3 Things You Need to Know About Alt Text

Search Engine Optimization

Alternative text, also known as alt text, is not given nearly as much credit as it deserves. It not only helps individuals with visual impairments, but it can also boost your website’s SEO.

These two things are an awesome combination, so why not learn more about alt text and how you can make a difference on and off your website! Our alt text crash course includes 3 important pieces of information that will help guide your future alt text decisions:

  • What is alt text
  • Why does alt text matter
  • How you can improve your alt text

What is Alt Text

For individuals who can’t read or see clearly, alt text is an attribute they depend on when visiting a website. Screen readers use it to translate web copy into audio so individuals can understand what is on the site, from words to images.

Alt text is vital to creating an accessible web for everyone, and this is the reason Google places value on alt text. Sites that take the time to ensure alt text is in place are contributing to that vision. But what exactly is it?

Alt text is descriptive text for images that appear on a website. This text comes into play in a few different situations:

  • When an image doesn’t display or load properly
  • When a screen reader is in use
  • When a user’s mouse hovers over an image
  • When an images are blocked
  • When search engines crawl a website for content

Alt text is normally hidden to users but it ensures that no information is lost on your website. It’s an easy addition and gives you an opportunity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when describing images!

Why Does Alt Text Matter

It may seem like an unnecessary component to add to your website, but trust us, it’s not! Alt text matters, especially in regards to making your website accessible.

The primary goal of alt text is to provide individuals with visual impairments or disabilities a better way of understanding what images are on a web page. These individuals depend on alt text being integrated on a website.

When they find themselves on a website that lacks alt text, they are unable to understand what the image is and if it relates to the written content. This can be frustrating and could cause them to leave your website. In some cases, this could even give them grounds to file a complaint, or pursue litigation — an extreme outcome, but a real threat to industries that require Americans With Disabilities (ADA) compliance.

The secondary goal of alt text is benefiting your website’s SEO. It is another opportunity to incorporate keywords in your content. Google takes it into consideration when ranking a site because it helps their bots understand your website better (see comment above about why they take it into account)!

Having alt text on images will help you reach more people, be inclusive, and communicate more effectively with your consumer.

How You Can Improve Your Alt Text

Now that you know what alt text is and why it matters, it’s time to put that knowledge to good use. Verifying your website is optimized will not only benefit you but also those who visit your site. Here are some of our most helpful tips when it comes to improving your website’s alt text:

  • Content is everything! Be clear, concise, relevant, and descriptive
  • Consider what information is most important and include it
  • Avoid using the words “photo”, “image” or “graphic”
  • Try your best to include a keyword
  • If the image has text, be sure to include it
  • There is no max character length, but analyst says 125 characters or less is optimal
  • Be sure to check spelling and avoid abbreviations

Alt text is most important for individuals with vision impairments, which is why it is incredibly important to paint a picture with your words.

Take the time and go back to figure out which of your website’s images are missing alt text, and put a process in place for adding it to all new images. Use our tips and know that you are making your website more enjoyable and user friendly!

About the Author

Nick Footer

Nick Footer is an entrepreneur and founder of Intuitive Digital, a national award-winning digital marketing agency in Portland, Oregon. With over 15 years of experience, he has helped hundreds of businesses improve their online presence through search engine optimization, paid advertising, and website design.

2 thoughts on “3 Things You Need to Know About Alt Text

    1. Hey Filip,

      Great question! Yes, there are a few situations that come to mind where alt text doesn’t necessarily play a big role.

      1. When text is on an image – if an image has a text overlay, there is no need to optimize it with alt text. From a visual impairment perspective, if alt text is on this particular image, the screen reader would read the text twice, which would be annoying and not helpful. From a Google perspective, this image has no relevance to the page and therefore would not be considered important towards ranking factors.

      2. If the image is not relevant – many websites contain images that are not relevant to the page or content. These images do not require alt text because of this reason. A suggestion for pages like these would be to upload new images that pertain to the content and thus could be optimized with alt text. Google will then take these newly optimized images into consideration when ranking and individuals with visual impairment now have a better experience when visiting these pages.

      I have found alt text to be tricky to understand. There is a fine line between providing information that Google desires as well as taking into consideration the user experience for individuals who rely on alt text for information.

      Thanks for your question!


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