Images are used all over the web to enhance the content, design and user experience of webpages. But how can visitors with visual impairments, as well as search engines, interpret these images? The answer is alt text.
If you’re unfamiliar with alt text or could use a refresher, we’ve got you covered. Here, we’ll look at what alt text is, how you can find it and some best practices to ensure you are getting the most out of this important component of any website.
What is Alt Text and Why is It Important?
Alt text is short for “alternative text” and is used in the HTML of webpages to describe the content and context of an image. Also called “alt descriptions”,”alt tags”, and “alt attributes,” this text helps improve web accessibility for the visually impaired by providing a short description read aloud by screen readers or other text-to-speech software.
It’s important that visitors who use screen readers can understand not only the text on a webpage but also its images. After all, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” so you don’t want visitors with accessibility needs to miss out on the message or story an image conveys.
Another benefit of alt text is that it helps search engine crawlers understand and index an image properly. The alt text that goes along with an image adds a description so that the search engine can determine how the image relates to other content on the page.
Lastly, when an image is broken or can’t be displayed on a webpage, the alt text is there to provide a description in its place.
How Can You Find Alt Text?
If you want to check if an image has alt text, there are multiple ways to do so. You could turn on a screen reader, select the image and see how it is described. If there is no audible description, then the image must be lacking alt text.
Alternatively, you can right-click on the image and select “Inspect.” Then, check the image source to see if the “alt=” attribute includes any text description.
Alt Text Best Practices
If you’re looking to add alt text to your website’s images to help those with accessibility needs as well as search engines understand the content of an image, follow these simple tips:
- Provide a detailed description. If your alt text is too vague or not descriptive enough, it’s not helping the visually impaired nor search engines determine what’s going on in that space of a webpage. For instance, the alt text of “person with sign” isn’t nearly as helpful for search engine crawlers or visitors using a screen reader as something like, “Realtor standing in front of a house with a for sale sign.”
- But don’t get carried away. Alt text should not be a paragraph. Keep it as short as possible while still providing ample details or context. Any alt text longer than about 125 characters might get cut off by screen readers.
- No keyword stuffing. Just like with keyword stuffing in the content of your website, Google and other search engines will penalize you for using the same tactics in the alt text. Providing a simple yet descriptive alt attribute is always the way to go.
- But you can still use your keywords. Alt text is a great area to place a page’s target keyword; that is if it’s a relevant keyword to the particular image at hand.
- No need to mention that it’s a picture or image.The “alt=” attribute informs screen readers and search engines that the text describes an image or graphic, so there’s no need to include phrases like “picture of” in the alt text.