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Alt text is an important yet occasionally overlooked part of making a site accessible to all users.

It is a simple bit of HTML code that essentially describes an image that appears on a web page so that the user still knows what the image represents if they are visually impaired or if the picture simply doesn’t display correctly.

The alternative attribute can be input within the ‘alt text’ or ‘alt tag’ of the image element and the exact wording used depends on the context of the image as much as the content itself.

An additional benefit is that it provides a semantic description of images for search engines. This can attract additional traffic through Google Images and has a positive impact on SEO. 

To be clear, alt text is not going to suddenly help a site climb to the top of search results, instead it is one of a number on-page factors that contribute to improved SEO performance. Think of it as good housekeeping.

To help explain this in more detail, here are the basics of using alt text for images...

Keep the text short

In general a literal, concise alt tag is the best option, though it may be suitable to write a more descriptive tag if the type of image used is important to the context of the article.

For example, it may be necessary to describe what is taking place in the image, or label it as a particular photo or painting by a known artist.

However alt text that is too long or floral loses the impact of a short description and may mean that it isn’t indexed as efficiently.

Try to mention the topic of the page in alt text

Alt text is an effective way of telling Google the topic of the page and therefore giving it an extra boost in search rankings.

Therefore if a page is about Snoopy, then it will be of SEO benefit to include an image of the lovable cartoon character with alt text as ‘alt= “snoopy”’.

That said, it’s not a good idea to repeatedly use the same alt text so try to mix it up and ensure that the alt attribute is relevant to that particular image.

Which leads me to my next point...

Avoid keyword stuffing

Google’s dislike for keyword stuffing extends to alt text as well, so it is to be avoided at all costs.

You’re unlikely to score any points for describing an image of a men’s hoodie as ‘hoodie mens hoodie male hoodie mens blue hoodie’.

A simple description will suffice and will avoid any nasty Google penalties.

Be precise in alt text for products

For ecommerce, alt text should precisely describe the product within the image so that it shows up in relevant searches.

So for example alt text that read ‘womens pink converse shoes’ is more effective than ‘womens shoes’.

To give a real world example, the alt tag on this pair of Diesel shoes on the Macy’s ecommerce store is ‘alt="Diesel Long Term Gunner Sneakers"’.

And finally, test your images

If you’re unsure whether or not you have included alt text on all the images on your site, try out this handy free tool by Feed The Bot. 

Simply enter in a URL and it checks the alt text on any web page. Hey presto!

David Moth

Published 21 November, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1687 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Pete McAllister

Pete McAllister, Digital Marketing Executive at Intelligent Car Leasing

Good article David,

I would second avoiding keyword stuffing and definitely keep it concise. Although taking a more descriptive approach is my personal preference. E.g. in your snoopy example I would go for something like "sketch of snoopy" rather than just "snoopy".

One more thing to add is that the images in this article don't actually have alt tags :)


almost 3 years ago

Edward Longley

Edward Longley, Digital professional at Freelance

Nice easy to digest article.

I like the point about not keyword stuffing in the Alt Text mark, and anyone that does keyword stuff should spend time in the shoes of someone who uses Adaptive Technologies. Or be fed to sharks.

Alt text is arguably an obligation, rather than house-keeping.

almost 3 years ago



Based on your keyword research use both short and long tail phrases in your ALT tags, because as a customer moves through their research process their search phrases generally get longer. Also using title tags on links is also very important

almost 3 years ago



Alt text is an 'attribute' not a tag and if used incorrectly you can seriously damage the accessibility rating of a site.

Correct use for Alt information is accessibility first then SEO, making the two work together for mutual benefit. If you use Alt for only SEO you won't be popular among those with visual or physical impairments.

In the example of Alt="snoopy", it is also non-descriptive of the image, the image has "Snoopy and Woodstock sat together", this gives better information and better SEO too.

I also need to highlight a common mistake with imagery, the Alt text of an image with text overlay MUST contain that exact text. It's not for SEO benefit, it's part of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, the side effect is that doing this, gives you SEO benefit.

Anyone working in eCommerce should be thoroughly versed in both WCAG 2.0 AND SEO to get the real benefit.

almost 3 years ago


Glenn A

The article seems to suggest in part that an alt tag should be a caption rather than a replacement for the image's content. Meaning "snoopy" in that case would be better as "snoopy and the bird have a close relationship" or "snoopy has to explain things to the bird" -- whatever is being conveyed. It's a fine-line distinction -- sometimes captions and alt tags turn out about the same.

almost 3 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at EconsultancyStaff

Hi everyone, thanks for your comments. Just to clear something up, the description I wrote of Snoopy wasn't supposed to be the perfect alt tag for the image included above. I wrote the article first, then included a picture of Snoopy at the last minute just to bring variety to the page.

I realise now this was stupid on my part and the confusion is entirely my fault, so apologies, but just thought I'd clear that up!


almost 3 years ago


Huy Võ, Marketer at Blueway

Great simple but important tip :)

almost 3 years ago


mark saunders, content provider at DesignInk

Cool little article. I especially like the Feed the Bot link at the end. That's helpful.


over 2 years ago

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