What Is ALT Text For Images?

ALT tags are used to depict the image or what the image is describing. One of the main purposes of ALT tags is for the benefit of visually impaired users who use screen readers when browsing.

ALT tags are also used for those who surf the web with images turned off or users that have text only browsers.

Anyone who knows anything about web accessibility knows that images need alternative, or ALT, text assigned to them.

This is because screen readers can’t understand images, but rather read aloud the alternative text assigned to them.

In Internet Explorer we can see this ALT text, simply by mousing over the image and looking at the yellow tool tip that appears.

Other browsers correctly don’t do this.

The HTML For Inserting ALT Text Is:

But surely there can’t be a skill to writing ALT text for images?

You just pop a description in there and you’re good to go, right?

Well, kind of.

Sure, it’s not rocket science, but there are a few guidelines you need to follow.

Spacer Images and Missing ALT Text:

Spacer images should always be assigned null ALT text, or alt=”” .

This way most screen readers will completely ignore the image and won’t even announce its presence.

Spacer images are invisible images that most websites use.

The purpose of them is, as the name suggests, to create space on the page.

Sometimes it’s not possible to create the visual display you need.

You can stick an image in specifying its height and width, so you have the extra space you need.

Not everyone uses this null ALT text for spacer images.

Some websites stick in alt=”spacer image”.

Imagine how annoying this can be for a screen reader user, especially when you have ten of them in a row.

A screen reader would say, “Image, spacer image” ten times in a row screen readers usually say the word, “Image”, before reading out its ALT text now that isn’t helpful!

Other web developers simply leave out the ALT attribute for spacer images and perhaps other images.

In this case, most screen readers will read out the filename, which could be newsite/images/onepixelspacer.gif’.

A screen reader would announce this image as “Image, newsite slash images slash one pixel spacer dot gif”.

Imagine what this would sound like if there were ten of these in a row!

Bullets and Icons:

Bullets and icons should be treated in much the same way as spacer images, so should be assigned null alternative text, or alt=””.

Think about a list of items with a fancy bullet proceeding each item.

If the ALT text, Bullet’ is assigned to each image then, “Image, bullet” will be read aloud by screen readers before each list item, making it take that bit longer to work through the list.

Icons, usually used to complement links, should also be assigned alt=””. Many websites, which place the icon next to the link text, use the link text as the ALT text of the icon.

Screen readers would first announce this ALT text, and then the link text, so would then say the link twice, which obviously isn’t necessary.

Ideally, bullets and icons should be called up as background images through the CSS document.

This would remove them from the HTML document completely and therefore remove the need for any ALT description.

Decorative Images:

ALT

Decorative images too should be assigned null alternative text, or alt=””.

If an image is pure eye candy then there’s no need for a screen reader user to even know it’s there and being informed of its presence simply adds to the noise pollution.

Conversely, you could argue that the images on your site create a brand identity and by hiding them from screen reader users you’re denying this group of users the same experience.

Accessibility experts tend to favour the former argument, but there certainly is a valid case for the latter too.

Navigation & Text Embedded Within Images:

Navigation menus that require fancy text have no choice but to embed the text within an image.

In this situation, the ALT text shouldn’t be used to expand on the image.

Under no circumstances should the ALT text say, read all about our fantastic services, designed to help you in everything you do’.

If the menu item says, Services’ then the ALT text should also say Services’.

ALT text should always describe the content of the image and should repeat the text word-for-word.

If you want to expand on the navigation, such as in this example, you can use the title attribute.

The same applies for any other text embedded within an image.

The ALT text should simply repeat, word-for-word, the text contained within that image.

Unless the font being used is especially unique it’s often unnecessary to embed text within images, advanced navigation and background effects can now be achieved with CSS.

Company Logo:

Websites tend to vary in how they apply ALT text to logos. Some say, Company name’, others Company name logo’.

Other describe the function of the image usually a link back to the homepage, Back to home’.

Remember, ALT text should always describe the content of the image so the first example, alt=”Company name”, is probably the best.

If the logo is a link back to the homepage then this can be effectively communicated through the title tag.

Conclusion:

Writing effective ALT text isn’t too difficult.

If it’s a decorative image then null alternative text, or alt=”” should usually be used – never, ever omit the ALT attribute.

If the image contains text then the ALT text should simply repeat this text, word-for-word.

Remember, ALT text should describe the content of the image and nothing more.

Do also be sure also to keep ALT text as short and succinct as possible.

Listening to a web page with a screen reader takes a lot longer than traditional methods, so don’t make the user experience painful for the screen reader with bloated and unnecessary ALT text.

Would love to hear your thoughts about this post or this site in general.

I will answer all the comments on my website personally so drop me a line below if you have any affiliate marketing questions or comments.

I’m happy to help any way that I can.copywright

Kind Regards Shane.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

6 thoughts on “What Is ALT Text For Images?”

  1. Thank you for your post. It is useful for me. I often see the alternative text when I add picture in my post. I never know what does it mean. I think about to sort this out, but never take time to do this.

    Here comes your article, nice and extensive explanation of the alternative text. I generally ignore this when I work on the my alternative text. Now I know that it has so many useful functions. I definitely need to pay attention to this, so that I could improve the quality of my post.

    It is kind of you sharing this useful information with us.

    Reply
    • Hello Anthony,

      Thank you for the positive feedback. 

      Alternative text is useful to know to assist with your SEO.

      Regards Shane.

      Reply
  2. Hello there, 

    I already read your post. It is the amazing post for affiliate marketing online. I appreciate for your time to invest the article. For your topic, I knew more detail about the ALT, it is so great. Thank you so much. For the topic, you analyzed very detail and specific the ALT tool. Keep going and hopefully, you will have a great time to enjoy your course at Wealthy Affiliate Marketing. 

    Best Regards, 

    Lynh Nguyen

    Reply
    • Hello Lyn, 

      Thank you for reading my post. 

      There is much to learn about affiliate marketing and wealthy affiliate is the best way to learn. 

      Regards Shane.

      Reply
  3. Hi Shane, this is interesting review. I find this article educative and helpful and I must commend you for that. I think not everyone uses these alternate texts. This is really a cool way of adding images in the form of texts interpretable to screen readers only. This review is indeed helpful 

    Reply
    • Hello Phil, 

      Thank you for the positive feedback you have given. 

      Happy to see you have got some good information from this article.

      Regards Shane.

      Reply

Leave a Comment