Alt descriptions: What are they and why are they important?

What is an alt description?

An alt description, also known as alternative text, is text that is added to an image on a website (including social media channels). Added to the image element via HTML code, it is used to briefly describe the contents or purpose of an image and serves three important functions.

Three main functions of an alt description

  1. It aids accessibility for visually impaired visitors who use screen readers so they may understand the contents of the image and/or its purpose on the page.
  2. It aids SEO (Search Engine Optimization) by providing useful information to search engines that may bring additional traffic to your website or social media channel from a search query.
  3. It improves user experience by providing information about the image to those whose internet connection is slow resulting in the image not loading properly.

Three reasons to add alt descriptions to your web images

Aids Accessibility

One of the most important reasons for adding an alt description to a website’s image is to aid accessibility for anyone who is visually impaired and uses a screen reader. The descriptive text will be read by the screen reader and will help the user understand the contents of the image and/or its purpose on the page. Without it, they may be left wondering what the image is all about.

It’s important to add an alt description to any image you upload to your website so that your website remains compliant with web accessibility standards. The only exception to this rule is where an image is being used purely for aesthetic reasons, such as a background image, as the descriptive text will not be read by a screen reader.

Improves Search Engine Optimization

Another good reason to add an alt description to an image uploaded to your website and social media channels is to aid Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Alt descriptions provide useful information to search engines so that they can be found during a search.

Using keywords in an alt description that are relevant to the content on your web page or social media channel will help improve SEO for that page or channel. However, be careful not to add to many instances of the same keyword or key phrase to your page, as this may be detrimental to SEO.

Provides Useful Information

Another reason why it’s important to include an alt description is that it provides information to anyone who has a slow internet connection. If an image does not load properly, the alt description will appear and provide the user with information about the contents or purpose of the image.

How to add an alt description to an image in WordPress.

When you add an image to a WordPress website, there are three fields available for you to enter information about your image: the title, the caption and the “alt text”.

By default, when you upload your image, the title field will be populated with the filename you gave your image, but you’ll need to enter the caption and alt text yourself.

Many people skip adding the alt text as they do not realize its importance and/or relevance.

As noted earlier, alt descriptions provide important information and serve three important functions, so always be sure to add an alt description every time you upload an image to your WordPress website.

  1. Upload your image using your preferred method (i.e. either via the media library or directly to the page it is to appear on using the editor or page builder installed on your website).
  2. After your image has finished uploading and before you insert it on your page, you may need to edit the title to remove hyphens and to capitalize words as necessary.
  3. In the “alt text” field, enter a brief description of the image. The description should briefly describe the contents of the image and/or its purpose on the page. E.g. 6 guests enjoy dinner at XYZ restaurant.
  4. You may also add a caption if you are using a method to display captions with your image (e.g. in an image slider or gallery).

Note: Any title, alt description and/or caption that you enter at this stage will automatically be included with your image whenever you upload it to another page. Some web page builders include modules that enable you to edit this information at the page level if necessary.

Tip: Be sure to give your image a relevant filename before uploading.

How to add an alt description to an image on Facebook.

  1. Upload your image as usual
  2. Click the 3 dots (top right)
  3. Click “Edit alt text”
  4. Enter description and click done
  5. Enter your caption as usual

How to add an alt description to an image on Instagram.

  1. Click the + icon to upload image as usual
  2. Click Next to edit image, add music etc.
  3. Click Next to write a caption, add location etc.
  4. Scroll down and click “Advanced Settings”
  5. Scroll down to “Accessibility” and click “Write Alt Text”
  6. Add your description, and click Done.
  7. Click the back arrow to get back to your post.
  8. Click “Share”.

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