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What is Image Alt Text and Why is it Important?

When it comes to boosting your marketing strategy, it is important to not only think about how your visuals affect the overall outcome of your business, but how they have an impact on your audience. You may not know what image alt text is and wonder why it is important. After all, it sounds pretty old-fashioned. However, image alt text is still very relevant today to ensure that your company has the best SEO practices that apply to the needs of every client. 

What Is Image Alt Text?

Image alt text is the text that is used in an HTML code which describes the image being displayed. This is important for improving SEO because it creates a better user experience for your audience and a more inclusive environment that invites more users to use your brand. Image alt text is also important because it will show up in place of your image if it is not loading, so it is a good backup to have in case there are any issues. 

Alt text is something that all businesses should have with their images. With alt text, search engines are also more likely to scan and rank your site, leading to better SEO and giving you more opportunities for displaying keywords. Having this text allows those who are visually impaired to have an opportunity to get descriptions of the images that are on your site. This gives everyone a chance to enjoy the visuals that illustrate your business. Alt text still matters in SEO.

bad image alt text

Alt Text

Let’s break these ideas down a bit more. What is alt text? The word “alt text” is short for “alternative text,” which is a description of an image that makes sense of it when it can’t be viewed.

Examples of Image Alt Text

Now that we have gone through what image alt text is and why it is important, you still may not have a clear idea of what image alt text looks like. Together, let’s make this easy to visualize. We are going to go through examples of good vs bad image alt text. These will help you to understand what is wanted for the alt text description you come up with, and what is not. 

Good Image Alt Text

In order to have good image alt text, you want more detail rather than a simple keyword. This will really illustrate the image placed on your site so that it appears to be unique and special to viewers. Images should be described as specifically as possible, in a way that is not vague. If it is a baseball player, state who it is and what their team is on, not just “baseball player.” 

  • Ex: “Kris Bryant, outfielder of the Cubs, hits a home run at Wrigley Field.”

In this example, the user is given the context of who the player is and what is going on. They are given the opportunity to visualize the photo as much as possible with words if the image itself is not available. 

Context is always important for a photo. However, in some circumstances, context may not easy to understand. It may be a stock image with a person on it who you do not know the name of, in a location you do not know. If this happens, you can still use the image on your site and have acceptable image alt text. In this situation, use adjectives within the context of what your image is in relation to your site. Instead of calling the person “woman,” call her what she is in the context of the photo. This could be “business professional” or “music professor,” or any other adjectives that assist in further describing who the person is.

  • Ex: “Music professor points to the smart board in a classroom.”

In this example, while a specific person or place is not named, it is still easy to visualize what is going on in the photo. 

good image alt text

Bad Image Alt Text

Bad image alt text is when a photo is described too vaguely. In other words, it is a set of text that does not represent the photo well enough. If the photo has a dog, don’t just put “dog.” Try and figure out what that dog is doing, and an adjective that describes it.

  • Bad ex: “Dog sitting”
  • Good ex: “Golden retriever sadly sits while waiting for its owner”

The bad example does not allow you to visualize the context of the photo like the good example does. If the article was about the importance of companionship for dogs, the first example will not make a lot of sense and will make the user question its relevance. The good example provides specifications that lead back to the point of the article, bringing more clarity and allowing for better SEO. The more descriptions, the better it is for SEO, as there will be more keywords that will bring your site to the top of searches. 

The key to creating the best image alt text is to be able to close your eyes, have the description read to you, and have the ability to picture the image in your head clearly. 

Importance of Alt Text for Images

We have briefly touched on the importance of alt text for images, but let’s break these ideas down more. You should include it with all of your images for many reasons. 

  • Makes your site more accessible for those who are visually impaired or have other disabilities
  • Provides more keywords for your site
  • Provides link-building strategies
  • Clearer understanding of subject matters
  • Improves SEO
  • Improves computer algorithms 
  • Google will have a better understanding of what your image and site are about
  • Increases the chance of image appearing in Google Images after search results, which will lead more users to your site
  • Provides a better experience for users
  • Improves image traffic
  • Turns images into hyperlinked search results  

image alt text

Alt Text Specifications

There is still more to learn about what image alt text is and why it is so important. Not only should alt text be used for pictures, but it should be used for any graphical content like graphical bullets and graphical horizontal rules. Logos should also have alt text, however, this does not have to be very descriptive like the usual alt text for images. Logo alt text should just identify the logo’s name and nothing more. Even toolbar image designs should have alt text, but these can be blank tags. 

With no alt tag at all, the text will simply read “image,” which is a vague description that will leave users wondering what is missing. An alt text description reading “blue toolbar design” may be problematic as well because the design may be spread throughout the site. This could cause this alt text to be repeated several times. This will create a repetitive and excessive reading task for users.

Captions vs. Alt Text

Image captions are not the same as image alt text. Captions go in the caption text below the image, along with information about the image involving copyright and image source. Captions look more like a description in sentence form, while alt text looks more like a link. Alt text is an alternative option for the photo and should always be there, while image captions should be viewed as an extra add-on for the photo that is sometimes there. Mostly, you’ll find captions in places where the photo is more topical like a news event or history book. 

importance of image alt text

Getting Started

Now that you know what image alt text is and why it is important, you may want to figure out how to implement it into your site. Adding image alt text is quite simple, depending on the software you are using. There are many videos online that can help give you a step-by-step process on how to do it. Many programs will have you start by clicking the photo and going from there. For Microsoft Word specifically, you start by clicking the photo, then finding “format,” and then an “alt text” option should appear. It will give you options for writing a description. If the image is merely a decorative graphic, like the blue toolbar example from earlier, this is where you mark that option and leave the description blank. 

After that, your alt text should be good to go. Screen readers will be able to read image descriptions with more than just “image,” which is why it is so important that you don’t ignore alt text. If you still need help incorporating alt text on your website, don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at SEO Design Chicago. We can help you optimize your website in a wide variety of ways, so you can reach the largest audience.

FAQ:

  • What is image alt text?
  • How does alt text improve SEO?
  • How can I make my site more accessible?
  • What is an example of good alt text?
  • What is the difference between image captions and alt text?

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