Boost Your Search Engine
Rank With ALT Tags

One simple technique can improve your search engine rank, make site navigation easier, and increase the accessibility of your site to disabled visitors. Yet, as many as 78% of sites don't use it! Boost your site's profile with human visitors and search engine spiders with the ALT tag.

Inserting ALT Text

Adding ALT descriptions to your IMG tags is quick and easy. You don't have to do any complex HTML coding. If you can describe your image or link, then you can add ALT tags to your code.

We've used some examples from the National Zoo's Web site:

<img src="thumbnails/fneg2000-12441a.jpg" 
  width="100" height="78" ALT="The National 
  Zoo's new Panda Habitat, where giant panda 
  Mai Xiang enjoyed her first meal">

You can also include an ALT tag when your image is a link:

<a href="
<img src="thumbnails/fneg2000-12441a.jpg" 
width="100" height="78" ALT="See the National 
Zoo's new Panda Habitat, where giant panda 
Mai Xiang enjoyed her first meal"></a>

Ideally, your ALT text descriptions should be complete sentences, rather than a list of keywords or obscure phrase like "company logo small 2." Remember that all visitors are likely to see (or hear) some version of your ALT text so be sure that it's meaningful.

Optimize ALT For Search Engines

Besides helping human visitors, ALT descriptions help you rank higher in some search engines. AltaVista and Google are two of the search engines that use ALT descriptive text when they rank Web sites. The growth of search engine/directory partnerships means that a high rank in one engine can often translate into an improved rank on its partner sites.

Search engine algorithms calculate the number of times keywords are repeated and give higher rank to pages that use them often. Keywords in the ALT descriptive text help you increase their frequency on the page. Search engines assume the terms are more relevant and important if they're used in the page content, not just listed in the META tag.

For instance, the descriptive text in the National Zoo example code uses keywords and keyword phrases from the META keyword tag: National Zoo, panda, Mai Xiang, and giant panda. Since these are relevant to the site's content, they're easy to include as descriptive text.

If you're having problems choosing relevant, targeted keywords, refer to this article, How To Pick Your Keywords. It provides helpful tips about selecting keywords and using them to improve your search engine ranking.

Make Your Web Site Sticky

ALT tags help you promote your site in another way too: they help make it "sticky." Sticky means that visitors stay at your site longer so they see your content and purchase your products. Visitors who feel comfortable at a site will stay longer - and hopefully return often.

Disabled visitors who use text-only or spoken word browsers rely on the ALT text for clues about the image's content and function. This can be a lucrative audience: they represent a worldwide audience of 750 million and spend twice as much time online as the average user. But it isn't just a disability issue: ALT tags make your site more accessible to everyone.

Visitors see your ALT text while the images are downloading or when they mouse over images. The descriptive text helps them decide if they want to wait for an image to download or move on to a different page. If your image is also a link, then visitors can read the explanatory text and quickly jump to the section they want.

Site navigation is easier, so impatient visitors are less likely to leave the site.

Don't Follow The Crowd

Online retailers devote a lot of time and expense to developing their sites. Surprisingly, most ignore a technique that makes it easier for customers to find and navigate through their sites!

The April 2001 Web Usability Index survey found that the majority of sites surveyed in 4 major categories had missing ALT tags.

Category % With Missing
ALT Tags
Ecommerce 78%
Portals 76%
Corporate 61%
Identity 57%

ALT tags are a small addition to your HTML code that can make a big impact on your site. Since many of your competitors don't use them, give your site and edge and include them on all images.

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