Writing alt text (alternative text) for images on social media posts is important for several reasons. The most important being accessibility. Alt text is used by screen readers to describe the content of an image to visually impaired users. By including alt text, you make your content accessible to a wider audience.
A bonus, is that adding alt text will further support your SEO too. Search engines rely on alt text to understand the content of an image. By including descriptive alt text, you can improve your search engine optimisation (SEO) and help your content rank higher in search results.
Including alt text can also make your content more engaging and shareable to those who have slow internet connections as they often rely on alt text to understand the context of an image. By providing this context, you can make your content more compelling and increase engagement.
Finally, in some countries, including alt text is required by law for businesses and organisations to be compliant with accessibility standards.
Before you get started, there are a few things to consider, ask yourself:
- Why are we using THIS image? What is the ‘message’ you’re conveying by using this picture?
- If the image was deleted would the user care?
- What can we say that will help build a mental image?
- Try to be mindful not to assume visual knowledge – does this image contain unusual items, for example.
- If you tick the decorative box – might a screen reader user be excluded from any comments/conversation that may evolve around the image, even if it’s just a stock shot?
- You don’t need to include the words ‘image of’ or ‘photo of’ in your alt text; the screen reader will say ‘image of’ before reading the alt text, avoid duplication.
When writing alt text for social media, it’s important to keep in mind the purpose of the image and the context of the post.
Here are some tips to help you write good alt text:
- Be descriptive: Alt text should accurately describe the content of the image. Use clear and concise language to describe what’s happening in the image.
- However, keep it short: Alt text should be brief and to the point. Aim for 125 characters or less, and avoid including unnecessary details. Currently, the word/character limit for Alt Text differs per platforms AND per scheduling tool. Twitter natively allows 1000 characters, Facebook natively seems to have no limit but a warning pops up saying “ALT text usually has fewer than 100 characters”, and Instagram doesn’t appear to have a limit.
- Provide context: Alt text should provide context for the image and the post. Consider what message you’re trying to convey with the image, and use the alt text to reinforce that message.
- Avoid repetition: If an image is used multiple times in a post or on your social media account, don’t use the same alt text each time. Instead, try to provide different descriptions or provide additional context.
- If an image contains more than one image, try giving a directional description. For example: ‘in a clock-wise direction’ helps the user understand the order and format of the post. It is also worth mentioning that Instagram allows alt text on each image of a carousel.
- Avoid abbreviations and emojis. Certain abbreviations may have multiple meanings. Write words in their entirety.
- Finally, test your alt text to make sure it’s working properly. Try using a screen reader to see how the alt text sounds. And READ YOUR ALT TEXT OUT LOUD. How does it sound? Make sure to use correct grammar and punctuation. Read every element, does it flow? Is it clear? Does it portray what you are seeing? Consider tone of voice, alt text is a tool, not an extension of your copy. It should be factual and not ‘funny’ or ‘witty’.
Remember: a screen reader is not cadenced/nuanced so think about language, tonality, grammar, punctuation, etc.
By following these tips, you can write good alt text that improves the accessibility, SEO, and engagement of your social media posts.