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Stick to text for the search engines

It’s very impressive that computers are able to read the text in images nowadays – just try searching the photo library on your phone for a word that appears in a photo. However, I’d be wary of claims that search engines are doing the same for images on websites.

Many sites show data tables as images, and this might be a sensible approach with usability in mind – many tables are way too complex to be displayed in clunky HTML text. The downside, that the data hasn’t traditionally been indexed by search engines, isn’t too much of a hardship, although a compromise might be to link to a PDF document which can show complexity and be read by search engines. If it’s necessary to display text via an image, putting a good description in the ‘alt’ tag can at least provide something for SEO.

Hiding headlines from the machines

More problematic is putting headlines or slogans in images and assuming that search engines can read them. I’m sure they’ll be able to do this eventually, but I wouldn’t bank on it having happened yet. While an ‘alt’ tag can be helpful with SEO, it’s not as good as having actual text on the page.

That all-important banner headline on our home page with an important statement or offer? If it’s part of a graphic image and not text overlaid on a background, the words probably won’t be indexed.

Even more common is for a business to have its name on every page with a tagline underneath it, but both happen to be graphic images. The search engines will work out the name of the company from other information, such as meta data, the domain name, and the contact details. However, that tagline? Despite being on every page, it may as well not exist for SEO purposes.

As an example, this local council has a tagline in its logo (admittedly an unimportant one), and it’s a graphic image. Search Google for those words and the site does not appear; even with the council name added to the search, the only pages that appear are where the tagline is mentioned in the text. With this website which I designed for a local councillor, we ensured the tagline under her name was text, because they were critical words for SEO, and they were picked up by the search engines. Note also that the headlines on each panel on the home page are text overlaid on an image, not a part of the image itself, so again, the search engines can read them.