For years, search engine optimizers have included their important keyword phrases in ALT text for images, feeling confident that many of the search engines considered the contents of ALT text when determining relevancy.
The big question is, has this changed?
Yes . . .
None of the Major Engines Considers ALT Text When Determining Relevancy
According to research by expert SEO researcher Jerry West of WebMarketingNow and Search Engine Academy, at the present time, none of the “Big Three” search engines (Google, Yahoo!, nor MSN ), considers ALT text when determining relevancy.
West explains, “Over the last six months, we have seen a trend on our testing servers that shows that using ALT text for SEO purposes has not only diminished, but adversely affects the rankings in the SERPs [when used incorrectly]. It is clear that search engines continue to catch up to 'SEO tricks' that are intended to improve search engine ranking while damaging the visitor experience. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) has strict guidelines as to what your site needs to contain in order to be ADA compliant. I guarantee you, they do not look favorably at ALT text that has been keyword stuffed.
“Have you ever witnessed a visually impaired individual use the Web? With a device which reads aloud the contents of a Web page, the impaired individual will be inundated with what I refer to as, ALT Text Spam. Sometimes the reader is stuck on one graphic for more than 40 seconds reading all of the keywords that have been stuffed.
“According to a Google engineer, what you should do is create an ALT [text] that is relevant to the picture, so it gives the user a good experience, including the visually impaired. The ALT text is indexed, but it is down graded in the algorithm. The reason?
"'We see ALT text as relevant as the Keyword Meta tag,’ said the Google engineer. That should say it all as Google has never used the Keyword Meta tag due to the high spam rate.
"How do we test? I have outlined our testing methodology below," continues West.
"Our Testing Setup:
What Does This Mean to SEOs?
Search engine optimizers no longer need to use keyword phrases in the ALT text of images on their Web pages.
However, let’s look at a smarter approach.
I’ve been recommending to my online and offline SEO students for a long time that they needed to use ALT text in the manner in which it was designed to be used by the W3C: to describe the image. Then, they can include the keyword phrase in one or two images on the page, if appropriate.
Continuing with that strategy is still viable. The major engines don’t consider the contents of ALT text now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t six months from now. Always remembering the “basics” is one of the best strategies to follow.
Other ALT Text Tips . . .
West continues, "Basically, remember to be compliant, not just with the W3C, but also with the ADA. It all comes down to intent. If your intent is to fool the search engine into giving you a higher ranking, you are performing 'grey or black hat' strategies. Stay on the right side of the path and the engines will bless you."
Remember . . . ALT text is Just One “Piece of the Pie”
Relevancy and ranking are determined by over 100 different factors. ALT text was just one piece of that pie, a sliver at that.
Don’t ever focus on just one piece of the pie. Always remember the basics – the SEO foundation – and make sure it’s solid.
If you know you’re weak in one or two areas, you know you'll have to beef up on other pieces of the SEO pie.
(For more information about Jerry West and his research, visit his Web site and consider signing up for his newsletter. It comes out every week and is backed by solid research. His research and newsletter are second to none.)
Robin Nobles is the Co-Director of Training of Search Engine Workshops, where they teach "hands on" search engine marketing workshops in locations across the globe. They also provide a networking community for SEOs called The World Resource Center for Search Engine Marketers and have expanded their workshops to Europe with Search Engine Workshops UK.
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