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Image Alt Tags and SEO

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It is no secret that images are a large part of any internet user’s browsing experience. Pictures of products, sports games, celebrities, and so on, are important for associating onsite text content with that which the text is describing. However, many tend to overlook images in SEO practice, which can lead to a few, though not detrimental, problems:

  1. Believe it or not, the seeing impaired browse the internet, too. There are programs available to these people that will read the text straight from the browser, and having an image in a document without simple SEO considerations will diminish their experience. They will not even know the image is there.
  2. Search engines cannot read image files. While there is a filename associated with every image on the internet, chances are, these filenames do not contain a sensible title or description of the image. More than likely, image titles found online have names including a string of numbers, letters or abbreviations for what is actually represented in the image.
  3. Even image searches will not recognize images in raw form. You may have an image on your site depicting a celebrity relevant to the topic described in your content, but with no mention of the person, this will not be relevant to the image search. Many times, a simple image search can lead a person to your site when there are no other means to bring them there.
  4. Various handheld devices and older versions of web browsers cannot display images. Although rare these days, there will occasionally be users without image capabilities in their web browsing experience. When this is the case, an empty box will appear in the images place the user will be left to wonder what should be contained within.

SEO is a kind of structure, much like any great work of architecture, with a foundation, supports, design and an overall sense of flow. Build a campaign up right and the result will be a fully functional and aesthetically pleasing site. While images may serve this appeal, the structural integrity of your site gains nothing from images with no association.

There are a few ways to associate text with your image, including surrounding text which relates to the image itself, but rather than interrupt the flow of the writing to include a shameless plug for the image, the best way to make your image visible to searches is via the ALT tag.

Here is your basic image tag: <img src=”IMAGE URL”>

And here it is with the ALT tag: <img src=”IMAGE URL” alt=”NAME”>

The addition of this tag, however, should most certainly not be used to stuff keywords. This practice has long been exposed and will achieve nothing at best. Worst case scenario, your site will be penalized for Black Hat SEO practices. You should also refrain from using the ALT tag to describe the image or relay information that the image itself does not convey.

Icons used on page, as well as images used in the site’s appearance, need not use this tag. This is what is referred to as eye candy, which is onsite strictly to better the appearance. Still, some icons which serve a purpose, such as an image used as a button, will benifit from the use of the ALT tag. A good example of this would be a “submit” button, should be tagged as such.

The importance of ALT tags with images is overlooked many times, and especially now with sites like Digg, Spinn, and other popular social media sites, it is important to practice using ALT tags on your site, and anywhere you share said content.

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