SEO Tip: 5 Things to Know When Writing Photo Alt Text

Using your images to boost your Search Rankings

Alternate text (alt text) is that HTML tag behind your photos that helps a robot like Google look at an image and enjoy its beauty. I’ll assume you already know the basics like why they are so great and how to update them. This post focuses on what to say in the darn things, which is the difference in being on the Google VIP guest list or getting bounced at the door.

How should You Write Photo Alt Text?

1. Describe the photo

Sounds like a no-brainer right? Almost every photographer fails by trying to out think the search engine. The truth is that Google can spot tom-foolery a mile away. It prefers natural sounding text that a human would write and will give your content more credit when it is written this way. Take for example these 3 alternate texts for photos on my website:

  • Bride walks down the aisle at her beautiful destination wedding with Pacific Ocean in the background
  • Candid groomsmen pose for a photo as they wait by the Ritz Carlton hotel pool for the groom
  • Lights twinkle at the evening reception for the Prez-King wedding in Los Angeles

The bold texts are keywords that I might rank for, but you notice they are casually placed in with true descriptions of the images. In reading these alternate texts you can really visualize the images, and you get a true sense for the type of website I have. You probably guessed that I shoot destination weddings including the Ritz and am based in Los Angeles. All of this from just 3 images! Google (and your readers) gain so much more from this type of writing that 3 alt texts that say “LA Wedding Photographer”

2. Use sentence structure

As you saw from the examples above, images should be described as one or maybe 2 fairly brief sentences. There’s not a rule to say what is too short or too long, as long as you describe the image. I use between 5 and 25 words. Be concise. After you’ve written it have a second look and take out any words that seem to be unnecessary.

3. Think niche and not broad

Labeling an image as “LA wedding photographer” is only valuable for maybe one image on the homepage of your site. And that image is never going to rank on its own for a broad term like that. Plus it becomes really hard to make that term unique for photo number 10, 100, and 1000 on your website or blog. So make your focus to rank for the smaller phrases that are still targeted to your business, but easier to rank for.

Niche phrases are ones you would never think a new client would use to find you, but even a few searches a month will start to add up. Think names of locations where you are shooting (wedding venues, parks, cities and suburbs, etc), think of adjectives (like best, cool, awesome, photojournalist, natural light, etc), think of your subjects (people’s names, breeds of animals, types of products, etc). You get the idea. Pretty soon you will get the majority of your traffic from hundreds of different keywords on random phrases like “Best farm photos of golden retrievers in Smalltown, USA.”

4. Repetition and keyword lists are the fastest way to spam

Galleries and blogs typically have a hundred or so images all loading on the same page. As the page loads you often see the photographers who have names all of their images with the same alt tag, something like “LA wedding photographer” or close variations. That just repeats the same text in the code 100 times for Google who now thinks you are trying to spam the keywords onto the page. Bottom line – use unique tags as often as possible. You can obviously repeat a tag if you have two images of the same subject matter and that is fine, just avoid doing blanket tagging for all your photos because it’s fast, easy, or you think it will rank you better.

5. Alt Text Alone Won’t Rank You

There are many elements that go into ranking a page or an image, and alt text alone won’t get you the top rank. Take this into consideration before going back to all of your old images and adding alternate text to them. It may not be worth the effort. I’d advise focusing only on your most important ones, then watch to see if you get any extra search traffic as a result of your efforts. If so then it may be worth adding alt tags to more images. Other elements that factor into image ranking include image age (older are better), image size (larger ones are better), text surrounding the image (like captions), etc. Just want you to be aware the alts are not the holy grail for image rankings.

Zach Prez - Photography Web Marketing

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