What is an ALT tag?
An ALT tag is essentially a text alternative attached to an image on your website. It is a way of describing an image to a visitor that cannot see the actual image. Adding ALT tags to your images makes them more accessible to non-visual users as well as users who prefer to view pages with graphics turned off for speed-of-viewing or spam safety reasons.
Apart from helping you meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for users that are unable to view images, these ALT tags are equally important in SEO (Search Engine optimization). Search engine spiders use the ALT tag attached to a particular image to decipher what it is portraying. Therefore, cleverly constructed ALT tags can really help with SEO and direct more people looking for your particular services to your website.
So what does this ALT tag look like?
Well, it’s pretty sexy, here take a gander at the source code (HTML) that inserts an image with an ALT tag…
<img src=”images/dairycows.jpg” width=”400″ height=”269″ alt=”dairy cows”>
SIDE NOTE: Some browsers also offer up a cursor tool tip of your alt tag which is kind of nifty, these are often handy when you are unsure what the image is and being able to place your cursor over an image and get more info is super-cool.
Now, I hear you saying “why should I spend time optimizing my images, they are just cows, can my ALT tag just be ‘dairy cows’?” Yes, your ALT tag can just be “dairy cows”, but why stop there when it is so exciting to keep going! Lets make them really work for you and think about:
- Why did you choose that particular image to put on your website? What message do you want your viewers to take away from this image?
- Are you the owner of a free-range dairy farm in California and you strongly believe that happy cows produce better milk? Of course you are!
Let’s take advantage of the ALT tag attached to this image and use some powerful and searchable keywords that speak specifically about your industry:
<img src=”images/dairycows.jpg” width=”400″ height=”269″ alt=”California free-range dairy cows grazing happily on a hillside”
Ah, now that is better, those cows sure do look happy, and your non-visual users will be able to imagine the scene with more accuracy now. AND, an added bonus, this clever optimization of your images’ ALT tags make them work harder and more effectively by giving search engine spiders some specific keywords to dig their claws into, helping direct the right traffic your way.
Next time you are thoughtfully choosing images for your website or email marketing campaigns, also direct some thought into popping in those descriptive keywords that distill the essence of your image. You will get twice as much bang for your buck when using the ALT tag to describe your image and also help your non-visual users at the same time. Caring is Sharing.
Just a quick note on “keyword stuffing”
Be careful not to go overboard and “stuff “all of your image ALT tags with a long list of keywords – keep them relevant and meaningful to the image, otherwise the search engine gods will get angry and it may lead to a temporary or permanent search engine ban – eeek!
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Post by Jannah Lyon, Creative Director, Placemaking Group.