Image Alt tag vs. Image Title tag: What’s the Difference and Why they Matter in SEO

I often get asked by colleagues and clients “What’s the difference between image alt text and image title? And are they important for SEO?”.

Last week, when I wrote about the role of the image ALT tag in Search Engine Optimization, I mentioned that not using alt text on images is one of the most common SEO mistakes.

Part of the problem is that misunderstanding of the main image attributes. Most people either don’t  see any difference between image alt and title tags, or underestimate them and leave them blank.

In this article, I’ll explain what is the difference between these two image attributes and why it’s important to use them both on your website.

What is Image Alt Tag  ?

Let’s start with a quick revision of the defining of the Image Alt tag.

<Alt> is an image-specific attribute, which is added to the HTML tag of an image (or the <IMG> tag).
It’s role is to provide alternative information for the image to user agents that cannot read and display images.

According to the official definition:

the image alt text specifies an alternate text for user agents that cannot display images.W3C

This means that the alt tag is visible and read from user agents (including search engine bots), from website visitors who have disabled images on their browsers and from screen readers.

What is Image Title Tag  ?

While the ALT is an image specific tag and can only be used for image elements, the TITLE attribute can be applied to just any structural  HTML elements, including to an image.

By definition:

the title attribute offers advisory information about the element for which it is set.W3C

Therefore, the Image title tags is used to name the images that you publish on your website.

It represents a source of additional information for the image and it’s primarily meant for the visitors.

NOTE:  In fact <Alt> is an attribute to the <IMG> tag, but many webmaster and SEOs refers to is as “Alt tag”, even if it’s technically incorrect. The same stands for the <Title> attribute to the <IMG> tag, which is mistakenly called “Image Title tag”. In my article I also refer to these as “Alt tag” and “Image Title tag”, but in fact they are both attributes to the <IMG> tag.

Are Alt Tag and Image Title tag important for SEO ?

In 2007, Google officially confirmed that they mainly focus on the alt tag when trying to understand what an image is about.

In this video Matt Cutts clearly says that the alt text is “very useful for Google” and it helps the search engine to collect more information about your web page’s main topic and keywords.

In the same video, Matt mentions the possibility to use additional tags (such as title) in images, but he adds that the alt tag is “enough to help Google know what’s going on in an image”.

However, this doesn’t mean that the image title attribute is useless. It gives you an additional opportunity to place your targeted keywords on the webpage.
And even if search engine algorithms read the text in <title> attributes as regular page content (something we’re not sure of), the title tag can be used to provide supplementary information about the image.

How to use both ALT and TITLE Attributes In Image Tags?

And now, when you know why the alt tag is important for SEO and that the title tag is source for complementary information for the image, let’s see how to write SEO-friendly image title and alt text.

Tips on writing SEO friendly image alt text :

  • Use the right keywords: The alt text should describe what the image is about and should include the main keyword phrase of the page. If your targeted keyword doesn’t really match the picture, you may consider to use another image, which is more adapted to the main topic (and keyword phrase) of the web page.
  • Don’t make it too long: I suggest to limit it to 10 – 15 words, because if the alt text  is too long, it won’t look good to users who have disabled images.
  • Pick your style: You also have the choice between writing an entire sentence or just a descriptive, keyword-rich text.

Tips on writing optimized image Title tags

When you create image titles, you just need to follow the rules of the regular titles:

  • It should be relevant, short, and catchy.
  • Don’t make it too long: In FireFox and Opera image title tags pop up when you hover over an image: obviously a very long title tag won’t appear good to the visitor.
  • Include CAT – the image title text can also be written as a call to action to incite the reader to act.

It is completely normal (even recommended) to use the same keywords in both image title and alt text.

However, there are few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t use the same text in the image alt tag and title – Include your main keywords phrase in both, but change the text.
  • Avoid keyword stuffing – even if they’re not exactly a part of the page content, keyword stuffing in alt text and title is not well regarded by search engines.
  • Don’t make them too long
  • Write meaningful, enticing and relevant alt tags and image title – Your  visitor should always comes first. Even if image alt tags may seem more important for search engines, they should be well-written and encourage your visitors to display the image.

Used in this way, the image <alt> and <title> attributes will boost both your online visibility and site’s accessibility. Search engine spiders will have more information about your page’s main topic and keywords. Visitors with disabled images will enjoy better user experience.

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