Is Alt Text Still Important For SEO?

Join Clark Taylor and Georgia Joseph as they explore whether or not Alt text is still important for SEO. Should you make sure keywords are in the alt text? Does Google pay any attention to it as a ranking signal? Is it even something SEOs need to worry about?

You might want to rethink alt text. Clark and Georgia discuss their thoughts on creating useful alt tags and share some good and bad examples.

Clark is the Chief Digital Officer at Atigro. He has 20 years of experience as an SEO advisor to some of the world’s best brands. Georgia is a Senior Digital Marketing Strategist at Atigro. She has more than 15 years of experience in SEO and digital marketing.


Cookies & Breadcrumbs | Episode 1: Is Alt Text Still Important for SEO?

Transcript of Cookies and Breadcrumbs Episode 1: Is Alt Text Still Important for SEO?
19 minutes

Clark Taylor:
Georgia, today we’re talking about alt tags. And I guess first, we should maybe define what an alt tag or alt text is, but it stands for alternative text. Right? I see people call them alt tags or alt text. I tend to call them alt tags instead of alt text, but the purpose of them is for SEO, right?

Georgia Joseph:
Yes. It’s for SEO. Well, no, I was actually yanking on your chain a little bit there. The purpose is not for SEO. The purpose is for people who are disabled, who are sight impaired, when they come to the website, they can understand what the image is using the screen reader. That’s the reason.

Clark Taylor:
SEOs ruined alt tags. Right? They go in and they… Right? SEO people, we go in and cram keywords in them and turn everything into spam, and that’s not what their purpose is.

Georgia Joseph:
Yeah. You cram keywords into them or you put something in there that has absolutely nothing to do with the picture because you’re trying to be strategic. And then when the person gets to it, who is using the site reader, they don’t understand and they’re not having a good experience on your site. Now, why would you want to do that?

Clark Taylor:
I don’t know. Does it work? Does cramming key words into an alt tag work?

Georgia Joseph:
I don’t believe that it works. I don’t believe that it works at all. I mean, you can argue about this. There are people that will take a couple different positions on that, but that’s not the approach that I take when I’m looking at alt tags at all.

Clark Taylor:
I agree. I think Google’s smarter than that now. Maybe it did work four or five years ago, maybe it did work, but I think Google’s way smarter than that now. So the real purpose is for people who are visually impaired, right?

Georgia Joseph:
Correct.

Clark Taylor:
So we really shouldn’t be focusing on keywords at all. We should kind of pretend SEO doesn’t exist and create a visually impaired user, create them with a visually impaired user in mind.

Georgia Joseph:
So I’m actually fierce about alt text, I believe strongly in writing fantastic alt text and in creating something that is going to help someone have a seamless experience when they’re going through the article with their screen reader. It’s not going to feel like they have stubbed their toe up against a brick or something like that when they get the alt text that you’ve written for your image. And that doesn’t mean that it can’t have something to do with the main point of the page or words or whatever. It doesn’t mean it can’t.

Clark Taylor:
They probably should, right?

Poor Alt Text Could Be A Symptom of Poor Image Selection

Georgia Joseph:
Well, if it doesn’t, in my opinion, you have to ask yourself if you have chosen the best image. So if you’ve got an image that you’re using on your page and you’re getting to write the alt text and you cannot write alt text that has something to do with your article and still describe the image, perhaps you’ve chosen the wrong image for your article.

Clark Taylor:
I agree with that. But what about… I mean, people use stock images all the time, right? People sitting or around the boardroom, smiling or talking, is that okay?

Georgia Joseph:
Sure. If it has something to do with the article. If the stock image creates a fantastic experience for both sighted users and for visually impaired users, if you can describe the image on how it relates to the article, then it’s fine to use a stock image.

Clark Taylor:
Okay.

Georgia Joseph:
There’s no problem with stock images.

Clark Taylor:
But they shouldn’t try to stuff keywords in that and try to make it relevant using keywords on the page.

Georgia Joseph:
Yeah. So what I see all the time, and maybe you do too, is somebody’s writing an article, they have an idea for a cool image that they want to use, and they’re sort of shoehorning the image into the article because they think it’s cool. And then on top of that, if you go in and you just kind of drop your keywords in there on top of that image that’s not really fitting, then it’s kind of herky-jerky for people that are trying to enjoy the article. So feel like we have to turn it around a little bit, right? And say, it’s not that you can see your stock images. It’s not that they can’t be great, but they have to enhance the experience that the person’s having on the page, whether they’re visually impaired or not, right? And if you’ve got your image there and you’re like, okay, I need to create my alt text, and you can’t create alt text that fits with the theme of your article, then you probably don’t have the right image, would be how I would approach that.

Why Not Just Leave The Alt Tag Blank?

Clark Taylor:
I don’t know if… I guess together, we’ve probably looked at thousands of websites. One of the common things that I see is people just leave all tags blank or null.

Georgia Joseph:
Yeah.

Clark Taylor:
And I don’t know if that’s because they don’t think they’re important or they’re just rushing to launch a page. I mean, that’s one of the… I mean, we do see a lot of people just cramming keywords, but I would say just as common as people cramming keywords are just people not paying attention to them.

Georgia Joseph:
Yeah. Yeah. And they may not know. Sometimes if they’re doing it, they don’t know that they need it there. But again, if you’re putting the needs of the person with disabilities first, then the rest of it, I think, is going to fall into place, which is why I’m curious about alt text, because it puts the needs of the person with the disability first.

Some Good and Bad Examples of Alt Tags

Clark Taylor:
Yep. And I think we want to… Let’s look at a couple of examples. Let’s just have some fun and look at a couple of examples of some good alt text or alt tags.

Georgia Joseph:
Okay.

Good Examples

Clark Taylor:
And let me share my screen right now, make sure I’m sharing the right screen. Okay. Here we go. So the first example, this example actually came up this morning. Some people here at Atigro were creating a new case study for a web app called Pubrule. And as you can see, this is an image, and the people that are working on the content asked me to come up with an idea for what they feel the alt tag should be. And what they came to me with was, they said, should this alt tag…actually I have to pull this up here and find what they had suggested. Their suggestion was “mobile app development case study with before and after screenshots”. So of course, my question to them was, well, are there really two images? Because I hadn’t looked at this page, but there are actually two images.

And here, there’s a before picture and after picture. To me, the only thing that’s really wrong with the alt tag that was suggested is that they are mentioning the case study here. This image actually has nothing to do with the case study. So what I suggested is that they have a unique alt tag for each image…screencap of Pubrule app before development work-

Georgia Joseph:
Correct.

Clark Taylor:
… for the one image and screencap of the Pubrule app after development work for the second image. So Georgia, I don’t know if you can think of any way to improve that.

Georgia Joseph:
So, no, while you’re reading it, I’m closing my eyes and I’m imagining that I can’t see. And I know what a screencap is, and so when you use the word screencap, all of a sudden, I know what’s being included in this article and that they’re probably showing an example of what the app was. See, I couldn’t help myself. I was talking to you, and I had to close my eyes while I was talking to you. So yeah, so that’s because… And another thing is, that’s exactly what it is. It’s a screencap. So why would we not want to say that?

Clark Taylor:
Yeah. I mean, a screencap/screenshot, I’m not really going to do keyword research to figure out if people look for a screenshot.

Georgia Joseph:
No.

Clark Taylor:
Right?

Georgia Joseph:
No.

Clark Taylor:
Just take the SEO hat off when you’re doing this and just think about the user.

Georgia Joseph:
Right. Exactly. Think about the person who can’t see it, but needs to-

Clark Taylor:
Right.

Georgia Joseph:
… still understand what it is. Right?

Clark Taylor:
Yeah. And Georgia, that was a good lead-in to the next example. This is another example. I actually was working on an article on EAT, and we came up with this. I think it’s a pretty cool infographic on EAT, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. And I was asking Georgia, I was asking you for your input on what the alt tag for this would be. And I read the alt tag to you, and I believe it… I don’t see the alt tag right now, but it says something like, infographic of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness between or inside a hamburger bun, something to that effect. And you had said the same thing. You closed your eyes when I read it to you.

Georgia Joseph:
Yep.

Clark Taylor:
And if you could visualize what the image was, then that is a good alt text. I didn’t try to cram EAT in there, which is something, obviously, we would like to rank for. Lots of other people have created infographics on E-A-T, and things like that. So we’re not trying to cram keywords. We’re just trying to help the user.

Georgia Joseph:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly. Yeah. And I think that’s a great example, because you brought that up, you showed it on the screen. I’m like, oh, I remember doing that. I remember when we worked on that. And it is, it’s exactly that. And is the person with the screen reader, are they going to be able to imagine the colors and everything on it? No. No, but that’s not really necessary. What they are going to be able to understand is how the illustration that’s on the page fits in with the article and why it’s important to the article. And then it’s going to make sense. Again, it’s not going to be like they’re stubbing their toe up against something when they come to whatever it is we might have written if we were trying to do keyword stuffing on that alt tag.

Clark Taylor:
Right. And of course, there’s so many more things to accessibility than just alt tags. But to me, it’s one of the easiest things you can do to help users who are visually impaired. So why not do a good job at it?

Georgia Joseph:
Exactly. 100%

Clark Taylor:
Let’s pick on another site. I kind of picked these up kind of randomly. I kind of looked at them, of course, before we started this discussion, but let’s pick on a bigger site. And of course, Ukraine is in the news now. And so I just Googled Ukraine and I kind of randomly picked a news site that came up on the first page of Google for Ukraine. And this article on CBS News shows up for Ukraine and turmoil. And this image here, it looks like an image with a building that’s damaged. So let’s just take a look and see what their alt tag or alt text is and see if we think this is a good example or not. So an easy way to look at the alt text of an image is, if you’re using Chrome, just use the inspector.

There’s also plugins and other tools that you can get that will help you easily find alt tags. I’m used to using the inspector. But the alt tag for this image, you probably can’t see it on the screen share, but the alt text says, “A view shows a damaged administrative building of the…” There’s some city I can’t pronounce. It starts with a Z. “… of the nuclear power plant and Enerhodar. Again, sorry, I can’t pronounce that correctly. But Georgia, is that a pretty good alt tag?

Georgia Joseph:
So it’s interesting, because I was closing my eyes while you were reading. Now, I had the benefit of seeing the image before you started reading.

Clark Taylor:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Georgia Joseph:
But the minute I heard the words damaged building, and then the names of the places where they were talking about, I could picture it. I could imagine what it was, and I could understand, most importantly, I could understand the context for why the image was used. And so for me, with my eyes closed, if I’m hearing somebody read that to me along and I’m hearing a voice read the article with me, I’m going to have a good experience. I’m going to understand, and I’m going to have… My ability to understand this important information is not going to be inhibited, in part, because of how they wrote their alt text.

Clark Taylor:
Yeah. Honestly, I was kind of surprised that it was a good alt tag, because a lot of times big sites, mainstream media sites, and big brands, everybody thinks that their SEO’s perfect, and then a lot of times you’ll find that they are not. But in this case, CBS, good job on the alt tags here. I haven’t looked at the rest of the site-

Georgia Joseph:
Yeah.

Clark Taylor:
… but they’re doing a really good job with alt tags.

Georgia Joseph:
Well, before you opened it up, I was almost like, okay, so do you want to bet whether it’s going to be good or bad?

Clark Taylor:
Yeah.

Georgia Joseph:
… here? Is it going to be good or bad? Because you really never know, and you would especially assume at a large organization like CBS, they probably have somebody thinking about their SEO.

Clark Taylor:
Yeah.

Georgia Joseph:
I was ready to be surprised.

Clark Taylor:
And the other thing is, certain types of sites, something like this, it’s a little easier to write alt tags for something like this. It can be a little bit more difficult or require-

Georgia Joseph:
Yeah.

Clark Taylor:
… some more thoughts for e-commerce sites and things like that.

Georgia Joseph:
Yeah.

Bad Examples

Clark Taylor:
That’s the next example we want to take a look at is-

Georgia Joseph:
Okay.

Clark Taylor:
Again, just kind of randomly pulled this out. This is an example from Rural King, which is kind of a farm supply company, and this is for their product, which is “Pedigree Adult Complete Nutrition Roasted Chicken Rice and Vegetable Dry Dog Food 50 Pound Bag”. It’s for this product. And so I just randomly picked an image in here. This looks like some type of nutritional information. It’s the recommended daily feeding guide-

Georgia Joseph:
Daily feeding guide, yeah.

Clark Taylor:
… for adult dogs. So again, let’s use our inspector and see what their alt tag is.

Georgia Joseph:
All right. I’m closing my eyes while you read it to me.

Clark Taylor:
Okay. Their alt tag says, “Pedigree adult complete nutrition roasted chicken, rice, and vegetable, dry dog food, 50 pound bag.”

Georgia Joseph:
Ugh.

Clark Taylor:
Yeah, so-

Georgia Joseph:
No.

Clark Taylor:
Yeah, it actually looks like all they’re doing is they are using the, which I believe this is probably the h1 heading on the page, they’re basically using the product name.

Georgia Joseph:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Clark Taylor:
And I didn’t look at this before, but my guess is probably all those images probably have the same alt tag. Right?

Georgia Joseph:
Oh, that would be bad.

Clark Taylor:
Right? And so-

Georgia Joseph:
Right.

Clark Taylor:
… what they should have done was maybe make this alt tag be, recommended daily feeding guide for adult dogs.

Georgia Joseph:
Yeah. They could do that. They could also use the word label because it looks like a label when you’re looking at it.

Clark Taylor:
Yep. Label. Exactly. Yes. It looks like it’s the actual label from the package perhaps.

Georgia Joseph:
Right. Right. Because-

Clark Taylor:
So they could’ve said package label-

Georgia Joseph:
Yes. Yes.

Clark Taylor:
… of the feeding guide for adult dogs.

Georgia Joseph:
And then you can picture it.

Clark Taylor:
And just for fun, let’s just take a look at another one. It’s probably… So this is an image of roasted chicken, rice, and vegetable flavor. And my guess is they’re probably using the same alt tag. So let’s see what they’re using here.

Georgia Joseph:
Let’s see. I’ll close my eyes again in case it’s different.

Clark Taylor:
Yes. The alt tag is the same as the other one.

Georgia Joseph:
It’s the same as the other one.

Clark Taylor:
And Georgia-

Georgia Joseph:
Okay.

Clark Taylor:
… we know why when you have all these images that need alt tags, we understand why…they probably just did this programmatically, right? They took whatever the name of the product is and they added it to all the images, because it would take time and effort to create a unique alt tag for every image.

Georgia Joseph:
It does take time and effort. The other thing is that hopefully… And sometimes you see this happen with people that think that’s how it’s supposed to be done, that that’s what you’re supposed to do with your alt tags, right? You’re supposed to grab something that is very similar to your h1 and you’re supposed to use it there. And so that ends up sometimes being a problem too. So they might have just been busy, or they might have actually thought that’s how you’re supposed to do it.

Clark Taylor:
Or they don’t know that it matters.

Georgia Joseph:
Or they don’t know, right?

Clark Taylor:
Right.

Georgia Joseph:
Exactly. They don’t know.

The Future of Alt Text

Clark Taylor:
So as we finish up, I just want to throw out some thoughts. The thing that I always think about when we’re trying to, as SEOs, we’re trying to figure out, what’s Google going to do? What’s the future? Are these going to become alt tags? Is usability and accessibility going to become…you can’t imagine it’s going to become less important, right? So I can only see alt tags and anything else to do with usability becoming even more important and more important part of the algorithm.

Georgia Joseph:
Well, and it’s logical, right? I mean, there’s a reason that Google is as successful as they are, and it’s because they’ve learned how to provide a good user experience time after time after time, and that’s why people keep going back. And so why… I mean, there is no logical reason to deprioritize the needs of people with disabilities.

Clark Taylor:
Absolutely.

Georgia Joseph:
So I can’t imagine that happening.

Clark Taylor:
Yep. So we expect this to… Google will probably turn up the dial on this as a ranking signal-

Georgia Joseph:
Yeah.

Clark Taylor:
… and other things related to accessibility.

Georgia Joseph:
Oh, I’m sorry. It’s a really good use of our time to spend time thinking about how we do this, right?

Clark Taylor:
Right.

Georgia Joseph:
About how we write really good text that aids users with visual impairments in enjoying our site. It’s not a waste of time. It’s a good use of time.

Clark Taylor:
All right, Georgia. Well, this has been great. We’ll look forward to some other discussions on SEO.

Georgia Joseph:
Yeah.

Clark Taylor:
… geeky SEO stuff real soon.

Georgia Joseph:
Okay. That sounds fantastic.

Clark Taylor:
All right, take care. All right.

Georgia Joseph:
All right. Bye.

Clark Taylor:
Bye.

End of Video

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