How to Put Your Image ALT Tags to Work in Wordpress

Most of the time, you’ll never see your image ALT tags. But they matter.

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Back in the days of dial-up internet access, you’d often see the text of an ALT tag displayed while you waited for an image to load on a page. These days, with fast broadband connections, that’s rare. But that doesn’t mean that ALT tags have disappeared. Even if you don’t see them in normal web browsing, they matter.

ALT tags were originally adopted for accessibility reasons to make it easier for screen readers. Those are web browsers that read text for visually impaired visitors to your site. Since those users obviously can’t see the image well, or at all, they need a text description to understand what the image is. Logically enough, ALT stands for alternative text, and it’s that text that the screen reader reads aloud.

But Google–and presumably other search engines, as well–uses that ALT text in a related but slightly different way: to help its search algorithms better judge what is in an image and how it might related to a particular search term.

The other image tag that matters for SEO is the Title attribute. But that’s less important than the ALT tag (but the title attribute does provide the tool tip when users roll the cursor over the image).

As Matt Cutts, Google’s former anti-spam head guru, explained it, the importance of the ALT tags is that it helps describe the scene and helps narrow down what the image is about.

The example he used is that if you’re looking for an image of a cat next to a ball of yarn, just doing a search for “cat” isn’t going to the best results. But if you search for “cat next to a ball of yarn” and the image helpfully has that information in the ALT tag, it should take you right to it. It helps differentiate between a cat jumping, for example, and what you’re after–a cat sitting next to a ball of yarn.

Adding an ALT tag is very easy to do, and you should pretty much do it on all of your images. It helps your accessibility, and it can help us understand what’s going on in your image. [Matt Cutts, Google]

The ALT tag isn’t the only factor in determining whether your image or page gets found, but it is one that matters. And it’s one you have direct control over.

The Ideal Approach in Wordpress

Ideally, you should be manually typing in the ALT text for each image as you upload it. Ideally it should be individually crafted for each image to create a unique description.

The Wordpress uploader makes it easy enough to do it–there’s a field directly under the Caption field.

alt-2

You can also input the information in the Media Library.

alt-1

But in practice, I get lazy about manually inputting ALT text. As a photographer, my posts tend to have quite a few images. And going back and typing in ALT tags for all the images I’ve already uploaded isn’t high on the list of things I want to spend my time on. It’s also not entirely effective, because adding the ALT text after an image has already been embedded in a post won’t edit the ALT information that’s actually in that post. Iit will only affect the next time you embed that same image in another post (or re-embed in the same one).

There’s a Wordpress Plugin for That

So what to do? Have someone or something else take care of it. No, automated SEO isn’t ideal. But it many cases it’s better than nothing. And as with so many Wordpress problems, there’s a plugin for that.

Different plugins tackle the problem differently, from entirely automating the process to making it easier to edit the ALT fields more quickly. Here are some of the best I’ve come across.

SEO Friendly Images

The most automated way to tackle the problem is with the SEO Friendly Images plugin.

seo-friendly-images

Media Library ALT Fields

The Media Library ALT Fields plugin adds an Image Alt Text column to the Media Library screen. It makes it easier to manually add ALT text to individual images more quickly. It’s a one-trick pony, but it works well.

medial-library-alt-fields

Faster Image Insert

Among the features of Faster Image Insert is the ability to edit the info of the images you’re uploading in bulk.

faster image insert

Other Things You Can Do to Help with Image SEO

Google has said that it treats the ALT tag as the most important textual information about an image.

But it’s not the only factor that goes into their algorithm. Some of the others that you have direct control over are the Title attribute, the filename, and the textual context around the image on the page. I’ve found captions to be an especially useful tool for this, in part because people often seem read image captions even if they’re skimming the page. How much each of these matters relative to the others is all part of Google’s secret sauce. The Title field is also used for tooltips when a user rolls the cursor over an image.

Wordpress’s built-in media manager includes fields for Caption and Description. Use both if you want to, but at least in terms of SEO, neither is an important as the ALT tag. You can find information on the purpose of each of Wordpress’s media fields is here.

What Not to Do

Google’s entire search empire is founded on giving users the best results for what they’re looking for. It protects that reputation fiercely, which is why it invests so much time and energy into anti-spam efforts.

If you’re jamming 20 or 30 keywords into your ALT tags, Google doesn’t like that. Keyword stuffing is frowned upon no matter where it’s done. 125 characters is the recommended maximum length for the ALT attribute, but 4 to 7 words seems to be widely regarded as the sweet spot.

by David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

59 thoughts on “How to Put Your Image ALT Tags to Work in Wordpress”

  1. Check Out This plugin
    The Alt Manager plugin is a simple plugin that changes images Alt and Title attributes text on your (Pages – Posts) separately to your website name or (post or page) title.This Plugin bulk changes images Alt and Title attributes immediately you don’t need to change image info on media library.

    https://wordpress.org/plugins/alt-manager/

    Reply
  2. Hi David,

    I just came upon your post today. I am contacting you in desperation… I just added alt text to over 100s of images (maybe even more…) and i realized that it wasn’t getting changed in the source code. When i started googling, i realized that i will need to reinsert all my images in order to have saved the alt text that i added on.

    Do you know of anything that I can do to automatically reinsert all my images into wordpress? This will save me days of time.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • My understanding is that Media Library Assistant might be able to do that, but I haven’t tried that feature. You can find more information from the developer here.

      Reply
  3. Very well article and the explanation is awesome. Its nice information for WordPress users. It was extremely helpful!

    Thanks,

    Reply
  4. Media Library Alt Fields. This is genius. Thanks! I never would have even thought to look for something so simple.

    Love your photography, too, by the way. The SEO tips are an icing ;)
    I have checked a few photography websites (local competition, basically), manually and using tools (like , but there are tons of these and easily found through search), and so many don’t seem to really bother or use the same short description for both alt text and image title. I guess you are not the only one who thinks it tedious. I wonder, though, if it’s not more damaging to include identical alt text for several images on one page. Google parses that text – won’t they interpret it as duplicate/spam? Or does it recognize that people just tend to do that with alt texts?

    Reply
  5. I’ve been using WP Smush for quite a while.
    I have put alt text on all my images.
    But I noticed the smushed images, especially other than the original size ones, don’t have alt text in them.

    I ended up having hundreds of images that don’t have alt-text in my hosting.
    Since the loaded image size is often the smushed ones, will it hurt my SEO?

    Reply
    • Is the ALT field populated in the Media Library? If it is, it should be applied to all the available sized versions when you embed them through the Media Library.

      ALT tags are a low-level SEO signal. It’s better to have them than not, but it’s not the end of the SEO world if they’re not there.

      Reply
  6. Question. Let’s say I use the same image on 3 different pages. Do I have to upload 3 of the same photo each titled different. Example you have a pic of pink frozen yogurt. You want to use it on your strawberry Froyo page so you title it and alt tag it as such. Then you want to use it on your Cotton Cndy FroYo page, can you just use that same photo from your media and change the title/alt tag there or will that now change it on your strawberry page… I’m assuming it should be ok?

    next question – can I just go through all my pages and manually edit the “alt tag” in the line of code? Or do I have to manually go into the properties of each photo and change it there?

    Reply
    • Unless you’re using one of the automated scripts that overrides the code on the page, the ALT tag works on each individual embed of the photo. So, technically, you could embed the same photo multiple times on a single page and manually edit the ALT tag for each instance so that each is different. You don’t have to do it in the Media Library–that’s mostly there for convenience. What matters is the ALT tag that’s in the page’s HTML code.

      Reply
  7. I noticed that ı have 350 images without alt text and I added manually alt text to all the images in the media library. But it doesn’t update the images on the website. I think there is no plugin to refresh the images. Do you know any plugin for this? I don’t want automatically created alt texts.

    Reply
    • It won’t update the ALT text for the images that you’ve already embedded because that would require updating the HTML code (or embed code) in the post itself. You can re-embed the images (which is tedious) or use one of the javascript approaches that rewrite the output HTML on the fly, but those won’t pull from individual ALT entries you’ve specified in the media library. I can’t think off the top of my head of a plugin that can do exactly what you’re after, mainly because rewriting the post’s code in an automated way carries risks of breaking the post’s HTML.

      Reply
  8. Hello, I manually type in my alt text into each image on Wordpress. My question is how to separate each word? Do I use spaces or hyphens? I have heard individuals advocate for both. Thank you!

    Reply
    • In ALT text, I can’t think of any reason not to use spaces. It’s more natural, and it’s ultimately designed as a user aid, after all. Using hyphens would only make it unnecessarily difficult to read. The spaces versus hyphens debate is something I’ve usually heard with URL slugs, which is different.

      Reply
  9. Thanks David for this article.
    I’m using SEO Friendly Images for a long time, but, this plugin has not been updated in over 2 years. This seem not good with any wp plugins. I’m tried to looking for new plugin to replace it. can you have any suggest to me ?

    Reply
    • No, I’m not aware off the top of my head of any others that change things when the page’s HTML is rendered. There are plenty that can populate the ALT tags when images are added to the media library or after, but that’s not much help for images that area already embedded in posts.

      I’m still using SEO Friendly Images on several sites and have never run into an issue. I’d be more comfortable if it had been updated more recently, but for now it’s not causing me any issues and working as advertised.

      Reply
  10. Hi there David
    I have a wordpress site and all my images used in my blog posts are 100%. The issue I am having is that the balance of my pictures are not visible to Google, They appear on the site, but when i right click on the image, no image options come up. I looked though the page source and the image is there, No alt text is showing in the code. I also use Yoast and it says that there are no images on my home page and yet there are.

    Please help :-)

    Reply
    • I’m not sure I correctly understand what you mean, but are you saying that they’re not being indexed by Google? Right-clicking doesn’t really have a bearing on that. And when you say Yoast says there are no images on your home page, are you referring to the sitemap? Depending on how your home page is configured–as an archive, etc–the images might not be in the sitemap on the homepage but for the individual posts. KeyCDN has put together a very useful guide on having Google index your images that might help.

      Reply
  11. I am not having the title tag filled dynamically on the attachment page of my wordpress image attachment page. The title, description, and keyword meta date is blank for some reason. This seems to only be on the attachment pages. Is there any way to easily fix this?

    Reply
  12. I am using these three Plugins [SEO by Yoast, WP Smush.it, SEO Friendly Images] for my Blog and i think it does not work for my blog. It is very harder to rank own customize Photos. Is there any another option to Rank the Images quickly ? Please Help !

    Reply
    • There are all sorts of things that can affect ranking of images, and it’s hard to know what factors have how much effect. There’s no single secret magic trick–a bunch of things work together. But it sounds like you’re off to a great start. SEO by Yoast will handle adding them to the sitemap and giving the Google indexing a helping hand. SEO Friendly Images will handle ALT and Title tags. And WP Smush.it will keep the filesizes small. Some other things to consider that might help to great or lesser degrees:
      – use keywords in the filename of the image file. For instance, “eiffel-tower-photo.jpg” rather than “2016102650373.jpg”.
      – Make sure the images are actually used in posts and not just sitting in the Media Library
      – If you’re using a CDN, you might have to tell Yoast SEO to list the images as being at the CDN subdomain rather than the root domain. There’s more on that, along with a code template, towards the bottom of this page.
      – Add relevant captions when appropriate (when embedding in posts)
      – Make sure your robots.txt isn’t blocking indexing.

      Yoast has more ideas here. And KeyCDN has a very useful collection here.

      I’ve also found that it takes a lot longer for Google to index images than web pages, so sometimes it just takes time.

      Reply
    • If you have an image rich website, try posting them on instagram, pinterest, and to facebook galleries. These social platforms all allow for backlinks to your site and also help you rank your images more quickly in google through other 3rd party sites.

      Reply
  13. hi
    i use custom field for inserting image into my posts with title of post as its alt & title
    but my visitors from google image is almost 0
    is it because of using custom field for inserting images?
    is there any better way?
    i really appreciate if you can check my website about this problem:
    thanks in advance

    Reply
    • The first thing to check is whether Google is indexing them, and it looks to me like they are. If your sitemaps don’t include images already, something like Yoast SEO will include them. It appears that ALT tags are being generated correctly, although they seem to be in English renderings rather than Persian. I’m afraid I’m not sure how that mix affects traffic, but it appears to be a search traffic issue rather than a technical ALT tag / indexing issue.

      Reply
      • Thanks alot for your check
        i’ve redirected images to their posts by yoast; so i’m not sure including images in sitemap is useful or not!
        what’s your advice?
        thanks again

        Reply
        • Yes, I do the same thing. But if you’re already using Yoast SEO, the images are already included by default, so you should be all set. So far as I can tell, the issue isn’t that the images aren’t being indexed.

        • actually i have changed the yoast settings, i mean i have excluded attachments from sitemap because of that redirect?
          whats your advice? should i reinclude them?

        • Well, the images are evidently being indexed. Strictly speaking you don’t need an XML sitemap to get indexed–but it can help with speed of indexing and thoroughness. But your initial question about why you’re not getting traffic from image searches doesn’t appear to be a problem of your images not being indexed, whether that’s from the ALT tags or something else. It might be something to do with mixing Persian and English or jut a lack of search volume to begin with (ie. how many people are searching for the words that refer to your images), or something else entirely.

    • Simplest is to use the SEO Friendly Images plugin because that will add ALT tags when the page is displayed, regardless of where the original images are. The downside is that you don’t really have any control to customize the tag for each image. For maximum control, you can go in to the page’s HTML code in the Wordpress editor and add the ALT tag for each instance of an embedded image. But that’s going to get tedious if you have a lot of them.

      Reply
  14. Thanks for the answers to a simple but complex lack of understanding. H2 and Alt picture Data! I’ve finished building my site, with allot of pictures, so the obvious solution is, add the ALT language to all my pictures, and use one of the plug-in you suggested again thanks.

    Reply
  15. Very Informative and nice information. It is not easy for newbies to get what they want on google these days, there are huge number of sites giving almost no information these days. IT feels great when you come across such a useful chunk of information.

    Thanks a lot!
    Pankaj Sharma

    Reply
  16. Interesting post, thanks for the info. We are doing some pre-launch SEO for our site, currently updating alt text and other image metas. Originally images in published posts were uploaded without any alt text (hence the current effort!). Updating the alt text in media library Isn’t reflected in the published post images. The only way I’ve found is to delete/reinsert each image, which is a bind. Anyway to force the post to reload image metas from the media library.

    Thanks for any help.

    Christopher

    Reply
    • I assume you mean the images that were already embedded in published posts? The problem is that when you embed an image in a post it includes the ALT tag as part of the HTML embed code. So it’s static HTML code and not pulled dynamically from the database when the post is displayed. I don’t know of any easy way to go through each HTML embed code and refresh it from the database. An option is to insert something that overrides the embedded code when the post is displayed. The SEO Friendly Images plugin can do that, or if you’re inclined to do something similar without a plugin, here’s an option that can be customized and put into your functions.php. The downside of these is that they’re still not pulling the information from the media library but rather from tokens like post title.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply. Yes, the posts are already published, and read somewhere else that it might be hard coded after publishing. I did try changing the post back to draft then re-publishing, but didn’t help. Frustrating as it is, I can understand the logic behind the implementation. You might want to use the same image in more than one post and change the alt text depending on the context of the post. I’ll take a look at your suggestions.

        Thanks

        Christopher

        Reply
        • It is of course possible to edit the HTML embed code on a case-by-case basis. It’s static, but its editable in the HTML editor view. It’s tedious if you’ve got a lot of tags to update, but it does give you very fine-grained, manual control.

  17. Hello David
    Thanks for this helpful and informative post.
    All of this plugins seemed to be aimed at editing the image alt tags prior to or at the point of upload/publication.
    However what is the best approach when someone else has uploaded/published all your images with bad/irrelevant alt. tags.? Delete them all and upload again?
    Its a pretty simple question but I’ve been searching for hours and cant find an answer…

    Thanks

    Vincent

    Reply
    • The SEO Friendly Images plugin has an option to override the existing ALT tags with values generated by tokens. It’s done when the page is displayed and is designed to take care of the kind of example you describe.

      Reply
  18. I have used images on my revolution slider and created the sliders already. If I go back to the media library and add the alt and the description, will it register it on the images already inserted onto a revolution slider? Or will I need to readd the photos to each revolution slider? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Sorry, but I haven’t used Revolution Slider and don’t know whether it pulls the images in dynamically or precompiles them. My guess is that it pulls them in dynamically, in which case the new ALT tags should be applied. But I haven’t confirmed that.

      Reply
  19. Hello,
    Thank you for sharing this plugin.
    I developed a plugin for my own use, but I just publish it on wordpress.
    My plugin “Bulk SEO Image” is useful to update all ALT attributes of your images in one clic (for example, with the post title)
    Compared to other plugin, the plugin changes the ALT attribut in one time, and is not called when a page is loading

    I expect a lot of updates in the future, and I welcome any feedback!

    Reply
  20. Hi I have a doubt.

    My Question is can a simple image can have two different alt tags & title tags on wordpress sites. Some of my images repeating in many pages, but I can’t give them a unique alt text, title tag by default since they are not calling dynamically on these website pages, so I have added alt texts manually. So many of the images have duplicate alt taga and titles. Do this cause a problem?

    Reply
    • Sort of. You can’t have more than one ALT entry per image in the Wordpress Media Library. But if you’re using a plugin like SEO Friendly Images you can use tokens that are based on information from the specific page it’s displayed on. So you could use something like %title to insert the post title into the ALT tags for an image on that specific post. If the same image is used on a different post, its ALT tags on that page will reflect that post’s title.

      As to whether duplicate ALT tags cause a problem, it’s not clear because that’s part of Google’s (or Bing’s) secret algorithm. It’s not ideal, but whether there’s a penalty or if they’re simply ignored isn’t clear. But since ALT tags are pretty low on the list of things that contribute to SEO (if they do at all), the very low probability that duplicate ALT tags might actually be penalized isn’t something I worry much about. And, again, you can use tokens to make each ALT tag unique. The filename token is be a good candidate when combined with another token.

      Reply
    • If you uncheck “Override default image alt tag” in the plugin’s settings, it will leave intact any ALT fields that are already filled but fill in any that are empty. That should do what you’re after.

      Reply
  21. Thanks for such a useful post on available wordpress alt-tag plugins for greater efficiency & optimal SEO guidelines for images! Great info!!!

    Reply

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