Alt text is a means of describing an image using WORDS. That’s it! But hold up, there is a little more to learn here. Let’s get to the bottom of what alt text really is and what you need to know in order to optimize the alt text of the images in your blog posts for SEO best practices.
What is alt text?
The words that you use as your alt text help users and search engines understand what your image is about. In a usability sense, the function of alt text is easy to understand. It helps visually impaired people. The text describes the image via a screen reader.
This use of alt text is pretty easy to understand. Where it gets a little trickier is with the next use of alt text what we’ll cover in this blog post. Prefer to watch the information in video form? Np. See the video here or below!
The secondary use of alt text is related to SEO or search engine optimization. It’s a way of giving Google a little hint as to the content and context of the image.
Why should you add alt text?
When you use alt text on your photos or graphics, Google gains a better understanding of the image. There’s a higher chance that, in connection with other SEO strategies and given the hundreds of ranking factors, your image will be searchable on Google Images as well as your blog post via regular Google search.
If you don’t use alt text, there are ranking opportunities you are missing out on, as well as being able to render your images accessible by your visually impaired readers. Also Google may even look on your site as less trustworthy, because you haven’t taken the time to add the alt text. All things being equal, a search engine is more likely to trust and find favorable a blog post with well-optimized, helpful alt text.
How do you add alt text?
Each CMS or content management system has its own way of adding alt text to images. I can show you how to add alt text to the WordPress platform and through Showit. Any other platforms, simply Google it and it will be a similar process.
Looking to get started with WordPress? Here’s how!
For some very basic CMS solutions, it’s possible there may not be a way to add alt text. This is why I recommend using a robust, free and open-source platform like WordPress.org which makes adding your alt text a cake walk.
Here’s how on WordPress Gutenberg aka Block Editor. Click on the image once in the post, then head to ‘Block’ on the right hand side, and scroll down until you see ‘Image Settings’:
And here’s how on WordPress Classic Editor – Click ‘edit’ when you click on the image, then when you hit that pencil, the ‘Image Details’ screen pops up.:
Here’s how on Showit – Showit only handles your pages (not posts) so they are static. Go to Site > Pages, select the appropriate page. Then on the right hand side, you’ll see ‘Image’. On Showit, it’s called ‘SEO Title’ and ‘Description’. The ‘Description’ is the alt text. (Source here).
Is alt text the same as the image title (the file name) or the caption?
Alt text is not the same as the image title, though both should be optimized for both humans and machines. The title should be descriptive and give Google another opportunity to understand your image as well as the context in which you’re using it.
The alt text is also not the same as the caption. In your CMS you will see two areas – one for alt text and one for caption.
Put your name or domain name into the image title and alt text if possible, that way your ownership information will still be contained within the file name. Most publishers and organizations do not bother renaming files or removing metadata.
Here’s an example of an image of mine that was published by a well-known museum in my local area. Now, when someone searches my business name, my photo comes up. As the museum that published it is so well-known in my area, that builds trust!
What should you write for your alt text?
Make sure your alt text is human-readable. Use spaces between the words.
Guidelines state that you can use up to about 8 to 10 words, or 125 characters as this is the cut-off point at which most screen readers will truncate the text.
However! If you use Pinterest which I recommend you do if you are a blogger or small business owner, alt text is where the all-important pin description is contained!
That’s right, this 500-character pin description is actually your alt text of an image! When you use the Tailwind ‘schedule’ button, this pulls the alt text from whatever you have input when you uploaded it.
When people are on your site and use the Pin It browser extension to pin your graphics, you need to add your pin description to the alt text. And you should use as much as possible of your 500 characters!
Currently I am in the habit of writing long alt text where it’s appropriate. As Pinterest forms a major part of my blogging and SEO strategy, for my ‘pinnable’ graphics, Pinterest optimization takes precedence.
Make sure you vary the alt text for each image. It helps to provide more context, more ranking opportunities and shows Google you’re not a spammer.
The alt text describes the image, as we have covered. As I’ve touched on briefly, it also provides that all-important context which describes in a more nuanced way how the image relates to the blog post or page. This is crucial. I’m going to dive into this more in the next section.
Examples of alt text and how it helps boost your ranking
Look at this image here.
There are various different ways of describing the image and that’s why I talk about context being the key here.
Obviously you know not to keyword-stuff – those techniques haven’t worked for over 15 years at this point.
You could describe this as
Ted Baker ‘Polly’ structured bow wedding dress worn by bride getting married
This would clearly reveal that you were selling the wedding dress as a product. It would be perfectly acceptable, in fact. It’s descriptive, human-readable, accurate and a good length in terms of word count.
However, as a wedding photographer this alt text would not be good at all. I blog so that I can reach people seeking wedding photography services in a certain location.
So the alt text I would use would be different from the example above. Here are a couple of different alt text ideas for the same image.
I might say:
San Francisco City Hall bride by best San Francisco wedding photographer
Technically, this is correct and relevant but do you see it’s a little too optimized?
I could use that same alt text for any photo from that venue. That is one sign that it is NOT good alt text. Alt text should not be so generic that it can be used for just about any photo from your photography portfolio!
Let’s consider what else is wrong with it. It doesn’t describe the image, as well as satisfying visually impaired readers.
A good tip for how to arrive at perfect alt text for your blog is ask yourself, ‘is this how I would describe the image to a blind friend?’ Because that’s exactly what your alt text is for. Helping your visually impaired friends!
So, not wanting to be too generic or overly-optimized – but specific, relevant and also good for SEO. Let’s try again.
Vietnamese-American wedding couple on 4th Floor of San Francisco City Hall by Zoe Larkin Photography
This hits the nail on the head because:
- It contains keywords (i.e words that may be searched by your target market
- It’s descriptive and highly relevant to the image
- It’s not generic (this same alt text couldn’t be applied to any other photo from the same venue)
- It’s locally targeted which is important if you’re running a service business or locally-based website
- It contains my business name so is more easily attributable to me, no matter where on the web it ends up
- It’s a good length – not too long as to be boring and not too short so as to be useless
- It describes to visually impaired readers who is in the photo, where they are and what they are doing – i.e the purpose of the photo within the blog post.
Alrighty! I hope that was helpful in understanding a little about alt text in blogging – why to use it, how to add it, and what to write in your alt text. I hope you’ll stick around and check out more of my content!