In the blind pursuit of search engine optimisation, giving the wrong message about your brand or business is easier than you might think.
A True Story
When I’m auditing a website, one of the things I check is what the website looks like to searchers using Google. During a recent audit, I found a puzzling entry in the search results. Here it is, altered to remove identifying information.
How to do it right
Step Aside acompany Melbourne. Don’t use amateurs. Leave it to the professionals.
This doesn’t really give the impression that acompany is the best choice. But where did the unfortunate wording come from?
Opening the linked page in a browser didn’t provide an immediate answer. There was a heading Step Aside halfway down the page, and the next paragraph did start with Don’t use amateurs. Leave it to the professionals.. To the right of the heading and paragraph was a nice photo of a company employee, cheerfully helping a customer. But no obvious acompany Melbourne near the Step Aside.
Obviously Google wasn’t seeing what I was. We all know Google wouldn’t see the photo, because Google only uses the text on a web page in normal search results. So let’s look at the HTML to get an idea of what Google is really "seeing".
Simplified, the HTML looked like this:
<h2>Step Aside <img src="/images/acompany-Melbourne.jpg" alt="acompany Melbourne" class="float-right"> </h2> <p>Don't use amateurs. Leave it to the professionals.</p>
And now we have our answer.
Google doesn’t use images for the search results. Instead, Google looks at the alt text. The alt text for an image is intended to indicate the purpose of the image. Ideally a web page should convey the same message whether the image or the alt text is displayed.
This company had carefully "optimised" all images on the website by using what they regarded as important keywords in the alt text, whether or not they were relevant to that image. Which meant a person who could see the image saw a heading Step Aside, while anyone not viewing the image (including Google) saw a heading Step Aside acompany Melbourne.
This particular image is a good candidate for empty alt text. The image is present for aesthetic reasons, and does not convey any extra information.
I also question whether there’s any real benefit targetting a brand keyword on this page. The brand name is distinctive - unless something very strange is happening, the website would be displayed in position 1 on Google for brand searches. Hidden branding is not needed.
<h2>Step Aside <img src="/images/acompany-with-customer.jpg" alt="" class="float-right" title="acompany employees provide a professional service"> </h2> <p>Don't use amateurs. Leave it to the professionals.</p>