How Image Meta Data Helps SEO and Your Visitors

It’s probably safe to say that when most people upload images to their station website, they neglect to add additional meta-information they should.  We’re talking about the ALT TAG, DESCRIPTION TAG, and the CAPTION.  If you have a WordPress site, you’ll see these fields appear on the right of your newly uploaded image.  Other platforms will have this also.  Most of the time these three meta fields will NOT appear on the frontend of your website, but if you DO add them, it can help your website grow and help a special segment of your visitors.

Title Tag

In this episode, I failed to mention the title tag.  The title is the only attachment detail required by WordPress. This defaults to the name of the file but should always be changed to a descriptive title of the image. It’s important to always change this because you can also use the title to search for images within your media archive.

ALT Tag

There are several reasons why you must have alt tags on all your images.  If a user is using a browser or computer that for some reason cannot render the image in question, they will still be able to see the tag instead of completely blank space. At least it gives them an idea of what’s meant to be there. Alt tags also help search engines when they crawl your site. A search engine robot cannot see images. But they can see and read the tags that accompany them. Use keywords in your image alt tags and get a bit more keyword influence for your post.  If I had just one search engine optimization tip to give, it would be to add alt tags to every image.  As everything has been becoming more visual, search engines are putting more value on these tags than other copies in your post or page. Alt tags also help search engines categorize images in their image search, which can help your pages and posts to show up in more results.

To get the most bang for your buck (so to speak) when creating alt tags, there are a few rules you can follow:

– Keep the tag short and relevant.
– Describe the image as clearly as possible.
– Make sure that you include a keyword. Remember that search engines do scan image alt tags, and they will count towards your overall site ranking.

If you can’t figure out what the alt tag should say, then you should question the use of that image at all. Images on websites should always serve a purpose, and if yours don’t, they shouldn’t be there.

Image Descriptions

An image description tag gives more details than alt text and allows someone to learn more about what is in an image. ALT text gives the user the most important information while image descriptions provide further detail. For example, ALT text may read “tall stack of pancakes”, and the image description tells someone “tall stack of pancakes on a plate covered in blueberry syrup, blueberries, and whipped cream”.

The description field can hold as much information as you want. It doesn’t have to be short.  It can be like the ALT text, but longer and can contain keywords, or even metadata from your camera on how you took the photo, copyright, etc. You can even add links in the description field.

At this point, Google and other search engines do NOT rank your images or posts higher based on the description tag.  However, if you do an image search within Google and click on an image, a pane appears to the side with the ALT text and the name of the image file.  If you have a description tag included, all that information will appear as well.  Good copywriting can convince people to click on your page rather than your competitor’s, even though they may be ranked one or two spots higher than you are.

Image Captions

The caption field is easy to understand.  Unlike the ALT text or description, the caption does not have to closely mirror what the image shows.

Some people use image captions for describing the image.  Think of a condensed one-sentence version of the image description.  You’ve probably seen this in print newspapers and magazines that list the names of the people in an image left to right.

Other people use the caption field to display the image copyright information and that’s what I suggest you do on your radio station website.  No matter where you get your images from, they should have the name of the image copyright holder.  If someone on your team took the image, place their name or the station’s name here.  If you purchased the image from an online service, paste in the service name. (i.e., iStock photo, Getty Images, etc.)  This can protect you down the road.  If there ever is any claim to the image, you’ll know who the image belongs to.

Benefiting your Visitors

So, in explaining these three image meta fields, I’ve shown how adding ALT tags, descriptions and captions can benefit your website.  How does it help your visitors?  People with vision impairments such as low vision and blindness may use screen readers to access the internet, or just have trouble distinguishing images. Screen readers will read the alt text out loud, as well as image descriptions, depending on what settings the user has enabled. Alt text and image descriptions can provide essential information such as text, links, and image details.

The relevant parts of an image aren’t limited to the cold hard facts. Images can make you feel a particular way, and that’s something that should be made available to a screen reader user.  Is there humor or sadness being expressed in the image?  Be sure to include that as well.  Instead of “Photo of Melissa” you should make the addition “Silly Melissa wearing red sunglasses and pink shirt while making a funny face and holding her ears out.”  Or, instead of “brown dog” as the alt text choose “Furry brown dog in a shelter cage with a sad face.”  See how these extended descriptions can invoke emotion?

I see a day when these meta fields will be required to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).  It would benefit you to read up on these if you haven’t.

Having image meta for the visually impaired is especially important if you are selling something on your website.  If you don’t offer these tags, you can be tagged for alienating a segment of the population and that can become a legal issue.

For the rest of us who don’t sell anything on your websites, all of this is still very important.  People with visual disabilities need to be able to access your website just as easily.

How will they find your ‘Listen Live’ button if that button or image doesn’t have the proper ‘Click to Listen Live’ text for their screen reading software?” 

Wrap up: Most people adding content to their websites neglect the ALT Tag, description tag, and caption.  Hopefully, this episode will motivate you to populate these fields moving forward.

Have a question or show idea?  We’d love to hear about it. Reach out to us at skyrocketradio.com.

Jim Sherwood serves as chief creative, brand strategist, lead developer, meticulous project manager, and station collaborator for all Skyrocket Radio sites and projects.