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Blogs by Madeleine Helme

Madeleine Helme

| 4 min read

Your Guide to Alt Text and Alt Descriptions

By Madeleine Helme

Your Guide to Alt Text and Alt Descriptions
Your Guide to Alt Text and Alt Descriptions
  1. What is metadata?
  2. What is alt text?
  3. How to write alt text and descriptions

Images are an essential component of any successful website. Whether it’s an accounting company’s website or a personal blog, people are unlikely to stick around if there are no images or graphics. Images serve a number of purposes on a website, such as solidifying your branding, making the page visually appealing, signposting users to other pages or calls to action, and breaking up text to make your content more engaging and readable.

But did you know that images can also help you when it comes to search engine optimisation? They can, and this all comes down to the metadata behind your website.

What is metadata?

The term ‘metadata’ refers to a type of data that describes other types of data. In terms of your website, metadata is the data that describes your webpages and the content contained on them. This includes a title and meta description for each page. While visitors to your website can’t see this information on your website, it is used by search engines and can be seen by users in search engine results pages (SERPs).

What is alt text?

When it comes to images, the important metadata in question is known as alt text, sometimes referred to as alt descriptions or alt tags. Alt text is an element of HTML code attached to an image on your website. It is added to the code to describe what can be seen in the related image.

Why do you need alt text on your website?

Alt text serves a number of purposes when it comes to optimising your website. It can help you attract more visitors to your website and then make navigation on your site easier once they land on it. Here are the three key reasons you need to include alt text on your website…

Photographer: Sigmund | Source: Unsplash

Alt text for accessibility

When a visually impaired person views a webpage using a screen reader or similar technology, that tool is unable to scan or “read” an image. It can, however, read the text behind that image. This is the alt text. When scanning a page, a screen reader will read all the text on a webpage aloud to its user. Once it gets to an image, it will read the alt text behind that image, which should accurately describe the elements in the image or what it is representing.

This helps visually impaired users to get a full understanding of every element on the page and how they relate to each other. As a result, these users face fewer barriers when it comes to navigating your website and interacting with your brand, helping your brand be more inclusive towards your customers and audience.

Photographer: Stephen Phillips – Hostreviews.co.uk | Source: Unsplash

Alt text for SEO

Google’s search engine bots, known as spiders, can also scan your webpage in a similar way to the above screen reader. They do this on every webpage of every website to index each one for search purposes. This way, Google knows how relevant each webpage is to the keywords that someone is searching for, helping the search engine to provide the best, most relevant results.

Google’s spiders can’t “see” images, so they use the alt text to determine what each image is showing. Including relevant keywords in your alt text and being descriptive in a way that relates to the content on the page can help Google rank your page more effectively. This makes it more likely that you will show up in SERPs when someone searches for whatever it is you are promoting.

Improved SEO can also go hand-in-hand with the above use of alt text because Google often ranks accessible websites more highly than their non-accessible counterparts.

Photographer: Christopher Gower | Source: Unsplash

Alt text for functionality

There may be occasions where the images on your website fail to load properly. This could occur due to a problem with the backend or development of your website, or it could be due to connectivity issues on the user’s end. Either way, it leaves the user with only half the picture when it comes to your website content.

In this case, it can be useful for the user to know what should be displayed in that blank space even if they can’t see it. Descriptive alt text can provide them with this additional information, perhaps helping to improve their user experience.

How to write alt text and descriptions

When someone uploads an image to a website, it will usually use the name of the file as the alt text by default. The file name is usually not very useful for the above purposes. It may be a very simple description of what the image is or it may just be a string of letters and numbers.

To avoid this, you should manually add alt tags to your images. You should be able to do this within your website’s content management system (CMS) or by adding it directly into the HTML code. If you don’t have experience with coding or with your website’s CMS, then you may want to leave this task to your developer. But you can do it yourself if you have the know-how.

Here are a few tips for writing effective alt descriptions:

· Include keywords – Using keywords in your alt text can help boost your SEO, but try not to stuff your alt descriptions with keywords as this can have an adverse effect and isn’t very useful for your users.

· Be specific – Make sure you are descriptive about all the relevant details in the image without being overly wordy or repeating yourself. For example, “Tabby cat sleeping in its owner’s lap” is better than a less descriptive tag like “Cat”.

· Write for the user – Pitch your alt descriptions at a human user rather than Google’s bots. Write using descriptive statements that are easy to understand and really paint a picture.

· Short and snappy – Most SEO experts recommend no more than 125 characters for your alt descriptions as search engines and screen readers may cut off after this point.

If you need help writing alt descriptions for your website’s images or adding them to your website, then we can help. Vitty provides a variety of digital marketing services for businesses in and around Nottingham. Get in touch to find out how we can help you with SEO and other marketing essentials.