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Best Practices for Crafting ALT Tags

Web developer writing up ALT tags on a website

Introduction

Alt tags, also known as alternative text or alt attributes, play a crucial role in web accessibility and search engine optimization. These concise descriptions provide textual information about images on a webpage, ensuring that individuals with visual impairments can understand and navigate content while also influencing search engine rankings. To maximize the impact of ALT tags, it’s essential to adhere to specific rules for their creation.

1. Be Specific and Concise

When crafting ALT tags, prioritize specificity and brevity. Aim to describe the content of the image accurately in 7 to 12 words. If character space is limited, focus on the larger and more dominant aspects of the image, omitting secondary details. Avoid adding extraneous information and stick to the essentials.

2. Eliminate Redundant Phrases

Resist the temptation to use unnecessary phrases like “A Picture of…” or “Photo showing…” or “In this Picture…” in ALT tags. Such additions not only waste precious character space but also dilute the effectiveness of the tag. Provide a direct and unembellished description without filler words.

3. Avoid Keyword Overstuffing

Maintain a balanced use of keywords within ALT tags. Refrain from overstuffing them with repetitive terms, especially if the article focuses on a particular subject. For instance, if the content revolves around “Birds of Toronto,” limit the use of that phrase in ALT tags to 2-3 instances throughout the article—furthermore, reserve mentions of brand or website names exclusively for situations where they are directly applicable.

Do not try to play SEO games by over-repeating certain words or brand names. Not only does it not work, Google targets that page and down-votes it.

4. Exclude Technical Specifications

ALT tags are meant for conveying the content of an image to users and search engines, not for detailing technical image-related specifications. Avoid incorporating information such as image type, size, pixels, aspect ratio, or any other technical details into the ALT tag. Stick to providing a clear and relevant description of the image content.

5. Stay Within Character Limits

Ensure that ALT tags do not exceed 100 characters, as longer descriptions may be truncated, affecting both accessibility and SEO. On the flip side, avoid creating tags with fewer than 30 characters, as this might not provide sufficient information about the image.

6. Don’t repeat Exact ALT tags

In addition to the previously outlined rules for crafting ALT tags, it’s crucial to avoid the repetition of exact ALT tags across images on a webpage. Strive to create diverse and distinct ALT tags for each image while maintaining relevance and coherence. 

If two images are almost identical (or if there are two different angles of the same product in the same article), it may be difficult to create completely unique ALT tags but try to focus on different aspects of the picture in the different ALT tags.

Example: 

  1. Front View of Black iPhone 15 with Matte Finish Turned On
  2. Black iPhone 15 Angled Front View Screensaver Side Buttons

Examples of Good ALT Tags

Crafting effective ALT tags requires a keen understanding of the rules outlined above. Here are some examples that illustrate how to create good ALT tags that are specific, concise, and optimized for accessibility and SEO:

  • Good Example 1:
    • Image: A red cardinal perched on a snow-covered branch with Toronto Skyline in the Background.
    • ALT Tag: “Red cardinal on snowy branch with Toronto Skyline.”
  • Good Example 2:
    • Image: Skyline view of a flock of birds flying in Toronto near the prominent CN Tower.
    • ALT Tag: “flock of birds flying near CN Tower Toronto.”
  • Good Example 3:
    • Image: Close-up of a laptop keyboard with a woman’s fingers typing.
    • ALT Tag: “Woman Typing on a Dell blue laptop keyboard.”

These examples showcase clear and descriptive ALT tags that adhere to the specified guidelines. They provide relevant information without unnecessary details, enhancing both user experience and search engine optimization.

Examples of Bad ALT Tags

Understanding what not to do is as crucial as knowing the best practices. Here are examples of poorly crafted ALT tags that violate the rules and can negatively impact accessibility and SEO:

  • Bad Example 1:
    • Image: A picturesque landscape of mountains.
    • ALT Tag: “A picture of a beautiful mountain landscape.”
  • Why it’s bad: Contains redundant phrases and unnecessary details. There is no specificity.
  • Bad Example 2:
    • Image: Logo of “Estate Diamond Jewelry.”
    • ALT Tag: “Estate Diamond Jewelry, a leading brand of vintage engagement rings and vintage jewelry and vintage earrings and antique brooches.”
  • Why it’s bad: Mentions brand information alongside irrelevant context. Not accurate. Too long. Obvious and purposeful SEO manipulation. 
  • Bad Example 3:
    • Image: Chart displaying website traffic analytics.
    • ALT Tag: “Web traffic analytics chart with data points.”
  • Why it’s bad: Includes technical details that should not be part of the ALT tag.

Analyzing these examples of both good and bad ALT tags provides a practical understanding of how adherence to the rules can positively impact the accessibility and search engine performance of web content. By learning from these examples, content creators can ensure their ALT tags contribute effectively to the overall user experience.

Conclusion

Mastering the art of crafting effective ALT tags involves a delicate balance of specificity, brevity, and relevance. By following these rules, web developers and content creators can enhance both accessibility and SEO, creating a more inclusive and user-friendly online experience.