Alt Text: Optimize Your Site for Screen-Reading Software

Two gray pencils for writing alt text for a website sitting on a yellow background

We recently posted about why and how you should align your website with guidelines that support the American with Disabilities Act. A key part of that is making sure you’re using alt text for your images and using it correctly.

First of all, what's alt text?

If an image on a site fails to load—or if a visitor is using text-to-speech software—alt text is the written content that replaces the image. Such content allows screen-reading tools to describe images to visually-impaired users, or if readers have turned off images due to a slow internet connection, they can still see what should be there. Plus, alt text enables search engines to better crawl your site, thus potentially increasing your search rank.

Regardless of whether you’re concerned about SEO and search rankings, providing the best user experience possible should be at the top of your web presence goals. So how does one go about writing alt text?

Fortunately, most content management systems make it easy to create or update alt text, either when placing an image or by clicking the image to edit. Figuring out how to edit the content is the simple part—deciding what to write is a bit more complex. The tips below will help you correctly utilize your alt text.

1. Be Specific.

You should describe the information contained in the image, not the image itself—much like writing a caption for a photo in a news or magazine article. For example:

Copywriter composing a blog for alt text best practices
Bad alt text: woman typing on laptop.
Good alt text: Copywriter composing a blog for alt text best practices.


2. Include keywords but keep them to a minimum.

The description should always be relevant to your article or web page topic, so don’t go overboard with keywords that have little or no context. Doing so will only confuse the search engines, not to mention visitors to your site.

3. Avoid unnecessary wording like “picture of” or “image of.”

This just wastes space. Remember—write a photo caption, not a literal description.

4. Keep descriptions fewer than 125 characters.

This is the limit for most screen-reading tools, so be clear and concise to maximize user experience.

5. Active images (images that are linked) should have alt text that describes the action performed—what will happen when the linked image is clicked?

Think about your users interacting verbally rather than visually and describe active images to help them navigate your site with ease.

6. All images should have alt text, but only images that are active and images containing information require descriptions.

Decorative images should have empty alt text. They still need alt attributes, though, in order to instruct the screen reader to ignore the image.

Visually reinforcing your web content is important as images and text walk hand-in-hand online. However, alt text is a key component of that relationship. By creating helpful image descriptions for visually-impaired visitors, you’re not only enriching user experience—you’re also making an effort to comply with accommodation guidelines

Still have questions? Give us a call for a consultation. We’ll be glad to help you to evaluate your site and properly update your alt text.