What Is Wrong with My eCommerce Site, Part 2: Image ALT Tag SEO

What Is Wrong with My eCommerce Site, Part 2: Image ALT Tag SEO

This is a part of our series of posts to help eCommerce merchants figure out what’s wrong with their eCommerce website when things just aren’t working.

If you are a customer of ours, you know that we offer complete website teardowns to help eCommerce entrepreneurs. We provide a fresh set of eyes and walk through the entire site and deliver a detailed report with specific recommendations based up on our experience. I do a lot of these website teardowns, and there is one common needed – I would even say vital – recommendation that I have to include in 90% of the reports that I write ….

Your eCommerce Images Are Killing Your SEO

First, let me get a few things out of the way.

Images are crazy-important for eCommerce. This has been well established. In fact, in previous blog posts we have provided resources for finding the best free eCommerce images on the web and then specific instructions on how to prepare them for your site so they look great and load fast (we provide links to those resources below). The good news is that those messages seem to have gotten through and – even though there are exceptions – most of the time I am finding that product images are formatted fairly well these days.

That’s great, but ….

When I start a website teardown I send out a questionnaire that – among other things – asks what the website owner wants to accomplish. More traffic is almost always one of their top objectives. And tons of websites are leaving piles of SEO gold on the table.

An Introduction to Files Names and ALT Tags for eCommerce Images

If you are using computer, you probably understand with a file name is. When you take a picture with your digital camera or even your cellphone, the hardware assigns a default file name to that image in order to keep them organized. Take a look at the photo below. It’s a fully-licensed image that I downloaded from iStock – a paid-for image subscription service. Now that I’ve downloaded it, I can see that it is “named” as follows:


Blue Handbag Purse Bag Change Leather

But how I found it is the important thing. To locate this image, I typed “blue purse” into the search field on the iStock website. iStock has “tagged” this image with a bunch of potential search criteria to help their customers – like me – find the kinds of images we are looking for. They know that there is no chance that I will type “627428718” as a search term. So, they have attempted to figure out how an actual human would ask for it. Here are the search tags that they have applied to this particular photo:

Blue Handbag, Stock image, Purse, Bag, Blue, Change Purse, Leather

Makes sense, right?

Well, Google tries to do the same thing. Images are an important part of how Google gauges the relevancy of your website to the text of the search.

How Image ALT Tags Began

Back in the days of dial-up internet and pterodactyls when I was a young techie, ALT tags were used to display a description of the image in plain English if the website timed out before the image loaded or the resource was unavailable. That’s where we get the term “ALT.” It was the “alternate” display if the image failed to load. Then it became an important factor in website accessibility because sophisticated website automation-readers would read the image description out loud to internet users with diminished eyesight (which is why many larger sites are required to have logical ALT tags by law).

Over the years, Google has embraced these little bits of computer code to help them deliver search results that make sense. That’s how we got where we are today. 

Shopify eCommerce Image Uploads By Default

I am going to use Shopify as an example because that’s the platform I spend most of my eCommerce time in, but this is true of all eCommerce platforms.

If you simply upload the example image above into your Shopify eCommerce site as a product to sell, it will appear in the website code something like this:

<img src="//cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/1234/5678/products/product-image-iStock-627428718.jpg?v=1234567891" alt=" ">

Yes, it’s a boring string of numbers that only a computer could love. This doesn’t “hurt” your SEO … unless your competitors are smart. If your competitors are smart, they have managed the image information to beat you at the SEO game. But you CAN win this game. 

Smart eCommerce Image ALT Tags Start as File Names

No matter how you got that image or where it came from, when you have a new image to upload the first thing you should do is name it logically. Now I understand that having that original file name (or number) in there might be important. It can prevent duplicate image names and help you locate the original image in your files if you ever need it. But creating a new logical file name will make the whole process of maximizing you SEO easier.

The first thing you should do is make a copy of the image. Keep the original in an archive folder, preferably on a thumb drive, online backup service, or separate device. Then rename the copy to something searchable while keeping the original photo number in the name. For example:

Original File Name


Potential New File Name


In this case, if you are uploading multiple views of the same product, you can differentiate them by adding words like “front” and “top” the name. Separating each key search word with a hyphen is important in the file name because all computers “see” file names without spaces in them.

Then, when you upload the image to Shopify or another modern eCommerce platform, you will see that you have the option to add either an ALT tag or a description. For this text, I say keep it easy by reusing the file name without the added, non-searchable bits and remove the hyphens. Then save as usual. Now when you upload the image it will appear in the code something like this:

<img src="//cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/1234/5678/products/product-image-Blue-Handbag-Purse-Bag-Change-Leather-iStock-627428718.jpg?v=1234567891" alt="Blue Handbag Purse Bag Change Leather">

Take a good look at that code. Google’s spider-bots don’t “see” the picture of the product (they’re working on that, but they don’t yet). What those Google spider-bots “see” is that code snippet, and that’s one of the very important things they use to figure out if your eCommerce website is relevant to the search being performed. When a customer searches for a “blue leather handbag” online, you will have a much better chance of scoring that visit if you have taken care of this in advance.

And there is a HUGE side benefit. Organizing and aligning your image file names and ALT tags this way will also help you keep them organized AND SEARCHABLE on your computer if you need to find them again.

eCommerce SEO, A Beginning

There are a lot of other things that are important to eCommerce SEO. We may cover those in future posts. But eCommerce image file names and ALT tags are the most common missed opportunity that we see in our website reviews which makes it a PERFECT topic for this entry in our “What Is Wrong with My eCommerce Website” series.

If you need help adding ALT tags to your eCommerce website and product images – or if you want a thorough website teardown review – start a task and we’ll help you get started.

Additional Links and Resources on This Topic

Here is a list of additional resources and sources for more information (click the titles below): 

Our Blog Post, “The Best LEGAL Sites on the Web for FREE eCommerce Marketing Images and Photos

Our Blog Post, “A Practical eCommerce Guide to Perfect Product Photos

"Google Image Publishing Guidelines"

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