What is an ALT Tag?
ALT tags, also known as “alternative text,” serve to provide text-based descriptions for online images. This specific tag increases accessibility for visual imagery displayed online, which is especially beneficial to ensure screen reader compatibility. In addition ALT tags enhance the recognition and visibility of a website’s content in search engine results. In detailing the specific contents, attributes, actions, and characteristics of an image, ALT tags accomplish a multitude of objectives that benefit both the user as well as the developer and marketer.
Why Use ALT Tags?
ALT tags enhance the online experience by providing a means of interpretation for both the user as well as for search engines. Essentially, ALT tags process an image and how that image is intended to be interpreted in the space that it occupies online. For a webpage, an image can have an ALT tag that allows it to appear under search results as it includes specific terms or keywords that relate to the content its presented with. In addition, for users with low vision, who are partly sighted, or blind, or who prefer to use a screen reader, ALT tags can provide an option for an image’s description to be presented through a screen reader. The screen reader will narrate the contents of the image, or in some cases, prompt the user with a call to action that they can choose to engage with on the site.
Benefits of ALT Tags
ALT tags present an additional option to accommodate surfing the web for a more diverse and inclusive group of users, as well as provide a great solution to increase a websites search engine visibility. A comprehensive use of ALT tags is considered an accessibility best practice, and a requirement for current web development.
- For users with low vision, who are partly sighted, or blind, or who prefer to use a screen reader (the visually Impaired): As the internet has become a relied upon tool for many workflows and tasks, there is a need to increase accessibility to ensure that it is a tool available to all possible users. ALT tags have the opportunity to allow a website to provide a more inclusive experience. For users who are partly sighted, who have low vision, who are blind or visually impaired, using a different kind of browser to surf through the internet may be an option. This browser primarily features a software that reads out, among other webpage elements, the ALT tag or text that is designated to describe the contents of a webpage. In addition to describing the photo on the page, the ALT tag serves to explain the functionality behind the image and how it connects to the interaction of the website. If, for example, the image on the website was of a product to be purchased, the ALT text could include the prompt to “buy the product,” within its description.
- To increase SEO Results: For the successful use of ALT tags to increase SEO results, it is recommended for these alternative texts to be carefully crafted, with SEO optimization as well as the user experience in mind. With a winning description, images can be easily linked to the key words that ultimately increase a site’s visibility. A practice to avoid is the use of “keyword stuffing” where key words or phrases are sporadically used in a haphazard behavior that ends up being an inefficient use of the ALT tag space. With the sophistication of search engines increasing rapidly, it is recommended to craft short and concise descriptions for an alternative text which can also serve to provide an ideal space for improved accessibility.