The Importance of ALT Text In Search Engine Optimisation
By Robin Nobles
For years, search engine optimizers have included their important
keyword phrases in ALT text for images, feeling confident that many of the
search engines considered the contents of ALT text when determining
The big question is, has this changed?
Yes . .
None of the Major Engines Considers ALT Text When Determining
According to research by expert SEO researcher Jerry West of
WebMarketingNow (http://www.webmarketingnow.com) and Search Engine Academy (http://www.searchengineacademy.com), at the present time, none
of the "Big Three" search engines (Google, Yahoo!, nor MSN), considers ALT text
when determining relevancy.
West explains, "Over the last six months, we
have seen a trend on our testing servers that shows that using ALT text for SEO
purposes has not only diminished, but adversely affects the rankings in the
SERPs. It is clear that search engines continue to catch up to "SEO tricks" that
are intended to improve search engine ranking while damaging the visitor
experience. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) has strict guidelines as to what
your site needs to contain in order to be ADA compliant. I guarantee you, they
do not look favorably at ALT text that has been keyword stuffed.
you ever witnessed a visually impaired individual use the Web? With a device
which reads aloud the contents of a Web page, the impaired individual will be
inundated with what I refer to is, ALT Text Spam. Sometimes the reader is stuck
on one graphic for more than 40 seconds reading all of the keywords that have
"According to a Google engineer, what you should do it
create an ALT tag that is relevant to the picture, so it gives the user a good
experience, including the visually impaired. The ALT text is indexed, but it is
down graded in the algorithm. The reason?
"'We see ALT text as relevant
as the Keyword Meta tag,' said the engineer. That should say it all as Google
has never used the Keyword Meta tag due to the high spam rate.
"How do we
test? I have outlined our testing methodology below," continues West.
- We have four servers
(Two Apache servers, one Windows, one Sun Solaris)
- Each server is
located in a different part of the
- Each test sever has 16
are matched in pairs for A/B testing
- All domains are "dot
testing is done with other extensions for the algorithms
- The 8 pairs
are configured as follows: 3 pages, 8 pages, 25 pages, 50 pages,
100 pages, 150 pages, 300 pages, 500 pages
- When performing testing,
one of the domains in the pair is tested while the other remains
- Due to
varying issues within the algorithms, it takes approximately
six weeks to see consistent numbers in order to formulate accurate
This Mean to SEOs?
Search engine optimizers no longer need to use keyword
phrases in the ALT text of images on their Web pages.
However, let's look
at a smarter approach.
I've been recommending to my online (http://www.onlinewebtraining.com) and offline (http://www.searchengineworkshops.com) SEO students for a long
time that they needed to use ALT text in the manner in which
it was designed to
be used by the W3C: to describe the image. Then, they can include
the keyword phrase in one or two images on the page, if appropriate.
that strategy is still viable. The major engines don't consider the contents of
ALT text now, but that doesn't mean they won't six months from now. Always
remembering the "basics" is one of the best strategies to follow.
ALT Text Tips . . .
- Remember that the purpose
of ALT text is to describe the image for the benefit of those who
surf the Web
with images turned off and for those who have the contents
of Web pages
loud to them. The
WC3 highly recommends that Web site owners use ALT text to
- Use your keyword phrase
in one or two instances of ALT text on the page - no more. Use moderation
in everything you do in search engine optimization.
- Don't use text that
is non-relevant to the image. Don't
keyword stuff. Jerry West adds, "Give the visitor information
that is worthwhile, especially for the visually impaired."
- "Consider using a
description below the graphic. Based on recent test
results, this is read often," states West.
West continues, "Basically,
remember to be compliant, not just with the W3C but also with the
ADA. It all comes down to intent. If your intent is to fool the search
engine into giving you a higher
ranking, you are performing 'grey or black hat' strategies.
Stay on the right side of the path and the engines will bless you.":)
Remember . . . ALT
Text is Just One "Piece of the Pie"
Relevancy and ranking are determined
by over 100 different factors. ALT text was just
one piece of that pie, a sliver at that.
Don't ever focus on just one piece of the pie. Always remember
the basics - the SEO foundation - and make sure it's solid.
If you know
you're weak in one or two areas, you know you have to beef
up on other pieces of the SEO pie.
We'll talk more about the "SEO pie" in future articles. Or,
attend our on-location workshops, where the SEO pie is always
a topic of
About the Author: