Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beyond the Keyword Stuffing Discussion

When drafting copy for a client's site as it was in the wireframe stage* I asked what's the 'ideal' length & style for ALT image tags. Nobody seemed to have "the" answer,* so I read a few articles on the subject, many of which contradicted each other. A couple rang true, notably one by Chris Rand and another from the University of Washington 

Alt Tags and Animal Mix-ups

While both articles were written before Google released its Pandas and Penguins (but after Apple released its Lion, oh my) I suspect (ok, guess) the advice is still pretty sound. Here's what I gleaned:

  • The ALT image tag should describe the image AND what it means to site navigation (e.g., would you like to design a bookcase like this? something taller? click to use our free bookcase designer.)
  • KW stuffing is bad. Very bad. 
  • Accessibility readers generally agree the focus is on the first 125 characters (not counting spaces). For humans (who never agree) the tag should be a max of 7 words long, not more than 12 words long, 16 words of 7-8 characters each, and as long as it needs to be. Don't worry, there won't be a quiz later. There will, however, be infinite changes to the rules. 

Definitive Word on ALT Tags? 

Anybody want to offer the definitive word on the subject? Wanna guest blog about it? I'd love to hear from you! Twitter is one of the best places to reach me. 
*In case you're looking for a good exercise in frustration and general confusion, writing copy while a website is in the wireframe stage is a great place to start. Creativity is running high, the possibilities seem endless, and it's almost impossible for anyone to make a decision and stick to it for more than 10 minutes. At that point in the process, I find it's best to keep a "leftovers" document, full of good ideas bound to fall during the editing process. Later, that "leftovers" document is a gold mine, where you can dig up oodles of blog posts, fodder for landing pages, and other content that didn't quite fit on the site - at first. 

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