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Does Alt Text Help Ranking? I read conflicting opinions.

   
6:50 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



I am trying to determine if using alt text for images is helpful in the SERP for web searches, not image searches? I have seen information that says that alt text does not help in the SERP, and then I have also seen information that says that if the alt text has the keywords that you are targeting, it does help in the SERP.

I would appreciate your thoughts and experience that you may have with using alt tags with your targeted keywords for images.

7:10 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)



I think the jury is still out, but since Google encourages the use of descriptive alt text to help with image searches, why not use it?

Just be careful to use alt text in the right spirit: e.g., "doughnut photo" and not "doughnuts donuts crullers krapfen beignets breakfast foods baked goods krispy kreme dunkin donuts winchells tim horton."

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 9:56 pm (utc) on Dec. 2, 2008]
[edit reason] fixed formatting [/edit]

7:23 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member wilderness is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



I would appreciate your thoughts and experience that you may have with using alt tags with your targeted keywords for images.

About six years ago I switched to using the "title" tag.
Thereafter I consistently saw other sites pages gaining weight because of text contained in "alt" tags.

As a result, last year (2007) I edited all of my pages, removing the title tag and replacing with alt.
I haven't back-tracked for any gain in SE weight because I had fought the lack-of-change for so long and remain confident in the positive effect of using "alt".

There have been some previous discussions of this topic at Webmaster World, although I cannot tell you what forum or period, rather that I recall the discussion becuase I was interested in making the 2007 change.

7:28 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



Since your site will not validate without alts on the images, use alt text. Be aware though, of what alt text is for... W3C recommendations state that "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."

Usually it is for...

For people with low bandwidth connections, who may opt not to load graphics
For people using handheld devices
For people with disabilities who use assistive technology, such as refreshable braille displays or screen readers
For people using a pay per transferred data connection
For people who may not have Adobe Flash enabled

While the use of meaningful alt text is necessary to comply with accessibility standards, and is good practice, sometimes an image is used for purely decorative purposes and then you should use an empty alt attribute (alt="").

W3C also states that "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.
Implementors should consult the section on accessibility for information about how to handle cases of omitted alternate text."

8:17 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



Webdude,

I see what you are saying about the W3C's recommendations of alt text but I wanted to ask you if you think the presence of keywords in alt text would be helpful in the SERP?

9:29 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



The way to test this is to use keywords in alt text that don't appear anywhere else on the page and see if they rank.
10:22 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member



For very specific long tail search queries, I have often seen Google return the alt text in the snippet. But the result is very rarely seen right at the very top. It's typically bottom of page 1, page 2 or 3.
11:29 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



Google is currently showing alt text in the Text-only version of the cache.

I believe there was a time when they dropped alt text from the cache entirely, and it was big news when the text cache began showing the alt text for a linked image as anchor text.

I've seen some boosts from the alt text for a linked image, probably not as much as the boost for a text link would provide, but it's been noticeable on some phrases. I've not seen any boost from alt text in unlinked images, which doesn't mean it isn't happening.

In the current climate, I certainly would be careful of dropping gratuitous keywords into alt text.

11:41 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator anallawalla is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



The relative value of alt text for ranking has always been very little, but the spammy use of this has also been discouraged. I always try to fit in a 1-2-word alt text descriptor for real pictures but an empty value for spacer images.
11:49 pm on Dec 2, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



First, thank you all for your great responses.

If the image is on an inner page and it is linked to the homepage, can that be considered as a link?

Thank you for differentiating about the value of alt text in linked images and unlinked images.

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 12:07 am (utc) on Dec. 3, 2008]

12:25 am on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member steveb is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



Alt text is just words on a page. It matters like other words. Linked words generally matter more.
1:09 am on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member piatkow is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member



I found it helps in getting my photo gallery pages indexed but then it accounts for about half the text on the page.
1:59 am on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



Alt tags do help your website. It also helps the visually impaired and some types of handicapped people who use the internet.
2:10 am on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member lorax is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



Re: alt considered spammy versus useful

I think it somewhat depends upon the market space your keywords are in. I can't imagine it's a one size fits all situation. Highly suspect markets combined with a few too many keywords in the ALTs might raise a red flag whereas the exact same coding structure and number of keywords in a quieter market sector may not. Purely hypothetical of course.

3:51 am on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



Alt Text helps your site in a lot of ways, some of which have already been mentioned. I consider Alt Text important because of the following:

1) As mentioned, Alt Text assists the visually impaired by providing something their reader can 'read' to them to describe what is contained in the image In Matt Cutts' famous video example of an image of his cat, Emma, with a ball of yarn, he suggests "Matt Cutts' cat Emma and a ball of yarn" as a good alt text. Similarly, it provides a description of the image to those surfing with images turned off.

2) Alt Text is used as a signal to Google to give them clues as to what the image is about. Having alt text "Matt Cutts' cat Emma and a ball of yarn" should help your image rank in Google's image search for search phrases like "Matt Cutts' cat" or "cat and ball of yarn".

NOTE: The name of the image itself can also serve as another signal to Google indicating what the image is about. Image name 19188279.jpg tells them nothing about the image. Image name cat-and-ball-of-yarn.jpg gives them a 'hint' of what the image is of. I view this as analogous to using keyword rich page names in your URL.

3) If an image is used as a link to another page then the alt text also serves as a signal to Google about what the target page for the link is about similar to the way the link text in a hyperlink is used to signal what the page being linked to is about.

The alt text should describe the image first and foremost for the visually impaired or those surfing with images turned off. If you can work in keywords without it becoming spammy, great. I keep them short, typically no more than 10-15 words, but shorter if it is sufficient enough to describe the image.

[edited by: ZydoSEO at 3:54 am (utc) on Dec. 3, 2008]

4:10 am on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



Alt text is important, use it. More important are the few words immediately UNDER or AFTER any image but you didn't hear that from me.
9:07 am on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



I've found Alt tags to be a brilliant way of getting yourself penalised if you try to use them to rank. They are prime real estate for spam identification. If every image has kewords in it, the effect will probably be negative.

Gouri, just for you, DO NOT PUT "Red widget build process" ; "built red widget" ; "building red widgets" ad naseum as your alt text. It is far more likely to hurt than help.

That said, do use alt text. It might help you rank MARGINALLY better, but your focus should be usability. Remember, Google wants to return results to SERPs that users want to click on. Thus, build pages people want to use, and Google will reward you. There is some great advice from other members about W3C and usability. Heed it.

Apart from that, for answers to questions in the form "will this very specific thing improve my ranking", there is no substitute for testing, or at the very least LOOKING AT THE CODE of other sites- both HIGHLY and POORLY ranked, and analysing what has worked and what hasn't.

12:58 pm on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



Thanks for the advice. I think looking at the code of competitive sites will help me to answer some questions that I may have.

Also, I will pay attention to the names of the images and not put many different keywords in the alt text hoping that it will help me in the SERP. I will write what properly describes the image.

2:31 pm on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



I've found Alt tags to be a brilliant way of getting yourself penalised if you try to use them to rank. They are prime real estate for spam identification. If every image has kewords in it, the effect will probably be negative.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

I agree with Shaddows. That is exactly why I said "The alt text should describe the image first and foremost for the visually impaired or those surfing with images turned off. If you can work in keywords without it becoming spammy, great. "

If the image is actually that of a red widget being built, then it would be appropriate to use "red widgets being manufactured" or something to that affect as your alt text. But if the image is of some seksi woman standing on the beach in a thong bikini and you're using "red widget build process" as your alt text, that will definitely not withstand a manual review should you get reported.

2:44 pm on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member pageoneresults is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



Does Alt Text Help Ranking?

gouri, how about this? Stop worrying about what helps ranking and what doesn't. If you do things naturally without over thinking things, you'll probably be just fine.

You may want to read through these documents carefully. Everything you need to know about SEO is right here...

HTML 4.01 Specification
[w3.org...]

Index of Elements
[w3.org...]

Index of Attributes
[w3.org...]

After reading and assimilating the above information, you will be leaps and bounds ahead of many others. Everything you need to know is written above, you just need to read and understand it.

There are no conflicting opinions in the specifications above. Stop reading all that other crap and read the authorities on the subject. Use the Search Engine Webmaster Guidelines in addition to the above and you'll be just fine.

2:55 pm on Dec 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



I appreciate the links to these very informative documents, I am going to go through them.

Also, thanks for the vote of confidence.

12:55 pm on Dec 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member




I am just working through my website and sorting out the alt tags before I publish it.

My site is a photographic image gallery. When I am adding the alt text for the thumbnail links to the images, and the actual display images themselves, should I be adding the words 'link to photograph' and 'gallery photograph' to the alt text (in addition to other appropriate alt text), or is that just stating the obvious because the search engines take that into account already?

I presume that search engines know damned well when they are links to images and display images, but in the case of a text reader program for visually-impaired visitors, I'm wondering if I would indeed have to write 'link to photograph' and 'gallery photograph' so that the reader program tells the user.

Yes, I realize that visually-impaired users may well not be interested in photographs, but I'm using that as the common example.

Thanks very much,

Mike

1:12 pm on Dec 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



"Thumbnail of..." works for me
1:26 pm on Dec 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member




Thanks for your reply Shaddows. I'll add the appropriate text.

Mike

 

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