Why ALT Attribute Is Still Important

Will Google recognise text within images any time soon? Not any time soon, according to Mr. Matt Cutts, software engineer and web spam fighter from Google. If we went back to the year 2003 and asked any SEO what factors they think are important for rankings they would surely list ALT as one of them, and probably pretty high on the list.

Since then we’ve gone through an anchor text roller coaster, PageRank reductions, penalties, brand recognition algorithm changes and other fun events, but in all that excitement it seems like our SEO experts have forgotten and neglected one fairly important attribute that not only helps SEO but also improves the usability of the site from both technological and accessibility point of view. It’s hard to explain why this happened, but at least now we have an answer to remind us of why we should not kick the ALT text from our top priority “to do” list.

There is still a very significant percentage of websites that do not contain appropriate or any image description content and as search engine optimisation professionals our duty is to recognise and correct these faults together with everything else we look after during on-site and content assessment. Arguably the ever increasing popularity of Firefox has been a contributing factor to the abandonment of the ALT tag due to it’s inability to show the little tool tip on ALT tags which has been replaced by the TITLE attribute. According to the famous Top Ranking Factors at SEOMoz we find that our image description tag still hangs on the 8th position among other keyword use factors but is no longer mentioned in the Top 10 Positive Factors:

Top 10 Positive Factors

  • Keyword Use in Title Tag
  • Anchor Text of Inbound Link
  • Global Link Popularity of Site
  • Age of Site
  • Link Popularity within the Site’s Internal Link Structure
  • Topical Relevance of Inbound Links to Site
  • Link Popularity of Site in Topical Community
  • Keyword Use in Body Text
  • Global Link Popularity of Linking Site
  • Topical Relationship of Linking Page

It is suprising to hear that Google is not going to take up OCR technology which has existed in its advanced form for over a decade and poses a question whether another young and vibrant search engine is going to take image text content and symbols more seriously. 

Dan Petrovic, the managing director of DEJAN, is Australia’s best-known name in the field of search engine optimisation. Dan is a web author, innovator and a highly regarded search industry event speaker.

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