Editor’s note: Mueller clarified his earlier comments in response to a reader’s question on Twitter March 26thadding that “Google sees the alt text as part of the page (you can search for it and find it in the snippet). It’s like other text on the page. However, the primary purpose is for images (it’s literally in the img tag).”
Google’s use of alt text as a ranking factor is limited to image searches. For web searches, alt text is treated as normal text on the page.
This was explained by Google search attorney John Mueller during a Google Search Central SEO office hours hangout recorded on March 18th.
Mueller answers many questions regarding alt text, which has led to a number of takeaways about its impact on SEO.
Adding alt attributes to images is recommended from an accessibility point of view, as they are useful for visitors who rely on screen readers.
From an SEO standpoint, alt text is recommended when your goal is to rank for an image in image search.
As Mueller explains, alt text does not add value to a page when it comes to ranking in a web search.
Alt text is for image searches
In the question related to the title of this article, Müller was asked if alt text should be used for decorative images.
Mueller says this is a judgment call.
From an SEO point of view, the decision to use alt text depends on whether you are interested in the images that appear in an image search.
Google doesn’t see a page as having more value in web search because it contains images with alt text.
When it comes to alt text usage in general, Mueller recommends focusing on the accessibility aspect rather than the SEO aspect.
“I guess it’s totally up to you. So I can’t speak for an accessibility standpoint, so that’s the only angle there is. But from an SEO standpoint, alt text really helps us understand image better for image search. And if you don’t care With this image to image search, you’re fine to do whatever you want with it.
That’s a thing for decorative photos, sometimes you don’t bother. For things like stock photos where you know the same photo is on a lot of other sites, you don’t bother looking up photos for the sake of it. Do whatever you want to do there. I would focus more on the accessibility side there rather than the pure SEO side.
It’s not that we say a text web page has more value because it contains images. It’s really just that we see the alt text and apply that to the image, and if someone searches for the image, we can use it to better understand the image. It does not mean that a web page in a textual web search will rank better because it has an image.
Hear Mueller’s full response in the video below. Continue reading the following sections to get more ideas about alt text.
The impact of search engine optimization on alt text
In another question about alt text, Mueller was asked if it would still be useful to use alt text when the image itself contains text.
Mueller recommends avoiding using text in images altogether, but says yes — alt text can still help in this case.
“I think ideally, if you have text and images, it makes sense to have the text directly on the page itself. Nowadays, there are a lot of ways to display text creatively via a website, so I wouldn’t necessarily try to use text in images and then use Alt text as a way to help with this. I think alt text is a great way to help with this, but it’s ideal to avoid having text in images.”
The question continues to ask if alt text would be useful when there is text on the page that describes what is in the image.
In this case, from the point of view of SEO, the text on the page will be enough for search engines.
However, it still makes sense to use alt text for people who use screen readers.
From a more general point of view, alt text is meant to be an alt or description of an image, something that’s particularly useful for people who can’t see individual images, who use things like screen readers, but also helps search engines understand what that image is about.
If you already have the same description of a product about the image, then for search engines we kind of have what we need, but for people with screen readers it might still make sense to have some kind of alt text for that specific image.”
Alt text should be descriptive
Mueller stresses the importance of using descriptive alt text.
The text should describe what is in the image to people who are unable to see it.
Avoid using generic text, such as repeating product names over and over.
In a situation like this, I would avoid a situation where you repeat the same thing over and over. So avoid using like the product title as the alt text for the image, rather describe the image a little differently. So that’s kind of a recommendation I’d like to have there.
I wouldn’t just copy and paste the same text you already have on the page as alt text for the image because that doesn’t really help search engines and people who rely on screen readers.”
Hear Mueller’s full response in the video below:
Featured image: Screenshot from YouTube.com/GoogleSearchCentral, March 2022.