The Importance Alt Text for Website Accessibility and SEO

Imagine a world where certain individuals couldn’t experience the beauty and utility of your website in its full glory. Sounds unfair, doesn’t it? Enter alt text, the unsung hero of web accessibility.

Short for “alternative text,” alt text is a description added to images on a webpage, serving as an audio alternative that can be read by screen readers. This feature’s significance extends beyond accessibility, however, influencing SEO performance, user experience, and even legal compliance.

Let’s look at why alt text should be a non-negotiable element in your web design strategy.

Levelling the Playing Field: Accessibility

First and foremost, alt text is crucial for accessibility. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 285 million people worldwide suffer from some form of visual impairment. By neglecting to implement alt text, you’re inadvertently excluding a substantial demographic from interacting with your website.

People with visual impairments interact with the web in a fundamentally different way, often relying on screen readers to navigate websites. Alt text is the bridge that converts a visual medium into an auditory experience. Screen reading technology vocalizes the alt text, giving visually impaired users an understanding of the image content.

When you make your website accessible by using alt text, you’re expanding your reach to include this significant audience, thereby fulfilling a social obligation to make your online presence universally accessible.

Visually impaired person using a braille keyboard to access a computer, emphasizing the importance of alt text for images.

Boosting Your Online Presence: SEO Benefits

When search engines like Google crawl your website, they also index images. However, while search engines have evolved remarkably, their capability to interpret images is still limited. They rely on the text surrounding the image to ascertain what the image represents. This is where alt text shines.

By embedding relevant keywords in your alt text, you’re essentially giving search engines more context to index your website accurately. So not only does alt text benefit your human users, but it also aids the algorithms that determine your site’s SEO ranking.

And in the realm of online marketing, even a small uptick in search ranking can translate to increased visibility and revenue.

Enriching User Experience: Contingency Planning

Even if your site visitors do not have visual impairments, alt text still plays an essential role. Internet glitches happen. Slow connections, missing files, or even ad-blockers can prevent images from displaying properly.

In such instances, your users will see empty boxes instead of images. In these situations, the alt text serves as a placeholder, providing textual context until the image fully loads. It ensures that the user’s experience remains uninterrupted, which is pivotal in today’s impatient digital culture.

Mitigating Legal Risks: Compliance with ADA

Failure to incorporate alt text can also have legal repercussions.

Canadian Website Accessibility

Canada has several laws that enhance a barrier-free society. The Accessible Canada Act is one such directive that all electronic and information technology has no barrier to access for people with disabilities.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires that all federal agencies and public, private, and non-profit organizations are accessible to people with disabilities. The OADA law expects the websites and mobile apps to follow WCAG 2.0 level AA.

ADA Law and Website Accessibility Guidelines

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) governs everything to do with website accessibility for people with disabilities. ADA outlines that any person or organization must make their website readily accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities if it is for use by the public. It means that your site must be navigable to disabled people using assistive technology. To meet website accessibility legal requirements, you’ll need to ensure that all of your website’s pages are compliant with web accessibility guidelines.

All websites and web pages need to have “text equivalents” for images and graphics. Each ‘text equivalent’ means describing the same information in an alternative format equally usable by screen readers, such as Braille or large print. Also, ensure that all of your site’s images are accessible to disabled people, including text alternatives for pictures for the blind and those with low vision.


How to Effectively Implement Alt Text

Now that we’ve established the importance of alt text, the next step is effective implementation.

Writing good alt text involves more than merely describing the visual elements in an image. The description must be purposeful, relevant to the content, and sufficiently detailed to offer meaningful context without being verbose. It should be descriptive yet concise, focusing on the image’s function within the context of the page.

Be mindful of the character limit (usually around 125 characters for screen readers) and avoid unnecessary phrases like “image of” or “graphic of” as they’re redundant and take up valuable space.

A few examples

A Team Photo on a Company Website

Poor Alt Text: Team photo
Good Alt Text: Team photo of XYZ Corp’s marketing department smiling in front of a whiteboard with project plans.

A Product Image on an E-commerce Site

Poor Alt Text: Mixer
Good Alt Text: Red KitchenAid stand mixer with stainless steel bowl on a wooden countertop.

A Logo with Brand Name

Poor Alt Text: Logo
Good Alt Text: XYZ Corp logo featuring a blue globe and the tagline ‘Empowering Your Business.’

An Infographic Demonstrating a Process

Poor Alt Text: Infographic
Good Alt Text: Infographic illustrating the 5-step process for organic waste composting, from collecting scraps to the final compost.

A Graph Showing Market Trends

Poor Alt Text: Graph
Good Alt Text: Line graph displaying quarterly market trends in renewable energy investments from 2020 to 2023.

An Image in a Tutorial or How-to Guide

Poor Alt Text: Step 3
Good Alt Text: Screenshot showing how to select ‘Export’ from the ‘File’ menu in Adobe Photoshop.

An Image of a Historic Event

Poor Alt Text: Moon Landing
Good Alt Text: Black and white photo of the moon landing, featuring astronaut Neil Armstrong planting the American flag.

Wrapping Up

The utility of alt text goes beyond just a ‘good-to-have’ feature; it’s a vital component of an ethical, effective, and legally compliant website. From increasing web accessibility and improving SEO to enhancing user experience and mitigating legal risks, the benefits are manifold. In an era where digital inclusivity can no longer be ignored, implementing alt text is not merely an option but an imperative.


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