Alt Text and Meta Descriptions: What Do They Really Do for Your SEO?

If you’ve ever tried publishing a piece of online content, particularly on a platform like WordPress, you might have been overwhelmed at one point by the smorgasbord of post options that await you once you’ve put in the main content body. Meta description, alt text, and more: what do they mean? And are these small little text inputs really going to make a difference in your SEO?

On average, there are over 40,000 Google searches every second (3.5 billion per day), with millions of blog posts being published each day. With such a high volume of searches and new competition, taking the time to perfect the little things can make a difference in your search engine performance.

Alt Text

First, it’s important to specify the difference between “alt text” and “title text”. These are both image attributes. The “alt text” is, as its name implies, the alternate text attribute of the image tag. This alt tag is an HTML attribute that gets attached to image tags in order to provide a text alternative to images for search engines. The “title text”, on the other hand, is just a text attribute that provides more information about an image. Unlike alt text, this is not a ranking factor.

Search engines and other machines have not yet reached the point where they can interpret images, so having these textual alt tags will help search engines to better process your web page.

Alt tags aren’t one of the most significant ranking factors, but they are still important. If you have a webpage that’s much heavier on images than text, you should definitely make it a priority to have your alt tags in place.

On May 5, 1999, W3C published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, in order to explain to marketers how content could be more accessible for disabled internet users. Part of this included alt attributes, which were created for web users who have screen readers. They will also play a part in Google Image Search. With the recent push to ensure that all websites are ADA-compliant, alt tags are more important that ever.

Ultimately, alt texts are in place to serve the same function on the page as the image, for those who can’t see the image. When creating your alt tags, don’t think that you need to describe the image or give your readers an idea of what it is visually; instead, you need to ensure that your alt text conveys the same meaning as the image. If you can put your keyword in the alt tag, that’s wonderful, but make sure that the language is natural.

Meta Descriptions

You’ve made a Google search before, right? Then you know what a meta description is. Meta descriptions are the HTML summaries of your web page that appear in your code as well as on a search engine results page (SERP) right after the clickable length. They’re the short sentences (or paragraphs) that give you more information about what’s on the page.

Meta descriptions have been the subject of many debates over the years. Marketers tend to take one of three stances:

  1. Meta descriptions are just a nice little bonus; they do not have any function in SEO;
  2. Meta descriptions are very important, in fact they are ranking factors;
  3. Meta descriptions aren’t necessarily ranking factors, but they make your page look good on a SERP and help improve clickthroughs.

It is true that meta descriptions are not one of Google’s ranking factors. Their mere presence will not do anything to boost your search engine performance. However, by giving web users a closer look at what they can find on your site, you can better target users (remember, today’s algorithm seeks to give users the results that match their search intent) and improve your clickthrough rate.

If you’re looking for more information on how to write the ideal meta description, take a look at our guide!

The Takeaway

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you don’t need to worry about the small things when it comes to SEO. Meta descriptions and alt tags may not be as important of ranking factors as page speed, mobile-friendliness, or links, but they can still make a difference in your clickthrough rate and user experience.

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