Home / Digital Advertising & Marketing Glossary / Alt Tag

What Is an Alt Tag?

An alt tag, short for alternative text, is a crucial aspect of web development and digital marketing that significantly enhances web accessibility and search engine optimization (SEO). Primarily, it provides a textual alternative to images on a web page for users who are unable to see them. This includes users who rely on screen readers due to visual impairments, as well as circumstances where images fail to load on a user's screen. By offering a clear explanation of what is depicted in an image, alt tags play a pivotal role in delivering a complete user experience. Moreover, search engines utilize alt tags to understand and index an image's content, contributing to a website's SEO performance.

Why Are Alt Tags Important for Accessibility?

Alt tags hold significant value in making the web more accessible to individuals with disabilities. They serve as an inclusive practice, ensuring that all users have equal access to information, regardless of their ability to perceive visual content.

  • Support for Screen Readers: Alt tags are read aloud by screen readers, providing context to users who are blind or have low vision.
  • Context for Images That Fail to Load: When an image doesn't load due to slow internet or server issues, the alt text will appear in place of the image, explaining its intended message.
  • Understanding in Multimedia-Restricted Environments: In settings where multimedia content is restricted or turned off, alt text ensures users still receive the information conveyed through images.

How Do Alt Tags Benefit SEO?

Alt tags are not only pivotal for accessibility but also enhance a website’s SEO. Search engines like Google use them to understand and classify the content of images, affecting how a website ranks in search results.

  • Improving Image Search Rankings: Well-crafted alt text can help images rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant queries.
  • Contextual Relevance: Alt tags provide context to search engines about the relevancy of an image to the surrounding text, aiding in the overall SEO of the page.
  • Enhancing User Experience: By ensuring content is accessible to all users, alt tags contribute to a positive website user experience, a factor considered by search engines in ranking websites.

What Are the Best Practices for Writing Alt Tags?

Writing effective alt tags is an art that balances brevity with descriptiveness, ensuring they are valuable for both users and search engines.

Be Accurate and Descriptive

An alt tag should accurately describe the image's content and function.

Keep It Short

Alt text should be concise. Aim for descriptions that are brief yet informative, ideally less than 125 characters.

Use Keywords Wisely

Including relevant keywords in alt tags can improve a webpage's SEO, but it's important to avoid keyword stuffing. The primary focus should always be on providing clear and useful descriptions for users.

Avoid Redundant Phrases

Phrases like "image of" or "picture of" are unnecessary since screen readers typically announce images as such.

How to Implement Alt Tags?

Implementing alt tags is a straightforward process in most content management systems (CMS) and web development environments.

HTML Implementation

When adding an image to a webpage through HTML, the alt attribute can be included as follows:

<img src="path/to/image.jpg" alt="descriptive text">

CMS Platforms

Most CMS platforms offer a field for entering alt text when uploading or editing an image. This approach simplifies the process, ensuring alt tags are not overlooked.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

While alt tags are beneficial when used correctly, certain practices can diminish their effectiveness or harm your site’s SEO and accessibility.

  • Leaving Alt Text Empty: Failing to provide any alt text for images, especially informative graphics, creates barriers for users relying on screen readers.
  • Overusing Keywords: Stuffing alt text with keywords can lead to penalties from search engines and degrade the user experience for those using screen readers.
  • Being Too Vague: Generic or overly simplified alt texts fail to convey sufficient information to users and search engines.

Alt tags serve a dual purpose of enhancing web accessibility and improving SEO. By following best practices for writing and implementing alt tags, web developers and content creators can offer a more inclusive and effective web experience. Taking the time to craft meaningful alt text is a small effort that can lead to significant benefits, ensuring content is accessible to a broader audience and performs better in search results.