How to Write Alt Tags and Image File Names

banner with words alt tags and image file names

Alt tags and image file names are easy to overlook. Many business owners get hyper-focused on web content and don’t think about images as anything more than aesthetics.

Sure, we all know that picking good visuals can lead to better conversion rates, but there’s a real temptation to pop in any photo you have the legal right to use and then to walk away.

Resist the temptation! Here’s everything you need to know about why alt tags and image file names are worth paying attention to and how to ensure you’re doing them right.

The Importance of Alt Tags and Image File Names

There are two reasons why alt tags and image file names are important.

Alt Tags Are Important for Accessibility

The first is accessibility. Courts have ruled that public websites owned by businesses must make themselves ADA-accessible. Lawyers are filing lawsuits en masse, and they’re not just going after big corporate names. They’ve gone after small bike shops, family-owned shoe stores, and more. 

Of course, lawsuits probably shouldn’t be your primary motivator for making your site more accessible. There’s the business case: 13% of Americans have a disability. Maybe you’re one of them. If so, you already know how frustrating and difficult, or even, in some cases, impossible, it can be to do business with someone who doesn’t accommodate your needs. Make it possible for the widest possible variety of people to use your site, and you’ll reap the rewards. 

Alt tags help screen readers read page content for people with visual impairments and are the bare minimum step you can take to show that you care about people who can’t easily access web content without these accommodations.

Note: alt tags and image file names alone aren’t enough to make your website compliant!  Read more from our partners at Mangrove about accessibility for the web.

Alt Tags Are Important for Search Engine Optimization

The other reason it’s important to handle alt tags and image file names correctly is all about marketing: you’re missing opportunities to work valuable keywords into your page. While images are not the place to keyword spam, they are an opportunity to use keywords wherever appropriate. 

Think about it: if you have 50 images on your site and manage to work an appropriate keyword into 39 of them, you’ve won 39 more opportunities to tell Google that your site is relevant for your target search terms. In addition, you’re capturing opportunities for Google Image Search results.

How to Write Good Alt Tags for SEO

Use the following tips to write strong alt tags.

  1. Make them as descriptive as possible. Try to describe what’s in the picture to someone who can’t see it.
  2. Eliminate unnecessary words. Tags should be 4 to 8 words long. Don’t use “A rooster perched on a fence” when you can write: “rooster perched fence.” 
  3. Use keywords, but only when they’re applicable. 
  4. When keywords are applicable, match them to the keyword goal of your page.
  5. If the location is applicable, use the location, including the city and state. 
  6. You can use your image file name if it’s descriptive enough.

How to Write Image File Names

Use the following tips to write a strong image file name.

  1. Rename the file! Don’t leave a file name like “img_16970155_M.jpg. That sort of name won’t tell an image reader or Google anything about your content.
  2. Separate each word with a short dash rather than running them all together so that Google can read each word. “RoosterPerchedFence.jpg” is convenient, but “rooster-perched-fence.jpg” or “rooster perched fence” with spaces instead of hyphens is better.
  3. Use keywords where possible. If your post is about roosters in the early morning, you can use: “Rooster-Early-Morning-Fence.jpg” to get “early morning” in there.
  4. Keep image file names shorter if you can: 5-6 words are the max. You can push it to eight if you really have to, but don’t go overboard. This is an opportunity to work in a keyword if you can, but it is not an opportunity to keyword stuff (using keywords unnecessarily to try to gain rankings, which doesn’t work).
  5. If it’s a specific rooster, you can use location data here, too: “Rooster-Fence-Bob-Houston.jpg.” In this example, of course, Bob is our hypothetical rooster. Your rooster might have a different name. 

As a bonus, naming your files this way will help you find the image again if you need or want to reuse it. You’ll be able to search for part of the file name instead of going through all of your photos.

rooster on a fence in the early morning

Image Created with MidJourney

Alt Tag and Image File Name Examples

Alt Tag and Image File Name Example #1

MSK Design Build, one of our clients, used this image on their website.

example of photo of kitchen that we wrote alt text for

Image alt tag: “Lovely Walnut Creek CA Traditional Kitchen Upgrade.”

Image file name: “Walnut-Creek-Traditional-Kitchen-Remodel-White-Cabinets-Quartz-Countertop-1600×1040.jpg” — this is a little on the long side, but not in a detrimental way.

MSK Design Build dominates the Image Search results with alt tags and file names like these. If you search for kitchen remodeling ideas or white kitchens, you’ll often find their images displayed front and center, providing new opportunities to bring traffic to the site. 

Alt Tag and Image File Name Example #2

We used this image in our blog post: My Unexpected Journey to Inspire Citizen Engagement Through Local Journalism. 

example of photo of typewriter that we wrote alt text for

Image alt tag: “typewriter with text stories matter.” 

Image file name: “typewriter-1024×627.jpg” — this image wasn’t super important to the post, so we didn’t spend time making the file name perfect. We were not trying to rank for typewriter. If it did matter, I’d have gone with “typewriter-text-stories-matter.jpg” instead. This is a good example of spending time where it matters for ranking and ROI.

Details Matter When it Comes to Alt Tags and File Names

When you’re trying to rise to the top of search results in a sea of competition, any detail you can address that gives you an edge is a detail that is worth paying attention to. 

While fixing your alt tags isn’t going to put you at the top spot by itself, it could mean the difference in your ranking.

Need Help With Your Alt Tags and Image File Names?

If this all sounds like a lot to remember and a lot of extra work, don’t worry. Handling finicky details like alt tags is part and parcel of our services to many of our clients. Reach out today.

Or, read more details on alt tags here.

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