Alt text is alternative text that describes an image on a website. If an image cannot render for some reason, the alt text will appear instead.
Alt text is especially important when an image plays an integral role in the website design. For example, if a button with the words “click here” fails to render, the alt text will tell the visitor that they need to click the area to continue. Or, say you are writing an article about “best grilling techniques.” In your section on hamburgers, using the alt text “how to grill a hamburger” (right) will describe the image if it loads too slowly or fails to appear altogether.
Is Alt Text Mandatory?
In the early days of the Internet, download speeds were much slower. It wasn’t unusual for a person to have troubling downloading all images on a web page, so alt text was crucial. Although many more people have high-speed Internet access, image sources may still be lost, causing errors on the screen. Alt text helps keep confusion to a minimum. Alt text also helps make websites more accessible for the visually impaired individuals, who can use screen reading programs that read the text description aloud.
Used in HTML and XHTML, alt text must be included in area and img tags in HTML 4.01 and higher, and is optional for input and applet tags. Alt text may also help with search engine optimization, so it’s especially smart to get into the habit of using it whenever possible.
How to Use Alt Text
Alt text should reflect the purpose and context of an image and not just the way it literally looks. For example, to write alt text for no-smoking symbol, you woulnd’t want to say “cigarette inside a circle with a slash across it.” A better way to write alt text for this image is a “no-smoking symbol” or “smoking not allowed.”
This article was provided by Patriot Software, Inc., a developer of online software for U.S. small businesses, including online payroll software, applicant tracking software, human resources software, an employee portal, and 1099 software. Patriot Software also offers a payroll tax filing service for payroll customers, and is currently developing bookkeeping software and a website builder. For more information, visit www.PatriotSoftware.com.