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What Is Alt Text? (Full Explanation)

What is alt text
An example of some alt text

Images and graphics are key elements of most websites. Adding alt text to these elements is extremely important to enhance the user experience of people with disabilities or visual impairments, and it can also improve the SEO of your website. But what is alt text, and why is it important for SEO?

 

What Is Alt Text?

Alt text is a short, written description of an image on a web page. It describes the image for users who are unable to view it. Alt text is sometimes called an alt tag, alt description, or alt attribute.

How Does Alt Text Work?

If you’re using WordPress, adding alt text is very easy. Once you have the post editor open, you simply need to click on the image you’ll be adding to your post and the “Alt Text” box appears on the sidebar.

example-of-alt-text
You’ll see a box like this on the right-hand side of the page when adding images to posts and pages in WordPress.

Adding images to your posts is a must. Images make your content more descriptive and appealing and they help to create reading breaks for your readers. Similarly, adding alt text to your images is another important step. Doing so enhances the SEO of your page and improves internet accessibility at the same time.

Let’s take a look at the main reasons alt text is so important for website owners and internet users in general.

 

Why Is Alt Text Important?

Well-written alt text is extremely important when it comes to SEO, but it also plays a major role in ensuring internet accessibility. Let’s learn how.

Accessibility

The primary purpose of alt text is to describe an image to someone who can’t see it. People with vision impairments or other disabilities sometimes use software that converts the text on a website into audio. Well-written alt tags help people who depend on these types of software to navigate the internet with ease, providing a good user experience.

Alt text is also useful when the images on a browser don’t load or if the user is blocking images. In these situations, alt text appears in place of the images, so it’s important that the alt text accurately describes the image.

SEO

Have you noticed that when you search for something on Google, a carousel of images often appears at the top of the search engine results page (SERP)? This is because Google recognises the importance of visual research and has adapted its SERPs accordingly.

Good alt text helps with SEO by positively impacting your SERP ranking. Including keywords in your alt tags helps a search engine understand exactly what the image depicts and enhances your keyword SEO. By adding keywords to your images’ alt text, you’ll optimise your SEO for the page. But, more importantly, you’ll also provide a specific description to help users understand the image.

 

Tips for Writing Effective Alt Text

1. Be Descriptive and Specific

Write out exactly what you see, minus any unnecessary details. A good way to do this is to write as if you were describing what you’re seeing to someone over the phone. However, you also need to…

2. Be Succinct

There are a few reasons alt text should be kept short. First, some older screen reader programs cut off alt text after 125 characters. Even if someone is using a screen reader that reads every word of your alt text, keeping it short avoids burdening users with unnecessary information. Just like reading a lengthy piece of text, the meaning can be lost in an unnecessarily wordy alt text.

Alt text also appears in the place of the image when the browser is incapable of loading it, or if there’s an issue with the image file. So, it’s important to keep the alt text short enough to fit in the same space that the image would.

3. Don’t Use “Image Of”

There’s no need to use expressions like “image of” or “picture of” when writing your alt text. This is because alt text is already referring to an image, so there’s no need to specify it. You can, however, explain what type of image you’re looking at, such as a close-up, headshot, graphic, or illustration.

4. Use Your Keywords

If you can organically fit one or two of your target keywords into your alt text, then go for it! This is an effective and acceptable SEO technique. However, your priority should always be providing a helpful description of the image for your users. Plus, stuffing your alt descriptions with random keywords is a black hat SEO tactic that Google will penalise you for.

5. Use Correct Grammar

You should use correct grammar and punctuation when writing your alt text. Capitalising the first letter, using commas, and finishing your sentence with a period can greatly improve the experience for users who need screen readers.

6. Don’t Forget Form Buttons

Any kind of button on your website that uses an image should have alt text that describes its function. This is very important for features like “Sign Up”, “Search”, and “Contact Me”.

7. Use Decorative Images or Images with Text Cautiously

It’s best to avoid using decorative images or images with lots of text on your website. However, if you must have them, there are some tricks to make them work.

Decorative images shouldn’t have any alt text, as they aren’t relevant to the context of your page. If you’re familiar with webpage design, you can simply include these types of images in your code instead of adding them to the page. Images with text are not great for SEO purposes because search engines can’t read what’s in them. If you have to include them in your post, be sure to describe what they say in the alt text.

8. Avoid Repetition

Try not to directly copy text that’s already on the web page as alt tags. For example, if your image has a caption, don’t simply copy this into the alt text code. This doesn’t add any value for users with screen readers. It’s just repetitive — and very annoying!

 

That’s All You Need to Know About Alt Text

Now you know why alt text is such an important feature of web design. Both users who depend on screen readers or have image blockers and search engines rely on it to get a better understating of the content and context of your page. Always keep this in mind to optimise both your website’s user accessibility and SEO.

If you’re interested in learning more about other SEO features, be sure to check out some of our other articles here.

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