How 'alt text' for images is your best friend

A simple form with your image upload makes it easy to add 'alt text'.
This common image dialog makes is easy to add an alt text to your image.

In these days of human-friendly webforms and plain language instructions, the term 'alt text' is an geeky reminder of the first years of web development, when simple websites were built using raw HTML. 

Seeing those words on a image upload form or dialog, anyone can be mistaken for thinking this is something too technical and opaque to bother about.  Really, what does it mean? 

Take the time to learn, because the 'alt text' attribute can be your best friend on your website.

What does 'alt text' mean?

The term 'alt text' is a short version of 'alternative text'.  It refers to a word, phrase, or better yet, brief sentence that can be added to an image or graphic.  In cases where the image or graphic can't appear (for example, in a text-only browser or where your visitor has switch images off), the 'alt text' appears instead of the image, and should describe the appearance, content or nature of the missing image.

Easiest accessibility tool ever

One of the most important uses for the 'alt text' attribute is to make a website accessible to visitors who are visually-impaired, and that short, descriptive sentence helps a visually-impaired user to determine whether that image is important - and to glean the important information that was otherwise conveyed only visually.

There are many accessibility features that your web developer must build into your website, and now most websites make the 'alt text' available as an easy-to-use text field.  As you add images and other content to your website, don't ignore that little text field.  Stop, take a minute and type in a description.

A gift for SEO

Ignore that little field at your peril.  The 'alt text' attribute offers you an opportunity to add more information about your content, and a good desscription of all your images is an SEO bonus which requires a very small effort to achieve.  The 'alt text' attribute helps your search engine position in two ways:

  1. It offers evidence that the website is 'well-maintained' and follows good practice, which search engines like Google and Yahoo really like.
  2. It adds text to a non-textual element, where you can reinforce your main message.

Getting the most out of 'alt text'

SEO consultants will use that 'alt text' attribute to pack a big keyword punch, and will carefully load a calculated number of selected keywords into this field.  Done badly, it can miss the goal of also being accessible, and too much keyword-loading can cause you penalties.   Here are some examples of how to refine the 'alt text' attribute for an image of an olive tree:

  • Always use a sentence: 'This is an olive tree.'
  • You can describe the image literally: 'This is the olive tree I found on my walk through Lisbon.'
  • You can describe the image conceptually: 'The olive is at the core of the healthy Mediterranean diet.'
  • Make the description reflect the key concept of the website or page or news item.

And there is is.  A simple little thing with a big impact. 

If you find you cannot add 'alt text' to the images on your website, it may be time to upgrade to a system that works for you.  Contact AlbanyWeb if you would like advice on a conversion or upgrade.