Alt Text SEO Dos and Don’ts

online images requiring alt text in stack

The basic advice you’ll receive on writing alt text is to use natural language, and to describe what’s in the picture. Operating on this information alone, people new to SEO often fall into the same pitfalls, writing image descriptions that fail to target or engage the target audience. Here’s all you need to know to turn your alt text game around.

You may have been cautioned not to begin alt text with “photo of” or “picture of.” For starters, anyone examining alt text already knows it’s a picture. More importantly, starting the alt text with “picture of” takes up valuable SEO real estate that should be reserved for your primary keywords. However, there are certain types of images users search for in droves, such as graphs and diagrams. For these sorts of images, the descriptor usually comes last in user searches, for example “minimum wage graph” and “nervous system flow chart.”

alt text photo of rabbit vs mini lop bunny available for adoption at animal shelter, picture of desk vs glass corner desk with adjustable height

By removing “photo of,” we’re able to cut right to the chase, showcasing valuable keywords right away. Notice that “good” alt text doesn’t just describe what’s in the image, it engages with searches from the target audience by tying in relevant keywords. Let’s take it to another level:

alt text smiling woman vs woman with professional teeth whitening from (City Name), people on stage vs (city name) adult beginner jazz class performing on stage, slider 1 vs oil change coupon for 50% off oil change for new customers

The next consideration is in regards to SEO real estate. Just like in meta titles, the most valuable position is at the beginning. See if you can change around the wording in order to give this hot real estate to your top priority keywords.

alt text woman holding chocolate cake vs chocolate cake presented by local baker, man buying jewelry vs pearl earrings sold at Labor Day jewelry discount

In some cases, like in the jewelry sale example, it’s tough to front-load keywords in a natural way. Always use your own best judgment, bearing in mind there is a delicate balance between user-friendliness, keyword-targeting, and simple honesty in all digital marketing. Here’s the recap:

  1. Cut out terms and phrases with no SEO value.

  2. Incorporate search keywords into alt text.

  3. Put the most important keywords first.

Alt Text Length

Again, Google places the most weight on the first word in alt text, with diminishing returns for follow-up words, but for the sake of winning the high score, 125 characters or less is considered the golden rule. Individuals have managed to rank for keywords appearing just after the maximum 125, but only for nonsense text no one else is attempting to keyword-rank for. You may find that a short and sweet line of alt text ranks better than a long and overreaching one.

ADA Considerations for Alt Text

When writing alt text, it’s important to remember the intended audience: people who rely on alt text to know the content of images. Forgetting this and concentrating just on SEO doesn’t just violate the ADA, it makes it difficult for many individuals to navigate and glean information from your website. As you write alt text, think about what someone who cannot see the image would want to know, and make sure it’s incorporated into the final version.