What It Is & How To Use It
Link attributes abound in the world of SEO, including link title, alternative text, and others.
In fact, there are newer rules you need to use if you wish to remain up-to-date on your link optimization.
These types of attributes are important. Not only do they help clarify the context of your link, but they also help to control how Google perceives it.
Whether it’s a paid link or free, you need to make sure you are using the correct attributes so Google does not misunderstand the meaning of your links, resulting in substandard results.
And SEO is all about results!
The way you get to better results is by applying best practices and ensuring that you don’t run afoul of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Using duplicate alternative text as the link title text is not an okay practice, for example. There are different ways to use alternative text and title text, both of which an SEO pro must pay attention to.
The following includes an overview of the link title attribute and the things you need to know about it in order to be successful.
Let’s dive right in!
Link Title Attribute Best Practices
You should use a link title when you are providing more information about the link.
Don’t use a link title to provide the information over again, as this is a usability fail that will only result in annoying your users.
Have you ever run into an incident where the exact link title showed up when you hovered over it?
You didn’t need to know something that’s already visible on the page, right?
Some of your users may think that way, as well.
The best question you can ask yourself when optimizing is: Will this add information to my link or will it just annoy my users with duplication?
Focus On Optimizing For Users, Rather Than Search Engines
Optimize for your users, rather than search engines.
Yes, this is nothing new. But it is effective.
- Overstuff the link title attribute with keywords.
- Duplicate the topic title.
- Write the link title so that something unique pops up for users.
- Write the link title with users in mind.
The link anchor text is supposed to be the name of the link itself.
The link title attribute is supposed to provide more information about where the link will send the user who clicks on that link.
How, Exactly, Should You Be Using The Link Title Attribute?
Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller has detailed this in a past Google Webmaster Office Hours Hangout. This discussion begins at the 00:42 point.
Google uses both the title attribute and anchor text together within the link in order to increase their understanding of the context of the link.
He explains that you can test this with a word that you made up, and add it as a title attribute.
Then, you can wait a bit for things to be indexed, and then you can examine the results of that after it has been indexed.
Ideally, one could use the title attribute in order to cover information that’s missing in the anchor text. And Google will use these two attributes together when crawling your links.
Does The Link Title Attribute Help Support Accessibility?
There is some disagreement among SEO pros as to whether accessibility should not be included in SEO best practices.
I’m of the opinion that accessibility, while not a direct ranking factor, is one of those indirect ranking factors that are indisputable in terms of their value.
This will help improve your client’s site and their bottom line by reducing accessibility lawsuits for not including basic accessibility items like alternative text.
(Being inclusive also expands your audience and customer base.)
Alternative text, or alt text for short, is an image attribute that gives text to screen readers for the blind.
In principle, you would think the link title attribute works in a similar way.
However, this is not the case.
The W3C states the following:
“Current user agents and assistive technology provide no feedback to the user when links have title attribute content available.
Some graphical user agents will display a tool tip when the mouse hovers above an anchor element containing a title attribute. However, current user agents do not provide access to title attribute content via the keyboard.
The tool tip in some common user agents disappears after a short period of time (approximately five seconds).
This can cause difficulty accessing title attribute content for those users who can use a mouse but have fine motor skill impairment, and may result in difficulties for users who need more time to read the tool tip.
Current graphical user agents do not provide mechanisms to control the presentation of title attribute content.
The user cannot resize the tool tip text or control the foreground and background colors.
The placement and location of the tool tip cannot be controlled by users, causing some screen magnifier users to be unable to access meaningful portions of the title attribute content because the tool tip cannot be fully displayed within the viewport.
Some user agents allow access to supplementary information through the context menu.
For example, the keystroke combination Shift+F10 followed by P will display the title attribute content, along with other supplementary information in Mozilla/Firefox.”
It’s not perfect, so it is almost impossible to provide a good way to implement accessibility in this scenario.
This is why it is important to take a more in-depth look at guidelines for these elements.
They don’t always work the way you think they should and, in some cases, changes to the elements can happen in a flash also.
How to Use The Link Title Attribute: An Example
Here’s an example of how to use the link title attribute correctly:
<a href=”https://www.searchenginejournal.com/” title=”This is a link to the Search Engine Journal website”>SEJ</a>
What Do The Search Engines Say?
We can speculate all day long, but at the end of the day, the final word of the search engines on the link title attribute is this:
“The ‘title’ attribute is a bit different: It ‘offers advisory information about the element for which it is set.’
As the Googlebot does not see the images directly, we generally concentrate on the information provided in the ‘alt’ attribute.
Feel free to supplement the ‘alt’ attribute with ‘title’ and other attributes if they provide value to your users!”
This is what Bing has to say:
“Think of the anchor text as your primary description of the linked page.
But if you do inline linking within the paragraphs of your body text, you need to maintain the natural, logical flow of the language in the paragraph, which can limit your link text description.
As such, you can use the title attribute to add additional keyword information about the linked page without adversely affecting the readability of the text for the end user.”
What Do Other SEO Professionals Say?
Based on the opinions of several people who have done SEO for years, the link title attribute carries no weight on search engines.
There is also some usability concern when it comes to the link title attribute.
For most browsers, it will show up when you move your cursor over the link.
Because of this, you don’t have to copy the anchor text within a title attribute. If the title attribute is unable to provide additional information, you should not use it.
“Do not add link titles to all links: If it is obvious from the link anchor and its surrounding context where the link will lead, then a link title will reduce usability by being one more thing users have to look at.”
The Rise In Accessibility Lawsuits: Should You Be Concerned?
On January 4, 2019, it was reported that Beyonce.com was sued over accessibility issues.
Target has also been sued over accessibility issues in the past.
Accessibility should always be a concern for SEO professionals because you are supposed to be driving revenue and increasing ROI for your clients.
When an accessibility lawsuit happens, your client loses money, or ROI, from the lack of these efforts. In addition, they are usually not happy about your website.
Your efforts as an SEO should include making sure that link title attributes and links are visible and usable by your users, regardless of their abilities.
Focus On Your Users, Not The Search Engines
When writing link title attributes, be sure to write for users, and don’t create spammy text just for the search engines.
Because, it will be users who are – primarily – going to be using this title text.
At the end of the day, accessibility matters:
- Don’t make links hard to read.
- Don’t make link titles difficult to use, or understand.
Make things look great while focusing on the user experience in order to make sure that your users are happy and elated to be on your website.
TL;DR: Key Takeaways
The key takeaways include the following:
- Don’t use duplicate alt and title attributes in your links.
- Do focus on your users when writing these, but also focus on what the search engines will crawl.
- Do focus on what missing information will be added by using the title attribute.
- Do optimize your links if the title attribute adds new information.
- Do not use the title attribute if it does not add new information.
- Make sure that you use these attributes in such a way that fosters great accessibility for users with disabilities.
- Don’t over-optimize. Avoid adding title attributes to links that don’t need them.
If you are in doubt about whether a link title attribute is something that is going to benefit you, it’s probably best not to use it. And instead, consult John Mueller or another SEO professional that you trust.
John is known to hang out on Twitter and answer burning questions from SEO professionals around the world, in addition to his office hours hangouts.
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