Posted on: 14/08/2013 @ 1:00pm by Dave Burton
Alternative text is invisible for most website visitors but to a minority it is of utmost importance
So, what exactly do I mean by "alternative text" and why is it so important? Alternative text is text inserted into the code of a website that is visible if the image doesn't load properly or whilst it is loading, but for partially sighted or blind users it is far more than that.
When a blind or partially sighted visitor comes to your website they rely on a screen reader which does just as it sounds - it reads out the text on the webpage to them.
So what happens when this user encounters a picture? Well, if there is no alternative text, it simply skips it out and continues. Not that big a deal you say? What if that image contained important information (as a number of my customers have done in the past)? That information is effectively lost to the user.
The affect is even worse when the image is used as a link. In these cases the URL (or web address) is read out to the user. In some cases this might be useful if the link is to a page with a human readable name like "about-us.htm" or similar, but on some websites the links can be more like "index.php?rel=167a&request=8" which would only make any sense to the programmer involved.
So, entering this alternative text is essential for blind users and given that all website owners have a legal requirement to make their websites accessible, that should be enough to convince anyone.
However, that is not the only reason for using alternative text. Search engine robots too rely on text only versions of your website when crawling it.
While a lot of the search engines take images into account, they will not be able to scan your images for required content. So if you are advertising an upcoming event of your page and relying on the information in an image on one of your pages to do the trick, I'm sorry to say that it might as well be invisible if it's not also written in the page text or in the alternative text tag.
How do I add alternative text?
If you are working with a text editor like "CK Editor" on your website, simply fill in the alternative text (or alt text) box when you add your images. If, however, you're working with HTML itself make sure you add: alt="my alternative text" to your img tag.
It's just one simple way to make your website more accessible, but also help your search rankings.
PS. Similarly, if you rely on videos or flash scripts you'll need to add a text alternative. Please get in touch for more information about how you can improve your website.