Computers are not much good at determining what’s in an image. And if visitors to your website can’t see your images, they are missing out on seeing the photos that showcase your business products or services.
There is a way to tell both computers and people what’s in an image. It’s called an ALT attribute, and it is coded in with the HTML tag that calls an image to appear on your site.
ALT text is used to describe images to vision-impaired people who use a reader to “view” websites, and it shows up if images are turned off so that a user has some clue as to what is supposed to be seen.
Add ALT text when you upload a photo in your blog or content management system (we use a Content Management System with all our clients’ sites that makes this easy) or when you insert an image into a web page using Dreamweaver or similar software. If a web designer is doing this work for you, you can help out by giving alternate text with all the images you provide and requesting that it be used.
The wrong and right way
Let’s use the example of a local shop that sells a lot of unique, handmade candles. The business owner wants to put a big picture of the candles on her home page.
She can download the image straight from her camera and keep the name assigned to that file by the camera, which is usually something like “DSC_109090430.jpg” or “IMG_1094.jpg.” She remembers to use ALT text, but puts in “Candles” as her description. Do you think that will help her customers who see the text or her search engine rankings?
No. She’ll improve her search engine rankings by naming the file something relevant, such as “gift-shop-corvallis-homemade-candles.jpg” and using really descriptive ALT text, like “Handmade candles by (Candle Maker’s name or brand) available at XYZ Gift Shop in downtown Corvallis, Oregon.”
See how that second version includes a lot of keywords that people are likely to search for when they are looking for candles, or gift shops, or stores in Corvallis, Oregon?
- Separate image file names with hyphens. Hyphens are better than underscores or than grouping all the words together without separation. Other characters won’t work well and spaces can cause problems in older browsers.
- Don’t use any characters in your image file names that aren’t letters or numbers. Other characters can cause problems with the site’s programming or how the page displays in some browsers.
- Be descriptive in your ALT text. Think about someone who is looking for your exact product. How could you make it easier for them to find? What words do you think they will use to search online?
- Include your location in your ALT text wherever possible, unless your location is not relevant to search. If you have a physical location where customers will look for you, include your business name, your city and your state at the end of each photo description. That’s helpful information for humans to know, too.
- Don’t do what’s known as “keyword stuffing.” A description must make sense and answer as many of the who, what, when, where, why questions as possible. Stuffing occurs when you add keywords at the expense of having the caption make sense to humans, like “Candle candles lighting wicks wax hand made by candlemaker who makes by hand wax in candle store that sells candles lighting romance.” Uh-uh. Google is getting smarter in how they determine this and will actually list you lower in their rankings if they see this done repeatedly throughout your site. Just focus on making sense and you’ll be in good shape.
- Remember that doing this right takes time. You need to put some thought into your image names and the ALT text that you use, but the payoff is big for both your site users and your site’s rankings.
Would you like your website to be easy to update, including uploading photos and adding ALT text? Contact Visual People for a quote on putting your website in the Visual People Content Management System. We include a manual and training session so you know exactly how to make the updates you want.