Last year, I wrote an easy web tip for FURNITURE WORLD Magazine on the importance of writing alt tags for both assisting the blind and SEO (search engine optimization).
I just discovered that I left something helpful out. But before I tell you, let's review the subject a bit.
When you or your webmaster uploads an image to your website, most systems give you the opportunity to fill in a box called the "alt tag." Alt stands for "alternative."
Most SEO types, like me, will often put keywords in these tags to help with search engine rankings.
You see, the search engine spiders can't read an image and know what it is. But the spiders can read the alt tags. So the tags are very helpful for search engine optimization.
But the real purpose of alt tags isn't for SEO. The real purpose is to help the visually impaired and to display descriptive text when an image doesn’t display in a browser.
My friend Brent, who is blind and a computer whiz, let me listen in on how he reads a web page with a screen reader — a device that takes the place of a monitor. It reads the contents of the screen to the user.
Before using the screen reader, Brent likes to rearrange the website content by going to the View Menu and Clicking on Page: No Style. In most browsers, you can do this, too. This tool takes a normal web page that is, say, laid out in three columns and funnels it into one column. This makes it easier for the screen reader to read all the material in a logical fashion, with like subjects grouped together.
A screen reader reads very, very fast. So a blind person can quickly find what he wants.
As I listened to Brent’s screen reader as it read a web page, I realized that an alt tag should “announce” that it is describing an image.
For example, a typical alt tag reads like this: “Fabulous Furniture Store.” Now when the screen reader reads that out loud, the blind person has no idea it's an image. It’s just a random phrase.
Instead it would be better to write: "This is an image of Fabulous Furniture Store.” Or "Image of Fabulous Furniture Store."
It's a small thing, but this method won't jolt the blind visitor by just being verbiage hanging around for no apparent reason.
Remember, the blind are customers, too, and they will be very loyal to stores that don't take them for granted or overlook them.
Besides, it's the right thing to do and it takes no additional time or expense, as you should be writing your tags for SEO purposes anyway.
Easy Furniture Web Tip #76: When writing alt tags, be sure to identify or announce that you are about to describe an image.
Katherine Andes is a consultant who specializes in custom content for websites and search engine optimization (SEO) — especially in the home improvement market. You can phone her at 559.589.0379 or email at Kathy@AndesAndAssociates.com.