Image Alt Text – Why it is Great for Everyone

April 11, 2022

Text on hot pink background that says Image Alt Text - what, where, how & why to use them. Photography Scavenger hunt logo in lower right corner

Sooo. What is image alt text (or alternative text) and why is it great for all of us?

Alt Text is simply text that describes an image or it’s function on a website (including social media sites).

If you’re already convinced, click on a link below to skip ahead to learn how to add them your posts

Common Misconceptions about alt text

 

Text on hot pink background that says Image Alt Text - what, where, how & why to use them. Photography Scavenger hunt logo in lower right corner

Alt Text is for more than Screen Readers

A useful alt text description is critical for a good experience by people using screen readers, but it is also used by viewers with sight.

icon for broken imagesHave you ever been in an area with super slow internet and low bandwidth and seen a page with a bunch of broken images instead of photos? If those images had alt text, it would be displayed instead. This happens more often than you might think. While cell service is better and better, metal buildings can block cell signals both if you walk inside – but also if you are outside and surrounded by them. If a WI-fi hotspot or cell tower is heavily used, bandwidth will suffer.

The internet is no longer limited to just phones, tablets and desktop computers. Various digital assistants and apps will read websites (Similar to, but not the same as screen readers.) and include alt text descriptions. While many users do have good vision, and may look at the images before or after listening, the descriptions still provide a better user experience.

Who knows what the future will bring? Technology is rapidly changing and evolving. Adding text descriptions to your images now, may help future proof your website and posts.

I’m a photographer, blind people do not use image intensive websites

This is a trick – there are actually two misconceptions here.

First – blindness is not binary. There are many types of vision loss, and one can still be legally blind yet be able to see light and shadow. Other people may be able to see general shape and color, but not have clear enough vision to read easily and discern details in an image.

No matter the level of vision loss, people still buy artwork for themselves and for gifts. They still want to read about travels, about sports, the news – just like anyone else. Those that lost their vision over time can still recreate a mental image from your description, and even those that were totally blind from birth can still fuse your description and their imagination. It’s no different than reading science fiction set on a far away planet, we can imagine incredible creatures, plants, and landscapes that do not exist in our world. But do not worry, you do not need to write a novel with each image.

Alt text is hard and time consuming to add

Nope. This is straight up false too. As stated above, you do not need to write a novel with each image. A concise description of the key elements of the photo is al you need – generally a line or two. While there are AI tools to help, photographers are story tellers, and you know best what the most important elements in the photo are. Here’s an example from our home page:

Silhouette of 7 photographers with tripods facing a predawn orange sky that fades to dark blue at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada The alt text is “Silhouette of 7 photographers with tripods facing a predawn orange sky that fades to dark blue at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada” 

(for those one small screens, the figure on the right is actually 2 people standing close together)

That’s really all that’s necessary. The shape of the horizon isn’t important to the image, I could have said one was seated, but that’s not super important to the story either. If an emotion is critical, you can include that. An example could be a shot of happy people at a carnival, if the joyous mood is relevant, then by all means add it. Just keep it short, simple, concise, and clear.

Do not add irrelevant keywords. The days of keyword stuffing for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) are long past. While alt text can help your SEO – it only helps when you’ve wisely chosen an image that’s relevant to the content on the page or post. For example if you are writing an article about traveling to Italy, you probably wouldn’t have photos of South Dakota. You’d have photos of the Dolomites, Venice, Naples, etc.

How to add Alt Text to Images

Now that you understand why it’s important to add them, lets get started adding them to your website and social media posts.

How to add alt text to a WordPress site

If the image you want to use is already in your WordPress Media Library, hover over the image and then click to edit.

Wordpress media library page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once in edit mode, you can add your text.

Image in WordPress Media Libray in edit mode.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you prefer, you can also add the alt text as you add an image to a post or page. I tend to do this, just as a double check to make sure it is there.

You may also want to refer to your Theme and Gallery plugin (if you use one) for directions specific to your site.

How to add Alt Text to Social Media posts

While each site is a little different, they are all straightforward. Note that this only applies to images (and videos) uploaded directly. If you’re posting a link, you do not need to add alt text.

Alt Text for Facebook

Alt Text for Instagram

Alt Text for Twitter

Tweet by Carslbad Caverns NP of a cave with many small white soda straw formations. The middle section has multiple layers of cave lily pads, which have small brown and gray flakes of mineral deposits attached on the underside.

Recently Twitter made it easy to see if an image has an alt tag – you can even click to read it yourself. This Tweet by Carlsbad Caverns shows the ALT in the lower left corner of the image.

I love that they did this, I’d much prefer to share content that everyone can enjoy. It’s especially helpful for emergencies where getting the word out about evacuations can be lifesaving. (can you tell I live in an area with frequent wildfires?). But everyone deserves to fully enjoy whatever you are sharing.

 

 

 

 

Hopefully this post illustrates how taking a moment to add an alt tag to your posts is a quick and easy way to make the web more enjoyable for all. One last resource for those that want more information and examples of good alt text is this article by Penn State.

If you have questions, please ask in the comments below.

Leave a Comment

2 Comments

  1. Peggy

    Thank.you Elizabeth. I have so much to learn!
    I appreciate this information!
    Peggy

    Reply
    • Hunt

      ♥ I’m glad you found it helpful Peggy.

      Reply

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