September 21, 2015 · Stuart Butler
Ask A Fueligan: How Can I Write Great Image Alt Text?
The alt text associated with an image is something that most people don’t think about when managing the content on their hotel website. The vast majority of website visitors don’t see it, a lot of older content management systems make it hard to update and a lot of marketers don’t even consider it importance.
With that being said, I’ve had a handful of our customers ask me for best practice tips on writing ALT text for their images recently. Usually, it’s along the lines of “Should my alt tags describe what the picture represents or what the page is about?”
Like most content related questions, it really comes down to the age-old question for digital marketers: Are you writing for humans or for Search Engines? In Fuel’s case, we write for both.
What is alt text?
Technically speaking, it means “alternative text”. It is an attribute that is used in HTML when embedding an image in a website using the <img> tag.
Example: <img src=”ImageName.jpg” alt=”Alt text goes here”>
What does alt text do?
The original purpose for the alt attribute was multi-faceted. Firstly: to provide a web browser with something to display if the image didn’t load or if the web browser was not able to display the image. Secondly: alt text is used for accessibility software as a method to understand what appears on a website. Most screen readers will read out the alt tags on a site to help visually impaired site visitors gain a better understanding of the content on the page.
In fact, according to guideline 1.1 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG), websites are required to provide alternative text for images.
Guideline 1.1: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
Over time, search engines have also adopted the alt attribute as a method to gain better insight into the content on the page. Therefore, alt text has become a significant on-page ranking factor for hotel SEO.
Should I write alt text for humans or search engines?
The simple answer is BOTH.
5 tips for awesome alt text
Keep it short
Don’t forget that for many browsers, the alt text displays as a tool tip when you mouse over the image. The last thing you want is a huge paragraph of text covering the image as the consumer scrolls through your site. Also, don’t simply repeat the content contained on the page. For folks who depend on screen readers, that would make their life miserable when they have to hear everything twice. Also, avoid unnecessary words such as “Image of..”. Typically, alt text should be between 5-15 keywords.
Keep it meaningful
Ask yourself the question, “What value does the image provide to my page”? Now imaging that the person viewing the page no longer sees the image. What information would be lost? The alt text should plug that gap.
Keep it relevant
If the image contains text – as in a logo or special offer – the text can be repeated in the alt attribute. If it’s just a regular image, try to use the alt text to describe the sentiment of the image. If the image depicts data, try to summaries the results. IF the image is also a link, make sure that is clear. For example, if you have a Facebook icon on your homepage, don’t make the alt text read “Facebook Icon”, make it read “Like Metropolitan Hotel on Facebook”.
Use your SEO keywords where it makes sense
Don’t stuff your alt text with keywords, but it is considered good SEO practice to select one of your particularly competitive keywords for the specific page and strategically insert it into relevant image alt text. It is almost certainly a ranking factor and therefore, optimizing your alt text for search is a great opportunity to gain a little bit of advantage over your competitors. Every little helps.
Know when to leave it blank
There are times when it’s ok to leave the alt text blank. For items on the page that offer no value from a content perspective such as style and layout elements such as bullets and icons, there’s no need to enter alt text. In fact, it can be annoying when you’re using a text reader to hear the word “Bullet” a thousand times on a long bulleted list.
One other thing to consider: search engines also look at the name of the image too. Make sure that the file name is descriptive of what is contained within the image. So as opposed to calling an image of a person checking in to the Metropolitan Hotel, “lobby1.jpg”, call it, “Metropolitan-Hotel-Lobby.jpg”.
In that example, the alt text could be something like: alt=”Vacationer checking in at the Metropolitan Hotel in Daytona, FL”. This may help you gain a little advantage with the keyword “Hotel in Daytona”.
Like with all site content, be authentic and write it for humans. Don’t fall into the trap of keywords stuffing your alt tags or image names, don’t over engineer the content or try to be too clever. Make sure it reads naturally but do take advantage of the ability to add a couple more relevant keywords into your site content. Most importantly, despite the fact that they are seldom seen, don’t ignore your alt tags. When used appropriately, they can have a positive impact on your business.