January 13, 2021

Your new year’s resolution? Better alt text.

OK, so this may not be the sexiest or most popular new year’s resolution, but here’s why it should make your list.

First, let’s be sure you understand what it is.  We’ve found through our consulting and digital marketing work that very few people DO understand it, even those that are responsible for writing the alt text on their own brand’s website.

Alt text – short for alternative text – is the text description applied to images on websites (and social media, but that explanation is for another day).  This isn’t the same as a caption, which can appear on your website with the image so that anyone can instantly see the words.  The alt text is hidden from the front-facing website and doesn’t appear unless it’s needed.  Think of it like writing a description on the back of a real-life photo that’s sitting in a frame.  When you look at the photo you can’t see the description, but if those details are needed, you can get them.

Now… when would such additional hidden details be needed?  Because if you’re looking at the photo on a website, you can clearly see what that photo is about… right?  Nope.  Not always.

The hidden text is vital in these three ways (all equally important):

  1. It gives search engines a full description of the photo, which makes it easier for search engine algorithms to see and understand images.  Using alt text on your website images means that a search engine can more easily find your photos and then show your website and/or images to people searching for relevant things you offer.
  2. When images on websites don’t load properly – when there are connectivity and/or internet strength issues, for example – the alt text will appear instead, so at least visitors know what you were trying to show.
  3. For those with vision impairment issues, or those who use screen readers for any other reason, the alt text is essential because it describes photos that the user physically CANNOT see.  A screen reader, if you didn’t know, is a program that reads content on a webpage aloud, and the alt text allows the screen reader to give information about the visual aspects of the page.  And by the way, ADA Compliance actually requires this of websites, so you might as well do it right.

Now, why won’t a caption suffice for all this?  Technical aspects aside (and there are some), the biggest reason is because a caption isn’t necessarily a proper description of a photo.  For example, here’s me trying to decide between my top two vices (since we’re talking about resolutions and all):

Chris Miranda holds prosecco bottle and coffee cup while deciding which to drink while giving a webinar.

The caption for this photo might be:  Chris decides between two vices.  But the alt text would be something like:  Chris Miranda holds prosecco bottle and coffee cup while trying to decide which one to drink while hosting a webinar.

So that takes us back to your new year’s resolution about committing to better alt text.  When you’re ready to dive in, here are nine brief but helpful tips for writing effective alt text.

And you can drink prosecco OR coffee while you read that article… no judgement here.

Looking for other ways to make your website easier to read and more accessible?  Choose your font and typeface wisely.