This post looks at what types of things you should write in your image ALT descriptions, and how to balance the needs of both search engine optimization and accessibility for the best of both worlds!
What is ALT text?
An “ALT attribute” is text added to the HTML of an image to help describe it (“ALT” is short for “alternative”).
You may see it referred to as an “ALT tag,” “ALT attribute,” “ALT text” or “ALT description,” which are all referring to the same thing. However, from a technical perspective, the correct term is “ALT attribute” not “ALT tag.”
What is ALT text for?
The most important thing to remember about ALT text is that it’s used by screen readers. Screen readers are programs that read web pages aloud to visually impaired people so they understand what your image is showing. This should always be your first consideration when writing ALT text; that you’re describing the image for people who can’t see it (humans are always more important than search engines).
ALT test is also used by search engines to figure out what your image is about. While Google is becoming increasingly smart at automatically recognizing what’s in an image, ALT text gives you the control for your own images and website, and helps your image SEO and regular on-page SEO more at the same time.
How to write great ALT text
Since the likelihood is that you’re writing ALT text for both people and search engines, it’s important to find the right balance. Your ALT text shouldn’t be a string of keywords, or not describe the image at all.
It can help to put your keyword phrase near the beginning and then go into a description of your image. This way it’s helpful for SEO but doesn’t leave a reader clueless if they’re relying on your description. You don’t have to do this; there are plenty of ways to write good ALT descriptions, but it’s a quick and easy hack if you’re just starting out.
ALT text examples:
Best Victoria Sponge Cake, Sponge Cake Recipe, Easy Sponge Cake Recipe.
Just a list of keywords for search engines that doesn’t help a visually impaired person understand what the image is.
Just the default image name that doesn’t tell you anything about the picture.
Best Victoria Sponge Cake Recipe – A thick slice of double-layer sponge cake with jam and cream, dusted with icing sugar and presented on a wire cooling rack.
This ALT description includes keywords for search engines, but also provides context and helps a visually impaired person imagine what’s in the image.
How to add ALT text to your images
In WordPress, when uploading to the Media Library or by clicking an existing image in the Media Library, you’ll see a field for ALT text on the right hand side. Note that adding or changing this text doesn’t update it for past images you’ve put in posts and pages, only instances moving forward.
If you’re using the code/text editor or have a non-WordPress website, you can add ALT text to your images with this code, replacing the image name, and your chosen ALT text:
<img src="https://www.yourwebsite.com/your-image-name.jpg" alt="Your ALT text here" />
ALT text vs. Pinterest pin descriptions
Many people also use ALT text for their Pinterest pin description. Instead of doing this, you should use the specific code created for describing pins. This is covered in our blog post, How To Optimize Your Site For Pinterest.
Always add ALT text – It’s worth it to help both your visitors and search engines.
Say what you see – Just describe the image in a practical way, as if you were explaining what was in it to someone who can’t see your screen.
Don’t overthink it – You don’t have to agonize for ages over your ALT descriptions; don’t let perfect be the enemy of good! Once you get used to writing them, they’ll take you less than a minute per image.
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