Sometimes called “alt tags” or “alt descriptions,” alt text is short for "alternative text," and is a brief description added to an image on a website.
This often overlooked description provides context for an image on your website to enhance accessibility for users with visual impairments who use screen readers - and it’s a heavy lifter for your website’s search engine optimization (SEO), too.
You may know alt text because it appears on a website when an image fails to load, but users with visual impairments depend on it - and Google (and Bing) consider it a deciding factor for putting your website at the top of the heap.
Why It’s Important
Crucial for web accessibility & ADA compliance, alt text allows users who are visually impaired to understand image content through the use of screen readers that read the alt text aloud to them.
And because search engines like Google and Bing value accessibility for users, adding alt text to images also improves SEO rankings.
Additionally, alt text helps website crawler bots read and understand what your site is about which increases the odds of your site landing on the top page for an image (or information) query from a user who might just be your ideal customer.
How Web Accessibility Effects Organic Traffic
A study analyzing 847 websites found that most sites experienced an increase in organic traffic after implementing web accessibility solutions, which include alt text.
Specifically, 73.4% of the sites saw traffic growth, with an average increase of 12% in traffic.
This implies that enhancing overall web accessibility, including the use of alt text, can have a positive effect on organic traffic (and, thus, sales and revenue). - Source: SEMRUSH
Alt Text as a Ranking Factor
Alt text is acknowledged as a ranking factor for Google Image Search because Google uses alt text (along with other factors) to understand the content of images.
This indicates that well-written alt text can aid in ranking images in search results, which indirectly affects overall website visibility and, potentially, traffic. - Source: Search Engine Journal
On-Page SEO Influence
An analysis of search results for specific queries showed that websites with images using appropriate alt text often ranked higher.
This suggests that alt text can influence a website's position on SERPs, particularly for long-tail search terms. However, it should be noted that this is just one of many factors influencing SERP rankings. - Source: Website Magazine
Beginning in 2018, the HubSpot Blog team conducted aninternal studyon SEO that focused on image alt text and its effect on rankings. They found that alt text alone helped increase their blog’s image traffic by 779% in less than a year, which resulted in 160,000 more organic views for their website.
SGE: Search Generative Experience (AI) & Alt Text
According toHubSpot, Google uses alt text along with computer vision algorithms and the page's contents to understand the subject matter of images.
This helps Google to not only understand what the images are about but also what the webpage as a whole is about- which can increase the chances of images appearing in image search results, especially with Google’s rollout of Search Generative Experience (SGE).
Character Count for Best Practice Alt Text
Numerous types of screen readers and apps stop reading alt text beyond 125 characters which leads many professionals to keep the alt text within that limit even though different website platforms allow for more.
When images are more complex, theWAI guidelines can help copywriters figure out the best approach.
HubSpot CMS How-Tos
In HubSpot, click on an image. Then click the edit icon (which looks like a pencil), and an image optimization pop-up box will appear.
The image optimization window should look like this inside your HubSpot portal:
When writing alt text in Shopify, click on the image. This will open a box to the top right of your screen with small blue text that reads “add alt text.”
Clicking this will open a box into which you can write up to 225 characters. (Again, we recommend keeping it to 125 for screen readers). When you’re done, be sure to click the “save alt text” in blue below the box.
It should look like this:
In WordPress, open the Block tab in the sidebar by clicking on any image. Add the alt text in the empty field under the section labeled "Image Settings."
Make sure to click “Update” from the toolbar at the top of your screen when you’re finished.
It should look like this:
Click the photo you want to create alt text for, and then click the Settings icon, which looks like a gear. You should then see the "Image Settings" pop-up.
In the "Image Text" section, type your alt text under "What's in the image? Tell Google." When you're done, click the "X" at the top of the Image Settings pop-up.
The pop-up should look like this:
Why Not DIY Your Alt Text?
Quite a few website owners ask this question, so here’s the best answer: because it’s more complicated than it looks.
Not only do you need to know SEO best practices, but you must keep in mind (in equal measure):
the most relevant keywords
All of these must be considered in tandem as you describe the image to a person who can’t see it.
An SEO copywriter crafts alt text that enhances accessibility by allowing visually impaired users to understand image content through screen readers - and their expertise in SEO ensures images are effectively indexed by search engines, boosting your site's visibility.
Their skill in descriptive writing not only aids in complying with web accessibility standards but also enhances the overall user experience, ensuring that images contribute meaningfully to the narrative and context of the website.
This holistic approach not only aligns with ethical web design principles but also strategically positions the website for better engagement and search engine ranking.
Not only am I an experienced copywriter with over 15 years of experience, but I’m also certified in SEO by HubSpot - and I have a keen eye for writing concise language. My PhD is in English with a specialization in creative writing: poetry (hyper-concise language).
And I’m an alt text nerd.
So if you’re looking to increase your website’s richness, SEO, and accessibility for people who are visually impaired, just ask us for help.
Just like all of us atWhite Raven, I’m a full partner - an owner - in our business which means my attention to your alt text is as important to me as it is to you.