What is alt text?
Alt text is the information used to describe an image. Sometimes, you might hear alt text referred to as an alt tag, alt description, or alt attribute, but they’re all just different names for the same things.
Why alt tags are important
Search engines aren’t human, so you need to communicate to search engines in the way they understand. When search engines crawl sites, they can’t actually ‘see’ the images on your site, so you have to be descriptive in your image alt text and when writing your image file names. It’s also a good idea to add alt text to any buttons on your site.
Besides adding a boost to your SEO, adding descriptive alt text and image file names is key to website accessibility. Websites are created for users, so creating sites that are accessible for everyone is important. Going through all of your images and adding descriptions makes it easier for individuals using screen readers to navigate your site and understand your content.
The basics of image file names
Although alt text holds more weight for SEO, you can give your site (and its accessibility) an extra boost by combining descriptive alt text with great file names.
When you’re naming your image files, it’s best to include basic descriptions. For example, if it’s a photo of stores in Fitzroy, a good file name might be fitzroy-shops.jpg (keep in mind that hyphens should be used in the place of spaces). Random file names don’t add anything of value to search engines.
Examples of alt text that may need to be improved
When you create alt text, think about how you’d describe the image to a friend you’re on the phone with. Sometimes, writing alt text is as easy as that. So, if there’s a picture of a black jacket on your site, you might want to avoid alt text like ‘jacket”or ‘black jacket on sale fifty percent off best jacket softest jacket cheapest jacket’. You definitely wouldn’t describe the image to your friend in either of those ways. The first description doesn’t say quite enough, while the second one is too long and stuffed with keywords.
Examples of good alt text
When you write alt text, there are some rules you should stick by:
- Keep it short, usually around 125 characters is the maximum.
- Do include keywords when it’s relevant, but don’t overstuff.
- If you have multiple images on one page, only one image per page needs to contain a keyword.
- You don’t need to start the description with ‘image of’. Just go ahead and start describing!
Following these rules, a good alt tag for a photo of a black jacket might be ‘plus-size black corduroy jacket for women’.
It’s also good to keep in mind how branding may play a role in the effectiveness of alt text. If you have a specific name for a product or feature (e.g. you have a branded name for a product or colour), consider if it will best serve search engines and users to use the branded term or generic term in your alt tag.
For example, would it make more sense for someone using a screen reader to know that your product comes in the colour ‘toast’ or ‘light beige’? Would it be better to describe your earrings as ‘hoop earrings’ or ‘sleepers’?
If you follow all of these rules and tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating your own highly effective alt text.
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