Get it All

Many of us have a natural aversion to using things like link TITLE tags or ALT tags for images as ways of enhancing the SEO benchmark of our websites. This is owing in large part to the fact that those attributes have so often been manipulated by the “Black Hats” among us that we presume those things will either be ignored or penalized.

But even though there is a long history of abuse, that does not mean that simply employing these attributes automatically means Google penalties. The fact is that Google has focused more and more on not only the content of a webpage, but its readability as well. The logic is that a page with readable content is more valuable than one that is a disorganized mess, but also that information which is unreadable may also be in some way hidden from the user, and therefore a classic Black Hat SEO trick.

So if you can’t see link TITLE attributes or image ALT attributes right away, doesn’t that mean they’re the sort of stuff Google avoids? No, they aren’t, because what they are is Accessibility options for the blind, among other things. They are necessary components of webpages which are helpful to the disabled, and even if your not interested in SEO, you should not ignore them. Besides that, link TITLEs often provide important information (such as the website they’re going to, or the fact that they point to a PDF doc) that doesn’t belong in the article, but which might be helpful to the reader. But since this discussion is about SEO, here are a few pointers to keep in mind when using them:

  1. Keep it Readable: remember that these are being looked at for readability and therefore sentences are useful, keyword lists are not. You can, of course, pack the sentence with as many useful terms as you like, but you should be able to read it and understand what it means.
  2. Keep it Relevant: an image of a bottle of wine should not be endorsing your political beliefs in its ALT tags. Similarly, links to webpages should have TITLE attributes that discribe what they link to. In fact, if ALT and TITLE tags are only used where necessary and are clearly relevant when used, they are helpful to readers and regarded as friendly by the Google bots!
  3. Keep it Brief: Most browsers only actually allow a limited number of characters to show up in tool tips. Be conscious of this and keep your TITLE tags as short as possible, lest you be accused of keyword-packing!

Hmm. . . come to think of it, this is a pretty good list of suggestions for just about all things communication in the first place! That’s no accident, that’s the way it is. These days, SEO is more about streamlining information than it is “magical HTML tricks” designed to fool anybody at all. Clarity is key, as is accessibility, as is usability. Before you go trying out the latest SEO gadget, ask yourself: “how does this new trick make my site better for the user?” If you cannot answer that question, you should not bother implementing your new-found gadget.
Keep that in mind and you’ll do fine.