5 min

Image Alt Text vs. Image Title: Using Alt & Title Attributes in Image Tags

Justin McKinney Head of SEO

Image optimization is often overlooked when it comes to SEO, despite the fact that Google has emphasized its importance for users and search engines alike. But some people might be confused about how exactly to optimize their image attributes for SEO, and what the differences between image alt text and titles are.

We’ll break down everything you need to make sure your images are working for you and optimize your digital marketing strategy.

What’s the Difference: Image Alt Text vs. Image Title Attributes

Image alt text is used to describe your image textually so that search engines and screen readers (software used by the visually impaired) can understand what that image is. It’s important to note that using alt text correctly can enhance your SEO strategy. On the other hand, the image title tag is simply used to provide an image with a title, but it’s less important for SEO than the alt tag. 

What does an image alt tag look like?

This is what a complete, properly optimized alt tag should look like for an image like the one shown below:

Men’s long sleeve red outdoor sweater

<img src=”red-outdoor-sweater.jpg” alt=”Men’s long sleeve red outdoor sweater” title=”Red Outdoor Sweater”/>

Now, let’s break this tag down into its three separate parts:

  1. src=“red-outdoor-sweater.jpg” is the image file (or source) that is being displayed on the page.
  2. alt=“Men’s long sleeve red outdoor sweateris the image alt text, which stands for alternate text. Its purpose is to describe the image textually so that search engines and screen readers (software used by the visually impaired) can understand what they’re viewing.
  3. title=“Red Outdoor Sweater” is the image title, which as the name implies, is the title of your image.

To summarize, your image tag (the entire HTML code snippet) should always include the following two attributes: image alt text and image title.

How do I customize the image file name?

There isn’t too much to do with your image file name, but you should keep two things in mind: First, give descriptive and informative file names for images that contain relevant keywords. File names are sometimes used for the image’s snippet in Google image search results, so it’s important they are written with the user in mind. Second, use hyphens between the words in the filename as that is a best practice.

How do I write SEO-friendly alt text for images?

An image’s alt text describes the picture for search engines and screen readers. All images should have alt text. The text doesn’t need to be particularly lengthy; a sentence or two will suffice.

Whenever possible, include one of your page’s target keywords in the alt text to improve your keyword ranking for the page. This will also help the image rank higher on an image search.

The best digital strategy will ensure that both users and the search engines find your content useful, so avoid stuffing your image with keywords. Doing so risks running afoul of Google, which will likely see the text as spam that is ruining the user experience with unhelpful terms. You can see a good example of alt text above; a bad example would be something like this:

alt=“Our red outdoor sweaters are on sale now! These red outdoor sweaters are perfect for winter. Buy a red outdoor sweater today!”

As you can see, this looks spammy and doesn’t provide any additional value for the user. Remember the primary purpose of alt text: to accurately describe the image for visually impaired users. Use that as your touchstone.

How can I optimize the image title attribute?

The image title attribute doesn’t have any impact on keyword rankings because search engines don’t crawl them, so if you had to choose between optimizing alt text vs. titles, you should choose the former every time. That said, image titles are displayed when your mouse hovers over an image in some browsers (like Firefox and Opera), so having a proper title set does enhance the user experience. You don’t need to do anything crazy here; just write a quick and easy title for the image that complements what you’ve already written for the alt text, and you can call it a day.

TL;DR: Image SEO key takeaways

In the context of the image tag, alt text is used to describe visual elements to users who can’t see them, either because the image failed to load or because they are using a screen-reader. The image title attribute is only visible on mouse-over and displays just the image title. Alt text has potential SEO benefits, but image titles do not. Make sure all of your images include alt text (with relevant keywords included), and ideally, an image title as well. 

If you’re ready for a more agile, intentional, and integrated approach to data-driven marketing, download The Challenger Framework right now.

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