Seven words of text can be worth a picture

Marjory Meechan - August 24, 2007

Everybody knows that a picture can be worth a thousand words but did you know that, on the web, seven words can be worth a picture? In a great article on A List Apart this month, Amber Simmons writes about the importance of good writing to the design of a website.

One thing that struck me was her remarks about the use of text in the alt attribute of images. Accessibility guidelines state that every visible image on your site should have text in the alt attribute. For search optimization, we recommend that the alt attribute text should include the key phrase being targeted for the page but this isn’t just about SEO. After all, the image should reflect the page theme just like the key phrase. Otherwise, why is the image on the page?

The fact that some people have tried to spam the search engines by stuffing the alt attribute of their images with key phrases does not mean that good SEO principles require that the text in the alt attribute be a bare literal featureless description of the image. Using the key phrase in the alt attribute text to give vision impaired readers and search engines a “view” of the image is not keyword stuffing.

As Amber points out, “with a mere handful of words, alt text must relate the full impact of an image to those who can’t, for whatever reason, see it.” So go ahead and take the time to make the alt attribute text just as beautiful as the image itself and don’t forget to use the key phrase so that all your visitors can “see” the image the way it was meant to be seen.

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