Exploring the Role of Alt Text in Google Image Search Ranking

3 min read

Let’s explore whether alt tags impact your organic search rankings. Here’s the essential information you should be aware of.

Alt text serves the purpose of assisting computers in interpreting images.
However, is there a correlation between alt tags and enhanced organic search rankings?
Continue reading to discover if there exists any relationship between alt text and the elevation of rankings in Google Image Search results.


The Assertion: Alt Text as a Ranking Determinant


What exactly is alt text?
Alt text is an HTML image attribute that enables the creation of an alternative text version for an image in case it cannot be loaded or faces accessibility issues. Due to its significance in the realm of Google Image Search, it is regarded as a ranking factor.

Alt Text’s Role as a Ranking Indicator: The Supporting Evidence

Google underscores the significant role of alt text in ensuring the discoverability of your images through Google Image Search.
You’ll find a dedicated page on best practices for images within Google Search Central’s Advanced SEO documentation. In a section titled “about alt text,” Google delves into the purpose of alt text.
“Google uses alt text with computer vision algorithms and the page’s content to comprehend the image’s subject matter. Additionally, alt text in images is an anchor if you use an image as a link.” While Google does not explicitly state that alt text enhances your rankings, it cautions website owners that improper usage can have adverse effects.
“When crafting alt text, concentrate on generating valuable, information-rich content that incorporates keywords appropriately and aligns with the page’s context.
Avoid stuffing alt attributes with keywords, known as keyword stuffing, resulting in a negative user experience and may lead to your site getting flagged spam.”
Furthermore, Google provides illustrative examples of effective and ineffective alt text usage.

Google Sites Help documentation highlights that images can sometimes come with pre-existing alt text, which may include keywords not aligned with your optimization goals. Reviewing and ensuring that the alt text aligns with your intentions is advisable.
For instance, when downloading stock photos, a textual description of the image is often embedded within the file. When these images are uploaded to a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, adjustments may be necessary to transfer or modify these text descriptions to eliminate extraneous keywords. In Google Search Central’s “Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide” it provides the following guidance regarding alt tags when using images as links:

“…when you employ an image as a hyperlink, the alt text assigned to that image holds a comparable significance to the anchor text found in a text-based link. Nevertheless, it’s advisable to exercise restraint in using too many image-based links in your website’s navigation when text links can fulfill the same purpose.”
In 2020, during a Google Webmaster Office Hours session, John Mueller, a Google Search Advocate, provided insights into how Google utilizes alt text:
“For Search, the alt attribute enhances our understanding of the images themselves, particularly for Image Search. If you are not particularly concerned with Image Search, then from a Search perspective, the significance of alt text may not be paramount.
However, if you desire these images to appear in Image Search—there are instances where showcasing decorative quotes in Image Search can be relevant—then employing the alt attribute effectively signals that this information is contained within the image. Consequently, we can gather additional context from your page to aid in ranking that specific landing page.”

Moz provides insights into alt text’s role in SEO. Instead of asserting that alt text itself is a direct ranking factor, Moz suggests:
“…alt text provides an additional opportunity to incorporate your target keyword. Given that on-page keyword usage continues to hold significance as a search engine ranking consideration, it is prudent to craft alt text that describes the image and, if feasible, includes a targeted keyword or keyword phrase.”
In 2021, during a Twitter discourse regarding the SEO benefits of ALT text, Martin Splitt, a Google Developer, affirmed:
“Yes, alt text is indeed important for SEO!”
Subsequently, in the same year, Mueller emphasized that, while valuable, alt text is not a panacea during a discussion centered on optimizing for indexing purposes.


The Role of Alt Text as a Ranking Factor: Our Conclusion


Alt text unquestionably influences rankings, but exclusively in the context of image search. It’s imperative to construct descriptive and non-spammy alt text to enhance the visibility of your images in Google Image Search results. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that alt text does not serve as a ranking factor within Google Search itself. Google has explicitly stated that alt text is akin to standard page text within the broader search landscape. While it holds value as an accessibility tool, it should not be regarded as an independent ranking determinant for your page content.
Even with this, the importance of alt text is still maintained. It remains a valuable accessibility feature, particularly for individuals reliant on screen readers. When composing alt text, consider what information you’d like to convey to someone unable to see the image.

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Shilpi Mathur
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