01 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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IMHO, it would be very difficult to write an algo to make all the considerations that would be needed to determine whether it is a good use of the tag or not.

I believe that these tags have been terribly abused and have for while now, lost there true meaning and intentions.

It's not the fact that I do not want these tags used, it's just that they are so terribly abused they shouldn't be used. (poet and don't know it, I'll keep my day job).

9:50 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I stand corrected... I scanned ciml's post too quickly to see the "unless they were in a link" part. That does appear to be correct.

This won't affect my site much... It was all I could do to find a graphic that wasn't clickable except for spacers, where I don't ever use ALT text anyway (I'm pretty sure).

10:16 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Thanks a lot ciml! Another great contribution.

I wonder if alt text in link count as much as anchor text. Any idea?

10:26 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I also stand corrected, my apologies ciml. I was looking at alt text w/link.

Thank you!

10:43 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Hey ciml, good observation!

Let us not forget that there are other SE's besides Google who will continue to use the alt text in the algo. To what degree will probably diminish in time if it's not already to that point.

There are many different things you can do with image attributes. A little bit of research at the W3C will turn up some very interesting stuff.

Using the alt tag as it was intended is good design practice. Design first, SE's second. ;)

6:48 pm on Jan 30, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Sorry to be dense: does this mean that if there's some unique text in a given image's ALT attribute (i.e., this text doesn't exist anywhere else on the page except for the ALT attribute), Google will index it only if the image is linked (i.e., within an <A> tag)?
7:49 pm on Jan 30, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I think you're all forgetting about the LONGDESC attribute. ALT is intended to be a short bit of text to display when a User-Agent can't display the image or object as intended. LONGDESC is supposed to be the address of a page with a longer description of the object.

If you're writing paragraphs, and you're not spamming, you should put the description on a separate page and link to it.

If you're writing paragraphs, and you *are* spamming, please stop.

9:03 pm on Jan 30, 2003 (gmt 0)

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What kind of "interesting stuff" are you talking about, pageoneresults?
10:37 pm on Jan 30, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the tip ciml! It's refreshing to read a concrete verifiable detail such as this.

Anyone want to make a guess if Google will use text in either of the below:

<a href="#">index me!</a>

<a href="thispage-loopback.html">me too!</a>

3:57 am on Jan 31, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I think it makes sense for Google to look at alt text when a page doesn't have any other text, but that's about it. If Google's crawler is supposed to "see" what readers see, then alt text is irrelevant for search purposes (since most readers don't see alt text for more than a fraction of a second, if that).

I try to keep my own alt text simple and descriptive ("Tower of London photo" or "Tower of London"), but sometimes I wonder if I should even go that far when my photos nearly always have captions. If I have a photo of the Tower of London with a caption that tells what it is, maybe the alt text should just read "photo."

10:10 am on Jan 31, 2003 (gmt 0)

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From Macguru:
'I wonder if alt text in link count as much as anchor text. Any idea?'

I'm pretty sure the hierarchy is as follows :

1) Page title
1) Anchor text
2) Linked alt text (close behind)
3) Header tags
4) Bold body text
5) Normal body text
6) Title of link/image/etc tags (almost zippo)
6) Unlinked alt text (probably zippo)

PLUS - position in the document (not on the page), which isn't always consistent (some people say a header tag near the bottom has a benefit) - AND of course all those off-page factors.

I think it all makes sense - it makes me mad to see highly-ranked pages with spammy alt text - and IMHO the way to go will be with alt text that strikes a balance ...
eg
1) Navigation button : 'Link to widgets page' not 'widgets'
2) Logo : 'Widgets from Acme' not 'widget widgets wiggets'

When that will happen is anyone's guess, but good practice now will save a lot of work later on ...

What I'd like to know, is what weight the SE's put on content in <noscript> tags - that's a real spam haven, not far behind manipulated <div> tags.

2:59 pm on Jan 31, 2003 (gmt 0)

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What you are forgetting SteveW is the other 93 factors that Google considers.

5:39 pm on Jan 31, 2003 (gmt 0)

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has anyone ever done the whole 99 though? :)

My question is, does google see an anchor link on the same page with the same reverance as a anchor link to another page?

as in does this:

<a href="#tivo">TiVo</a>
<a name="tivo"></a>

on one page play as well as this:

<a href="www.tivowebpage.com/page1.htm#tivo">TiVo</a>
<a name="tivo"></a>

which is linked on another page,
or is this even better?:

<a href="www.tivowebpage.com/page1.htm#tivo">TiVo</a>
<a name="tivo">tivo</a>

which has tivo appearing in the anchors text.

It raises a question to me about how the internal PR is distributed using this technique.

8:25 pm on Jan 31, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Winooski:
does this mean that if there's some unique text in a given image's ALT attribute (i.e., this text doesn't exist anywhere else on the page except for the ALT attribute), Google will index it only if the image is linked (i.e., within an <A> tag)?

Exactly.

Macguru:
> alt text in link count as much as anchor text

It looks like it's at least roughly the same, but the relative weightings are harder to analyse (not impossible, just harder).

stevew, some of our results are similar but some are quite different.

5:38 am on Feb 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I have a client who works with me where the ALT text MUST BE descriptive and sensible in order for computer aids for disabled to be able to read a site.

Thus a handicapped person uses some web browser and can barely see but the ALT text is read out loud as he navigates the site.

If only image ALT's that have "links-to" such-and-such.html pages are used this would be quite bad for the handicapped... ad far as I know I do not think this would go over well with the Gov't bodies or institutions etc etc whatever or whoever they may be?

This is interesting but handicapped peoples should have a right to keep ALT text important to them.

I am sort of tired tonight so I think in their case (disabled) this would not affect them (disabled) as Google would not index this unique ALT text attribute in a way to work an algo for a search engine organization.

Jee this is hard to explain in typing... anyway if sites are not indexed by Google if they are just a non linkable image with this ALT text. I think this could be bad as the handicapped may end up loosing potential quality results from Google as this sort of text is important to them to navigate but as the algo will not include this then handicapped will have a worse time using the web as a whole?

Ok now slap me and tell me if that made ANY sense?

Gods speed!

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