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Image SEO: Do you really need alt text for images?

If you aren’t providing ALT text for your images, you’re missing out on a lot of organic traffic to your website and impairing your user experience. Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential for bringing up your content in searches, and images are no different.

Google currently delivers many image results in searches. People are drawn towards images, and have a longer attention span for content that has visuals or video. But simply putting images in your content won’t make them show up in the right searches.

What is ALT text?

Also called ALT tags or ALT descriptions, ALT text are descriptions attached to images that show up when the image doesn’t load, and are ready by text-reading programs for the visually impaired. ALT text also allow bots to accurately rank your images in search engines.

For people who rely on text-reading programs, ALT text is essential to their user experience. Even on platforms that don’t have traditional ALT text such as Tumblr, a subset of users will provide text descriptions of visual media to create a more accessible experience. It’s important to make your content and website accessible for all.

Not only does ALT text make a more accessible experience for your visitors, it allows your images to be ranked in search engines. The bots that crawl your website for keywords can only read text; they can’t “look” at an image to see what’s in it. ALT text provides a description and keywords so that it can be ranked accurately in the search engine. The images that appear at the top of your search are ranked highly for that search.

This is why ALT text is essential to grow your organic traffic. If you put visuals into your content, you want people to be able to find them online, and be drawn to your site.

ALT Text Do’s and Don’ts

Most content platforms, like Wordpress or Hubspot, make it easy to add ALT text to any image. It can also be embedded into the code. To succeed, ALT text needs to be short, descriptive, specific, and relate to context.

Keep the ALT text fewer than 125 characters, essentially one sentence. Screen reading tools typically stop reading after 125 characters, and it’s just not necessary to include a paragraph.

Describe what’s going on in the image using a sentence.

Bad Example: Cafe coffee barista blackboard.

Good Example: Smiling barista stands behind counter at a café.

However, the context of your photo should also color your description. So if this photo accompanied an article about starting your own small business, the ATL text might say “Small business owner stands confidently behind the counter of her café.” Think about why the image is important and how it relates to the webpage.

Use your keywords, but use them sparingly and don’t cram them all in to the ALT text. If your page has multiple images, the keywords only need to be in one.

You also don’t need to say “picture of” or “image of”, as text-readers will do that for you, and crawling bots know it’s an image as well.

It’s time to use ALT text to improve your SEO. You might start by using a crawler to check the SEO of your website. Add ALT text to important pages and see how your traffic increases.

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