Alt tags are tricky, aren’t they? There’s a lot we can do as bloggers to enhance our site’s SEO practices but one of the most convoluted seems to be naming images. Helping Google find our pictures should be a key part of our blogging strategy as they can generate a ton of traffic for us.

Today we’re lucky enough to have Vijay Nathan, Co-Founder, Editor, and Chief Nosher of NoshOn.It, sharing his brilliant expertise on the topic. The guy is stellar. So, without further ado, take it away Vijay!

Alt-Tags

Hi everybody! Thanks so much to Kristy for having me here to guest post. I first met Kristy last month when we featured her Garden Gimlet and loved that in addition to her food blogging, she also shares a passion (and a business) for helping bloggers and companies improve their presence online. Today, we’re going to talk pictures!

You all know this saying, right?

A picture is worth a thousand words

Perhaps nowhere is this more true than on the web. I’m going to venture to guess that if you’re reading this post, there’s a high chance that you spend much more of your picture-viewing time on the web than in any art gallery! Especially if you’re blogging about anything related to lifestyle like beauty, fashion, design, or *cough cough* FOOD, pictures are becoming an increasingly important way to distinguish your blog from the thousands of others that are out there. And with Pinterest and Instagram (come follow us, by the way, we post lots of uber-artsy photos) becoming huge drivers of traffic and engagement, readers are often finding us first by photos and second by written content.

*GASP*

So wait, you’re telling me that what I write doesn’t matter?

Absolutely not! Quite the contrary, actually. I’m a huge believer that great content above everything else will drive great business. After all, that’s what we’ve dedicated our company to. But in certain categories, words alone may not be enough. In my world – food – I constantly have to remind myself that people have taste buds in their eyes. They feast with their eyes first so pictures are an important part of my strategy of “great content.”

But wait, there’s more! The most interesting thing about images on the web is that there’s actually much more than meets the eye (cue cheesy idiom music). While a pretty picture is what we see, what’s behind the picture – how we format, label, and describe it – determines when we see it.

You may or may not be familiar with terms like “Alt Tag,” “Image Title,” and “Image File Name,” but these are the most important attributes that we need to consider when formatting our images for our blogs.

So let’s get into it! In the rest of this post, I’m going to walk you through what each of these terms means, why they matter, and what you need to do to be an image-naming rockstar.

Why This Matters

Who cares, anyways? Why should I worry about what I name my images? I’m just trying to get a blog post up and get the kids off to school!

Google cares

As we’re all trying to build our audiences, nailing our SEO is extraordinarily important in getting our content discovered and ranked by Google. But did you know that images play a role in this too?

Google

The Google web crawler spider thingy that indexes all of our pages is pretty smart….but let’s just say he got a C in image class. With images, we have to tell Google what they are and the way we do this is through alt tags, file names, and titles. By customizing these attributes (read on to see how), we get the power to tell Google exactly what a certain image is using the terms we want, making it easier to index and rank correctly.

The second reason this matters is shareability. How many times have you tried to pin an image from a blog only to see that the Pinterest description is IMG_6047 instead of Strawberry Mascarpone Grilled Cheese Sandwich? Well, as appetizing as IMG_6047 sounds, that doesn’t cut it! Let’s help our readers out and give them a good description to start with.

Let’s go from most to least important and break this thing down piece-by-piece.

Priority #1: Alt Tags

Out of everything, the single most important thing you need to worry about with your images is the Alt Tag (Alternative Tag). Alt Tags are what the browser will display if the actual photo can’t load or if for some reason the reader has images turned off on their browser. Think of it like the hidden title behind the actual picture. So, it only makes sense that as Google crawls down your page, it looks at the Alt Tag to determine what the picture is actually about so it can index the image correctly in search results. In addition, the Alt Tag is the first place Pinterest looks for the pin description. It then looks for the Image Title Tag (#3 below) and lastly, the page title if it can’t find anything else.

If you’re using WordPress, you can edit the Alt Tag when you upload a file.

Media Uploader

If you’re using Blogger, you can edit the Image Properties using this guide. If you’re on another blogging platform, you should have similar functionality somewhere in there! It doesn’t matter where it happens, as long as it gets done.

There are 3 main things to consider when creating an awesome alt tag:

  1. Be Descriptive yet Concise: Don’t get too fancy. Tell us exactly what this image is about but don’t be wordy. For a recipe, something as simple as the recipe title (e.g. Strawberry Mascarpone Grilled Cheese Sandwich) is good enough!
  2. Use Keywords: Re-enforce the keywords used in your post title and throughout your post here as well. For example, instead of just Grilled Cheese Sandwich, use Strawberry Mascarpone Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
  3. Think About Pinterest: It’s not 100% necessary but we also like to add a reference to our blog after the recipe title so it pops up in the pin description when using the Pin It bookmark button or browser extension.

Pin It

That’s it! It’s really simple but too many people just skip over this step (or never knew about it to begin with. This one thing will go miles in helping improve your image SEO and shareability

Priority #2: File Name

In second place in terms of SEO importance comes the actual name of the image file. This is what you save the actual image file as on your computer before you upload it to your blogging platform. Most people thinks this doesn’t matter but Google (again) thinks otherwise!

Just like using keywords throughout your post is important, it’s also important to include those same reinforcing keywords in your file name as well. This will help the image get indexed and ranked on Google Image search results.

For example: strawberry-mascarpone-grilled-cheese-sandwich.jpg vs. IMG_6047.jpg. The former tells Google what words are associated with this image and post….while the latter just tells us that you’ve taken a LOT of pictures!

Pro tip: Use hyphens in the file name instead of underscores or any other characters. The web understands hyphens as you type them while other characters can get interpreted differently.

Priority #3: Image Title Tag

I’m going to spend the least amount of time on this one because every day, the Title Tag is becoming less and less important, especially with the Alt Tag taking reign. In fact, in the latest release of WordPress v3.6, it actually strips out the Title Tag even if you enter it in!

However, the purpose of the Title Tag is similar to that of the Alt Tag in that it helps the reader identify what the picture actually is. If you’ve ever hovered over a picture with your mouse and seen a little box pop up with a description, that’s coming from the Title Tag.

You can edit the Title Tag on WordPress (shown below) and other blogging platforms in the same place where you edit the Alt Tag. More often than not, we just create the Alt Tag then copy/paste it over into the Title Tag field.

Image Title Uploader

We would still recommend that you edit this just in case, but since it has no real impact on SEO (or anything for that matter), don’t worry too much about it

That’s All, Folks!

Neil Patrick Harris

And with that, I’m signing off! I hope this post has opened your eyes (pun fully intended) to the world of images and that you’ll put some of these tools to use today. Have any additional questions? Just leave them for me in the comments. Otherwise, swing by and say hello to us over on NoshOn.It. Until then, happy noshin’!

Vijay Nathan is the Co-Founder, Editor, and Chief Nosher of NoshOn.It, a daily recipe newsletter and website that helps you discover recipes you’ll crave from new food bloggers you’ll love. He is passionate about helping people realize that anyone can be a great cook with just a little bit on inspiration and education. And he’ll fight you for that last piece of bacon. Send him a high-five on Twitter!

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18 Comments on A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Alt Tags, Image Titles & File Names

  1. danielle
    February 19, 2014 at 2:35 pm (3 years ago)

    This was fabulous-thank you! Question: when saving photos using a descriptive name what do I do if I have 4 pictures for the same post? How would you name each? Ex: If I name the first one strawberry shortcake and the second pic is for the same post how would I name it? Thank you!!!!

    • kristygardner@gmail.com
      February 21, 2014 at 9:24 am (3 years ago)

      Hi Danielle!

      I tend to use the same keyword but diversify. i.e. One may be “Strawberry-Shortcake” whilst the next might be “Strawberry-Shortcake-Recipe” or “Strawberry-Shortcake-2”.

      Hope this helps!

      • danielle
        February 21, 2014 at 10:35 am (3 years ago)

        Perfect!!! Thank you!

  2. danielle
    February 21, 2014 at 12:55 pm (3 years ago)

    One more question: when i upload my pics the alt text is filled in with the file name and hyphens. r hyphens ok in the alt text? or i have to remove them? Thanks

    • kristygardner@gmail.com
      February 21, 2014 at 12:57 pm (3 years ago)

      No problem 🙂 I’d leave the hyphens in. Not only does it separate the words in the alt text so when someone pins an image it gives it the proper description, but it also lets Google know that it’s an image whereas underscores, etc… can appear spammy!

    • kristygardner@gmail.com
      February 21, 2014 at 1:06 pm (3 years ago)

      Oops! I’m so sorry Danielle! I misread what you wrote here. No – you DON’T want dashes in the alt text. Just in the description. The alt text can be just normal words. Sorry! The dash/underscore note I made in my previous message applies to descriptions though.

      ….Evidently I need more caffeine this morning.

  3. danielle
    February 21, 2014 at 1:11 pm (3 years ago)

    Ok so when I name files, use hyphens
    alt text-no hyphens
    right? Thank YOU!

  4. Audra
    April 11, 2014 at 12:26 am (3 years ago)

    Hi – great article. Much as I understand it.

    Although the image title tags are not directly used for indexing – they are part of the code / content on the page – so for that reason I would have thought they do contribute somewhat to google on a content kind of basis. Unless you are saying Google actually skips over the title attribute when reading the code?

    I tend to tell my clients to use them as a short human caption extending the sense of the alt tag like for example with alt tag “Strawberry Shortcake Recipe” – the title could be “This to die for strawberry shortcake takes only 30 mins to make prep time included – easy & delish!”

    Do you think this only provides human benefit but no seo benefit?

    • kristygardner@gmail.com
      April 11, 2014 at 3:23 pm (3 years ago)

      That’s a great recommendation Audra. I think giving more quality content for Google to crawl is always a good idea because SEO paramaters change and evolve so the more detailed, the better.

      To answer your questions, I think the human element NEEDS to be a part of our SEO strategies so whether Google actually scans them or not is irrelevant – with titles and alt text, you’re setting up your website for the best possible scenario: Web crawls by Google and other search engines can find us, and people can feel connected and share our content effectively.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Josh
    July 21, 2014 at 9:23 pm (3 years ago)

    Great article! I’m glad you mention Priority #2: File Name. This step is often forgotten but yet is soo important.

    Labeling your pictures before uploading to your site is simple. This will also have a great benefit on creating your landing pages and having a good PPC strategy http://uluad.com/ppc/ .

    Josh

    • Kristy Gardner
      July 24, 2014 at 10:01 am (3 years ago)

      Hi Josh!

      I agree – file names are one of the most overlooked aspects of image SEO and yet, so important. With WP, you can even do this once you upload. Super simple 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to say hello!

  6. Rick
    February 18, 2015 at 7:45 am (2 years ago)

    Great article. It was recommended by a fellow food blogger. My question is also about multiple images in a post. Can or should the alt text for all the images in the post be the same?

    • Kristy Gardner
      February 22, 2015 at 10:30 am (2 years ago)

      Hi Rick!

      Thank you – I appreciate that! It’s best if your alt text describes exactly what the image is. Not only will this diversify your post for Google Search, it’s good SEO.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Monica
    March 11, 2015 at 7:29 am (2 years ago)

    I know this page is a year old but I’m only just starting to tackle alt text for my blog, Pinterest at Etsy. Would you be able to help me figure out how to add or edit alt text on Tumblr? I can’t figure it out and can’t find any tutorials. thanks for a great article!

    • Kristy Gardner
      March 11, 2015 at 2:38 pm (2 years ago)

      Hey Monica! Totally still relevant and it’s good to hear from you! Sadly I can’t help you with Tumblr – I think that’s a major limit of the platform. The ability to control your SEO is not strong there. It’s really more of a social platform that markets itself as a blog. However, if you want to talk further about potentially relocating to something like WordPress where you have MUCH more control, I’d be glad to hear from you: kristy@ohksocial.com

      Happy Wednesday!

  8. Helen
    May 13, 2015 at 7:23 am (2 years ago)

    I’ve just been in a great SEO course and we covered – very briefly – the importance of renaming your picture file names….but I cannot seem to do it on my iPad air. I’ve downloaded photo manager Pro to help me but when I upload the image to my website it reverts go to the file number of the photo, which is no good fir searching purposes. Could you advise, I’m completely flummoxed! Fantastic blog by the way. Many thanks.

    • Kristy Gardner
      May 19, 2015 at 11:38 am (2 years ago)

      I wish I could help you Helen! I’m not an iPad Air expert but I do find my regular IPad doesn’t like to do a lot of the back end functionality that WordPress provides. Might be worthwhile to load them and make these changes on your desktop or laptop computer. I’m sorry I can’t help more!
      Kristy Gardner recently posted…How to Use Facebook (when you hate using Facebook)My Profile

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