Dumb SEO Questions

(Entry was posted by Rob K on this post in the Dumb SEO Questions community on Facebook, Saturday, August 22, 2015).

ALT text on a multilingual website

Hello guys,

Here is a toughie regarding ALT text on a multilingual website.

We are currently serving both English and Swedish content on the same URL, using a plugin that allows readers to switch between languages on any page.

An issue that has come up is how do you serve multilingual ALT text?

The solutions I have come up with are:

1. Create two seperate versions of each image, with seperate language versions of filenames and ALT text. This solution would require extensive changes to template files, internal links, etc.

2. Re-write images and ALT text using .htaccess. Not a fan of having this much rewriting going on in the background. Could lead to slower response times, strain on the server, etc.

3. Take advantage of the 16 word limit for ALT text and for each image have the English ALT text with a | seperator followed by the Swedish ALT text. So both versions would be displayed to English and Swedish users.

I`m in favour of 3 personally as it requires the least effort without taxing my website with multiple HTTP requests and excessive loads. However a few problems I can think of:

1. Will Google translate the ALT text on the fly and `realise` that I am repeating the same ALT text twice? Could be a keyword stuffing trigger.

2. If the format is ENGLISH ALT TEXT | SWEDISH ALT TEXT then the Swedish ALT text will be given less weight than the English ALT text that is listed first.

3. Despite the 16 word limit of ALT text it is still advisable to stay below 100 chars. Which may make it difficult to replicate the same ALT text twice.

I personally think offering both language version in the same ALT text is good for user experience. Also, since Google allows for the same content to be displayed on different country TLD`s (within reason) I would imagine it would not penalise me for having the same content duplicated in two languages. However as we all know, we are not Google and we can never know for sure.

What do you guys and girls think?

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YOUR ANSWERS

Selected answers from the Dumb SEO Questions G+ community.

  • Rob K: Hello guys,

    Here is a toughie regarding ALT text on a multilingual website.

    We are currently serving both English and Swedish content on the same URL, using a plugin that allows readers to switch between languages on any page.

    An issue that has come up is how do you serve multilingual ALT text?

    The solutions I have come up with are:

    1. Create two seperate versions of each image, with seperate language versions of filenames and ALT text. This solution would require extensive changes to template files, internal links, etc.

    2. Re-write images and ALT text using .htaccess. Not a fan of having this much rewriting going on in the background. Could lead to slower response times, strain on the server, etc.

    3. Take advantage of the 16 word limit for ALT text and for each image have the English ALT text with a | seperator followed by the Swedish ALT text. So both versions would be displayed to English and Swedish users.

    I'm in favour of 3 personally as it requires the least effort without taxing my website with multiple HTTP requests and excessive loads. However a few problems I can think of:

    1. Will Google translate the ALT text on the fly and 'realise' that I am repeating the same ALT text twice? Could be a keyword stuffing trigger.

    2. If the format is ENGLISH ALT TEXT | SWEDISH ALT TEXT then the Swedish ALT text will be given less weight than the English ALT text that is listed first.

    3. Despite the 16 word limit of ALT text it is still advisable to stay below 100 chars. Which may make it difficult to replicate the same ALT text twice.

    I personally think offering both language version in the same ALT text is good for user experience. Also, since Google allows for the same content to be displayed on different country TLD's (within reason) I would imagine it would not penalise me for having the same content duplicated in two languages. However as we all know, we are not Google and we can never know for sure.

    What do you guys and girls think?
  • Suraj Gadage: Before even I start to answer the question. I'm assuming that you don't have  ;separate language web pages. It's just the plugin that translates the content from one language to another. Right?

    From an SEO standpoint, images on the website page send search engines important relevancy signals through their file name, alt text, title, description and caption.

    Although one important purpose of the alt attribute on the image element is to allow screen readers (used by visually impaired people) and other "non-visual" software to know what the image represents. If you are ready to localize your HTML page (creating different lang web pages) you should also localize the contents of the alt attribute (solution 1). Since you don't want to go with the first option, I believe solution 3 would be your way out. ;

    Now coming back to your questions/concerns:

    1. Will Google translate the ALT text on the fly and 'realise' that I am repeating the same ALT text twice? Could be a keyword stuffing trigger.
    - It won't translate the alt text. The User will still see the alt text in english version. Your solution makes complete sense. You specify alt text in both the languages.  ;I don't think this would create any problem.

    2. If the format is ENGLISH ALT TEXT | SWEDISH ALT TEXT then the Swedish ALT text will be given less weight than the English ALT text that is listed first.
    - NO. As I have mentioned above, there are other important relevancy signals that can help search engines understand the image and webpage. This won't be a huge differentiating factor.

    3. Despite the 16 word limit of ALT text it is still advisable to stay below 100 chars. Which may make it difficult to replicate the same ALT text twice.
    - Apart from SEO stuff, I personally believe alt text should help visually impaired people and other "non-visual" software to know what the image represents. It's your call buddy!
  • Rob K: Thanks for your reply Suraj,

    No the plugin creates separate pages within wordpress.

    So English content would be:
    Swedish content would be:

    So each version has its own content, meta titles/descriptions and content. It's just the images linked within template files that cannot be dynamically controlled by the plugin. At least, not without considerable changes to the plugin and template files themselves.

    Just so you know btw, I'm not new to SEO. I work as an SEO Manager. I probably just sound like a noob because this is my first multilingual website project. Performing keyword research in Swedish has certainly been an eye opener!

    Thanks for taking your time to offer your advice :)
  • Suraj Gadage:  ;In this case you may want to go with the solution #3.
  • Tony �Tiggerito� McCreath: Where does the 16 word/100 char limit come from?

    Option 2: You can't change an img alt text nor the URL it links to with an .htaccess file.

    If you are serving multiple languages from the same URL then you are making it very hard for Google. Even if Googlebot can fake being in multiple countries based on your language switching method (cookies?), how can it know it can send people to the same language page it crawled. ;

    Google has said they can crawl this style of multilingual site, but it's hard, and you will far more likely rank if you have language specific URLs. And on them you can have language specific images.
  • Rob K: Hey Tony,

    Image ALT text ; 100 char warnings are present in screaming frog and other SEO tools. I would assume because the ALT is meant to be for a short description of the image, not a blog post about it.

    16 word limit comes from this test, that seems to still be valid as of 2015.


    Regarding .htaccess rewrites, I actually only meant re-writing the filenames. You are correct, you cannot rewrite the ALT text this way.

    I'm not serving multiple languages from the same URL. As I explained earlier the structure is:

    (english)
    (swedish)

    We then use “rel alternate hreflang” along with country specific language tags to guide Google to serve the right content to the right people. ;

    Remember we are serving both English and Swedish content to people in Sweden. We are not targeting multiple countries. So both English and Swedish versions of the same content are present in the SERPS in Sweden.

    Over time the indexing will settle and visitors will be served the correct content - based on whether they are searching using Swedish language keywords or English language keywords.

    The URL and TLD are relevant to Sweden, the website is also hosted in Sweden. So it's fairly clear to Google what our intentions are.

    I just needed a solution for the fact that the same images and ALT text will be present on both language versions of each page. But I believe I already had the solution, I just needed some backing :)
  • Tony �Tiggerito� McCreath: An interesting idea that may work. Go with your piped solution 3 then have JavaScript rewrite the alts so only the correct language remains. Google and users will then only pick up what you want them to. The correct language.

    A relatively simple JavaScript function could search all alts containing a pipe. Split the text and replace it with the part that matches the pages language.
  • Rob K: Tony you are a genius. Our IT guys suggested a similar approach for flipping the ALT text. So English readers would see English first, and vice versa. I was just waiting on them to let me know if this could be done without affecting the pipes we use in page titles.

    I do love it when a plan comes together :)
  • Edwin Jonk: Alternatively, if your site is HTML5, you can use the data attribute. Something like ;

    <img data-en="ENGLISH" data-sv="SWEDISH" ... >

    And have javascript crab the appropriate value and add them as an alt text.

    I have no idea if G-bot will understand this, but in general don't mix different languages on the same page. So the real solution will be in your CMS.

View original question in the Dumb SEO Questions community on Facebook, Saturday, August 22, 2015).