Marketing 7 min read

6 Ways to use ALT Image Text as a Picture Description and Improve SEO

Crafting a picture description might seem simple, but there is a nuance to it. | Image By Jirsak | Shutterstock

Crafting a picture description might seem simple, but there is a nuance to it. | Image By Jirsak | Shutterstock

In general, ALT text is used alongside images to help the visually impaired to get a better impression of the images on a page. However, because Google pays attention to the relevance of this text, ALT text is also an excellent and subtle way to improve your site’s SEO.

Improving your ALT text copy and SEO are closely related. For a long time, Google could not, for want of a better word, “see”. To help its crawlers get a better impression of web pages, Google began to get its crawlers to read ALT text.

Although this is changing due to computer vision, Google is still learning to “see”. This means that ALT text can still be an excellent way of improving your site’s SEO and readability to both Google and those that can’t see images on your page.

Picture of Google's cloud vision API correctly detecting an image of a smiling dog
Although still questionably accurate, Google’s Cloud Vision API sight is getting better by the day.

ALT text appears as a textual alternative to the image in case the visitor can’t see it on the page. This has two benefits for your site:

  • If the visitor is Google, it helps Google’s artificial intelligence learn what the image is about.
  • If the visitor is a human, it helps the human learn what the image is about.

Therefore, images’ ALT text should be descriptive. Just one word or a vague sentence is not enough.

Think of it like Pictionary. How would you briefly describe the image if you closed your eyes? Don’t worry about making it too long, aim to keep it around the length of a tweet.

Also, make sure the text sounds natural when reading aloud. This helps both humans who are using the text as well as crawlers in understanding it.

ALT text image descriptions are an excellent place to give your site an SEO boost by using keywords. Think about what keywords you would want the image to show up for in a Google image search. 

Make sure you include those, but don’t stress it too much, because Google is learning to see and will know when you are trying to influence or skew results.

This can be a new field for many, and a large portion of sites don’t use this feature to its full potential. Here are some key tips when writing your ALT text image descriptions to get ahead of the competition

Read More: 7 SEO Mistakes You Should Avoid

1. A Picture Description Should be Very Specific

A visualization of two people: one with a long, organized line of conversation and the other with a jumbled mess
Just because a description is long doesn’t mean it’s effective | Igor kisselev | Shutterstock

Before anything else, ALT text should be designed to provide text explanations of images for users who are unable to see them. If an image truly doesn’t convey any meaning or value and is just there for design purposes, it should live within the CSS, not HTML.

This gets easier with practice, but always try to mentally visualize the image you are describing instead of just looking at it on your page. 

The more vivid the picture is in your mind, the easier it is to describe in ALT text.

An easy way of improving your skills at this is by trying to describe pictures or objects to individuals who can’t see the same thing. Just like Pictionary, this helps you to improve your skills at transmitting visual information into audible or written information.  

2. Avoid Keyword Stuffing in Picture Description

Google won’t dock you points for poorly written alt text. However, if you use it as an opportunity to stuff as many relevant keywords as you can think of into it, you’ll be in trouble.

Writing a descriptive ALT text is the priority. Google will know if you’re stuffing or manipulating text to insert keywords, so keep it simple.

Just like normal copy, place keywords in a natural way which does not interrupt the flow of the text. This again gets easier with practice, but should not be hard to master.

Just remember that in this case, the image description is more important than the keyword. Make sure to clearly describe your image before you begin thinking about keyword opportunities.

Relevancy is also important. If you manage to insert your keyword but it’s totally irrelevant to the image, then there is no benefit to you or your page. 

Even if the image does rank for that keyword, users will still not click through to your site as it won’t fit their intent. Google may also catch on to this too and punish your site for it.

Read More: How to use Keywords and Backlinks to Create a Solid Link-Building Strategy

3. Don’t use Images as Text

This is not just an alt text-specific best practice but more general SEO-friendly web development advice. Avoid using images as text as crawlers cannot see this. If you have to, try to explain what your photo says within your alt text.

Although it may look better in some cases, it does very little for your site in relation to SEO. Mostly, it’s better to pick an image relevant to your copy or text and then leave the text for the body of the page.

4. Don’t State the Complete Obvious

Remember the context of your images. Images should be placed within copy to improve the readability and user experience of the page. Describe the image with the subject in mind.

Also, don’t include “image of,” “picture of,” or anything similar in your alt text. Both Google and your readers already assumed your alt text is referring to an image, so there’s no need to specify it.

The one exception: space pictures.

Usually, if you’re posting an image of a satellite flying by Saturn, it’s an artist rendering. This ALT text, “Artist rendering of a satellite flying by Saturn”, is perfectly reasonable.

5. Don’t Forget longdesc=””

As with most SEO topics, having a little web design or programming knowledge goes a long, long way. The longdesc=“” tag is used in HTML for more complex images that require a longer description. Use this to your advantage to create more lengthy, descriptive, and keyword filled descriptions for your images and page

Read More: How to Write the Best SEO Title Tags for Your Web pages

6. Form Buttons Shouldn’t be Neglected

Don’t forget to use ALT image text for functional buttons and images. It’s often in the basics where people make the most mistakes in SEO. 

Things like “search” and “read more” buttons should always have an ALT text.  This improves both your site’s legibility to Google as well as your reader’s user experience and impression of your site.

ALT text can be helpful for your site for both its visibility and readability. Always take some time to give your site’s images the best description possible for its use. Although it won’t be a quick change, you will see over time a gradual improvement thanks to this tactic.

Remember, SEO is a game of inches. It’s in all of the small details where you will gain an edge over your competition. Image ALT text is one of these details, and can really help push your site ahead of the rest.

Read More: 8 Ways To Increase Mobile User Engagement

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Alexander crafts magical tools for web marketing. He is a smart creative, a builder of amazing things. He loves to study “how” and “why” humans and AI make decisions.

Comments (2)
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    Pamela J La Gioia April 26 at 4:53 pm GMT

    Just wanted to say that I’ve been reading this site all weekend. Awesome! Thank you all for such great information. I regularly read other excellent blogs (Wordstream, Hubspot, Moz, etc.) but still find so much new, helpful information here. I really appreciate it.

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