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Old 05-22-2007   #1
Mike
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Descriptive text behind a background image

One of our programmer / designers suggested that we add some descriptive text behind background images, in case the images fail to load, or for screen readers etc.

At first I instantly thought "hidden text - BAD" but when I looked at it closely I realized he was doing this for a legitimate reason, there's no ALT attribute on a background image, and the text he was using was descriptive of the image. If the image failed to load, the text was there in its place.

I also feel that it would stand up to human review -- especially since he wasn't stuffing in keywords or being long with his descriptions.

So I wanted to say don't do it, but I couldn't find a concrete reason to say no, and I could think of some reasons for why it made sense.

any opinions, or word from the horse's mouth that can be quoted on this subject?

Maybe the simplest solution is "don't use background images" : )
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Old 05-22-2007   #2
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Because this is not a "standard" format there is no way to know how and/or if it would be presented to users on various viewers / browsers. To provide "alternative" content you will need an ALT tag according to W3C. Sorry, but I don't think this is a wise idea.
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Old 05-22-2007   #3
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look at it this way, if you don't use the background image how would that same text look on the page ?

answer.....not very good

that is why it's not a good idea to use this method as it could and most likely will be seen in the eyes of a search engine spider as hidden text
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Old 05-22-2007   #4
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True, I was trying to him the benefit of the doubt and explain how it may not help the user either.
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Old 05-22-2007   #5
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I guess it would depend on which background images you are referring to and what text would actually be used. Let's say it is a header where the logo/site name would appear, then listing the site name behind the image would not be bad IMO. Placing a bunch of descriptive text there however would be an obvious attempt to stuff hidden text behind an image.

Also for any other background images that appear in tables for example, it might be okay to place some text that describes what the image is but then again if hiding a bunch of text there for SEO purposes, would be risky.
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Old 05-22-2007   #6
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David has a really good point in that, there are many types of "background" images.

Adding alternative text to a background image in a table or page would produce different results than adding alternative text to an image imported via external CSS or that is in a frame.

What type of background image do you have in mind?

Also important, what would be over the background image?
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Old 05-23-2007   #7
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I can think of five different types of backgrounds all of which your still hiding the text behind the background plus do you really think that adding this text is going to make any difference to your sites search engine ranking ?


whatever way you look at it your adding this text to manipulate the search engines to rank your site higher when in fact it will not make that much difference anyway
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Old 05-23-2007   #8
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David is correct

David hit the nail on the head. beu and mick, you're focusing on the SEO impact of this, but the programmer was not concerned about SEO at all. He was putting the text behind a background image that had text on it, and the text he added was the same as what the background image said.

So if the image failed to load for some strange reason, you'd see the text. Or if you had a screen reader, it would read that text. It was not keyword stuffed or long, etc.

That's why I said it would stand up to human review. Something that was keyword stuffed or not descriptive of the image would not stand up to human review.

It's really too bad there's not an ALT attribute for a background image, then we wouldn't have this problem.

In the interest of "being on the safe side" I'd tell him not to do it, but I really don't disagree with him, I think it's legit if done correctly
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Old 05-23-2007   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike
David hit the nail on the head. beu and mick, you're focusing on the SEO impact of this, but the programmer was not concerned about SEO at all. He was putting the text behind a background image that had text on it, and the text he added was the same as what the background image said.

So if the image failed to load for some strange reason, you'd see the text. Or if you had a screen reader, it would read that text. It was not keyword stuffed or long, etc.

That's why I said it would stand up to human review. Something that was keyword stuffed or not descriptive of the image would not stand up to human review.

It's really too bad there's not an ALT attribute for a background image, then we wouldn't have this problem.

In the interest of "being on the safe side" I'd tell him not to do it, but I really don't disagree with him, I think it's legit if done correctly

I wouldn't do it either but, don't send your programmer looking for a new job.
I think his intentions are all on the up and up!

This is not a good idea because another image could cover the ALT text of a background image and/or the ALT text color could match that of the background color.

Either way, you would have what amounts to hidden text!
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Old 05-24-2007   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike
the programmer was not concerned about SEO at all. He was putting the text behind a background image that had text on it, and the text he added was the same as what the background image said
thats because he is a programmer who does programming and more than likely does not understand SEO and the anverse impact he could have on your site

I have heard it time after time from a few mates who work in the same environment, the programmer saying do it like this and the SEO guys asking for something different and they always end up at loggerheads with each other

so unless you are not bothered about getting any visitors from search engines you can do anything you want to your site but if you do want to get search engine traffic then...well its already been discussed
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Old 05-24-2007   #11
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I'm probably going to say not to do it but I wish I had a reason other than "I'm paranoid" or "because the engines just won't like it". I don't think this would be a gauranteed ban, far from it, it just makes me nervous but that's not a good reason to tell someone not to do something.

the text will be default color (black) so will accidentally match any black colors in background images. I'm not worried about it because, again, it will stand up to human review. And I'm not worried about another image covering the text because the text isn't meant to be visible in the event that images can load, it's only meant to be visible in the event that images fail to load, just like ALT text

this is why I think an ALT attribute on a background image would solve the problem for this particular case, but maybe there's a logical reason for why they never made that a standard

I'm going to tell him to just use the images as normal images rather than backgrounds, and then he can use an ALT attribute
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