SEO: SEO Debate – Text Links vs. Image Links
Text Links vs. Image Links. This is not a new concept. In fact, I debated about writing this post simply because of its elementary SEO level. However, The reason why Im writing this post is because a) I was recently tested on this SEO foundations level question and b) there are still many people learning SEO today and can teach them how to create SEO Friendly websites. In this post, I’ll provide an example of how a images within your website can be optimized using a combination of CSS and SEO basics.
Recently, I was tested on how I would optimize a catalog page on a website. The page was comprised of 12+ image-based links. At first glance, each link 1) had the text as part of the image and 2) switch when you hovered your mouse over it. So, my solution was use a technique that incorporates an Image Replacement Technique (read Mezzoblue on this technique) which does away with using an image tag within the link structure and replaces it with anchor text and then using CSS display the image in the background. But, after viewing the source code, it was easy to see that these links were more complex and that screen dithering can be deceiving.
let’s have a look:
<div class="featured_box" id="boxhover2" onmouseover="btn_hover(2,1)" onmouseout="btn_hover(2,2)">
<div class="featured_box_header" >
<a id="link_boxhover2" title="Fairway Woods - Titanium equipment" href="type-product.cfm/Fairway-Woods-Titanium/3/" class="featured_box_navLink_1">Fairway Woods - Titanium</a>
<a href="type-product.cfm/Fairway-Woods-Titanium/3/" title="Fairway Woods - Titanium equipment" rel="nofollow"><img border="0" alt="Fairway Woods - Titanium equipment" src="/Web-ImageBase/Equipment-Guides/icons/new_icons/icons/FairwayWoods-Titanium-medium.png"/></a>
Basically what you’re seeing is that this single product page link is made up of three parts, 1) the containing div, “featured_box”, actually a background image in which the other two parts are contained, 2) the text-based link contained within the “featured_box_header” div and 3) the actual product is an image-based link using the alt attribute contained within the “featured_inside_box” div.
Besides the fact that I believe this part of the test was a trick question (if you didn’t look at the source code) and apart from the depreciated border attribute in the image tag, the on-page SEO for the catalog navigation was done very well and I must give kudos to the SEO and Development Team on this one; nevermind this SEO debate question, they used both.
Moving forward, this got me thinking…
If the links were simply image-based that simply used the alt attribute properly, would my Image Replacement Technique provide greater SEO value?
A Little Clarification
With many things SEO, “yes and no”, is a common answer. Well, to do away with as many negative reactions as possible, let me clarify that Im not discussing the value of keyword density (read this article on SEO Myths That Persist: Keyword Density) by using either (I use text-based browsers too), nor am I discussing the value of accessibility; web standards is important most definitely, but I just want to deliberate on the relationship between a page that has an text-based link pointing to it versus a page that has an image-based link pointing to it.
Measuring The Importance of Anchor Text of Inbound Links
If you know who Rand Fishkin is, you probably know that SEOMoz is not slang for “sea moss” and that $350/hr+ for SEO services is no joke. Albeit, 2 years later, I still find the 2007 SEOMoz Search Engine Ranking Factors (v2) article a very useful SEO reference. In it, you’ll find that Anchor Text of Inbound Link is #2 in the Top 10 Positive Factors list; given a weight of 4.4 points out of a possible 5, behind Keyword in the Title Tag (4.9 points).
Unfortunately, I scrolled through the entire document, but couldn’t find anything related to the importance of the alt attribute of image-based links. So, does this mean I can easily assume that the importance of the alt attribute in image-based links only goes as far as being beneficial for keyword density and accessibility?
In a similar post, John Faulds asks the same question, “Which is better for search engines: plain text or alt attributes?”
<a href=””>This is a link</a>
<a href=””><img src=”” alt=”This is a link”></a>
His take on it was basically that since the anchor text and the alt attribute text are contained within the linking structure then the inbound link values would be equal. He got a response from Maile Ohye, Programs Developer Tech Lead at Google, who wrote:
We’re pretty capable of detecting image links for crawling purposes. Accurate, not spammy, alt text is beneficial in many ways?—?it’s helpful to users, not just as a signal to search engines. If you have useful image links (or even just for images) it’s good to make the alt text descriptive.
Tyssen, if your image links are formatted similar to your example, you should be fine.
Although, its pretty cool to get a response from someone at Google, “you should be fine”, just isn’t enough for me to conclude either way provides equal seo value as an inbound link. Although it does make sense from a contextual level, based on my readings and what I’ve learned in the past (ie. Image Replacement Technique) I still think that text-based links carry more weight because the text is not an attribute value of an HTML tag.
Here are some threads I came across about the same topic:
A Little Extra With Google Bombing
If anyone has been successful Google Bombing, I’d like to know if they were using anchor text or using images? Although the golden days of Google Bombing are long gone, I think its pretty safe to assume that most people chose text-based links.