If you read the post last week about the Anatomy of SEO copywriting, you probably came across the ALT tag (or attribute) in the image in the SEOmoz article. Today, we’ll talk about the ALT attribute as a part of good SEO practice.

The end of this post will get into the inner workings of HTML and possibly your favourite (or not) content management systems.

If this makes you squeamish, perhaps just read the bits about copywriting, and talk to your web developer about the rest.

What is an ALT attribute?

Do you see the broken image next to this paragraph?ALT tag copywriting example

Do you see the words written there? “ALT tag copywriting example”

Those words are ALT attribute (aka ‘alt text’ aka ‘alt tag’) for this image. The words are an ALTernate to the image and should describe what is in the image. This text is useful because:

  1. if the image doesn’t load, your readers will know what the image was all about (that’s what happened in this example, I deliberately ‘broke’ the link to the image so it wouldn’t display)
  2. some people can’t actually see what is in the image, and need it described to them; this group happens to include the little robots that search engines send out

Image ALT attributes are very important to SEO copywriting and for accessibility. In fact, SEOmoz found that the ALT attribute has a strong correlation to high search rankings.

How to write great ALT text

There are two things to consider here. The first, and perhaps most important, is to choose an image that actually has something to do with your page topic.

If you are writing a page about mending boilers, then you will hopefully be sensible and choose an image of a boiler, preferably that is being repaired. Your ALT text will be fairly straight forward: “White condensing boiler being repaired by 123Plumbing repairman” or similar. Be specific and describe what is in the image.

If your page is about a service, like will writing, then you will need to think a little more about what image you choose, and how you will describe it. More on that in a moment.

Your second consideration will be your keywords.

Be specific in your choice. Your primary keywords for that page should be your first goal.

Back to our legal example, if you chose an image showing a couple sitting in an office looking happy, then to describe the image, you will need to be creative: “Happy couple will writing with solicitor”.

How do you put words to an image?

Adding image ALT text means you either need to go into the HTML itself, or you need to go into your content management system (CMS) and find each image to attach the ALT to it. As a copywriting service, we use a CMS more often than actual hand coding, but it’s useful to know both.

Here is the HTML method:
Looking at your page source code, find your image tag and add in the ALT attribute by hand. Don’t forget to save!

<img src=”thepathtoyourimage/image.jpg” alt=”put your description words and keywords here”>

Here’s the CMS method (using WordPress in this case):
Open your page in the CMS and find your image in the editor window. Choose the ‘edit image’ icon and in the pop-up panel, put your ALT text in the ‘Edit Alternate Text’ form field.

Most CMS systems have a similar option. You will need to find your image and then you should be able to edit the ALT or ‘alternate’ text. If your CMS doesn’t have this option, then you’ll need to talk to your web developer.

Coming next in the SEO copywriter series: How to write better hyperlinks

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