• Zoe Barnett

Alt tags? What they are & how to use them - easy SEO tips for small business owners

Updated: May 23, 2019

Have you ever heard of an alt tag? Probably not. Nice job if you have! For me, it was always the most overlooked aspect of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation - AKA getting found on Google) when I started working in online marketing. It's so easy to forget alt tags - especially when you are rushing around uploading images to your website.

In my second blog post in my Easy SEO Tips for Small Business Owners series I'll be delving into the topic of alt tags and explaining how to use them and WHY (of course!) we need to use them.

Smart phone that reads "SEO tips" above a "Zo Connected" logo next to hand holding mug of tea and surrounded by succulent plants in white plant pots on a white desk.
Smart phone that reads "SEO tips" above a "Zo Connected" logo next to hand holding mug of tea and surrounded by succulent plants in white plant pots on a white desk. Phew! That's an alt tag.

As always - don't worry! This blog post is strictly jargon-free.

I want to show you how simple SEO can be once you have the basic knowledge. Especially something like 'alt tags' which can be just part of your 'good housekeeping' when it comes to online marketing.


What actually is an alt tag?

An alt tag is basically a bit of HTML that tells Google & humans (never forget humans!) what your image is.

Screenshot of alt tag html demonstrated through a stock image of person using white keyboard and code inspect tool on Google Chrome
Here you can see the alt tag for an image used on my website

Why do you need to use alt tags?

Yes, I can hear your cogs turning. Why do I *need* to describe what the image is if you can see the image?

Well, there are three reasons...

  • Firstly, alt tags are for visually impaired users of the internet who use screen readers. The screen will read the alt tag to help the user better understand what is on the webpage.

  • They help when images don't load. Say if the internet is being slow, instead of an image loading the alt tag will be loaded. So, the user can understand what is supposed to be displayed where the image is lacking.

  • Super important! Google can't read images. I repeat, GOOGLE CAN'T READ IMAGES. Well not the actual image itself anyway. So, have you ever wondered how Google Images work? Clue: there aren't lots of robots categorising beautiful images on image alone. It's all in the code. The HTML. The alt tags. Google reads the alt tag as a description of what the image is. Having a good alt tag will help improve your chances of ranking for the right things.

How do you use alt tags?

In most CMSs (Content Management Systems - these are the platforms you edit your website in) you will have a feature to add an alt tag. So, when you upload an image you can easily add your alt tag. You can also edit your photos retrospectively so don't worry if you're now thinking "I've never done that!".

Screenshot of Wordpress alt tag formatting showing a woman creating a website alongside alt text about the woman for SEO purposes
In WordPress and other editors like Wix you can easily format your alt tag (also known as alt text) when you upload your images. It's great SEO practice to get into this habit.

Good to know

Your file name can act as information for Google too. It can act like an alt tag - especially if you're missing an alt tag. So you can rename your file before you upload it. This is good practice but it's obviously it's always better if you can format your alt tag too.

It's a lot better to name a file 'Zoe on computer' rather than 'IMG7648' for example.

What's the best way to write an alt tag?

Say what you see

  1. Look at your image

  2. Describe it really well

  3. Close your eyes

  4. Read your description aloud

  5. Ask: Does it work? Does it help you visualise what your image actually is?

hand holding smart phone displaying Instagram analytics with green house plant in the background to show the purpose of alt tags for SEO
An okay alt tag would be: "phone in hand"

hand holding smart phone displaying Instagram analytics with green house plant in the background to show the purpose of alt tags for SEO
A much better alt tag would be: "hand holding phone that shows Instagram analytics page with green house plant in the background"

Then make sure:

Check: are you using keywords?

Yes - great!

If you're not sure have a think about the image again and think will it direct traffic (by traffic I mean people searching on Google) accurately to your website.

But you're not keyword stuffing!

Avoid using keywords for keywords sake though. Make sure you aren't 'keyword stuffing' which means using excessive keywords that do not make sense when read together.

An example of keyword stuffing would be: "instagram analytics insights social media marketing online digital marketing support tips blog advice seo alt tags header tags social network" as an alt tag. Which is ridiculous, obviously. Remember: Google is smart!

Have you made it short & sweet?

125 characters is the recommended length of an alt tag. That's plenty for a good descriptive alt tag.

Recap: why format your alt tags?

Alt tags help you improve your chances of ranking in search engines

It's simple - adding alt tags tells Google (who can't read your image file) what the image is. Therefore, if someone is searching for something that matches what your images show - you'll have a chance of ranking for it.

Alt tags improve your website's usability

Usability is hugely important and a large part of your long-term SEO strategy. So, if your website is usable for the visually impaired or those with a slower internet connection you will be a stronger website against a competitors. Remember, as I mentioned in my last blog post all about header tags, the more usable your website is the more likely people will hang around. All this data adds to Google's algorithm. Google will understand that your website is of a higher quality - and the chances of you beating your competitor to the top of the rankings will increase.

Bonus tip

You can now add 'alt text' to your Instagram images. I'll be writing about this in more detail soon but the main thing to know now: you should do it!

ALTernatively, you can get some help with alt tags

See what I did there?

Like I'm not so great at puns, not everyone is so great with SEO. Usually it's a chore, often you've got more important things to do.

It can be great investment to get some help with SEO. Improving your rankings on Google is a long game and not something that happens overnight BUT by making some small tweaks gradually you will start to see some improvements.

I can help you with your SEO. You can even request an SEO audit of your current site from only £40 - which is a great way to understand what you need to improve as a priority.

Get in touch with me to find out how I can help with your SEO.