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How to write ‘Alt Text’ for social media

Writing alt text for your social media content is essential for improving accessibility. Here's how to do it well.

Blog Post Author – Kirsty
13th May 2021

How to write ‘Alt Text’ for social media

In its simplest use, ‘alt text’ sits behind your visual content to describe what’s happening in the image. It’s great for SEO, but most importantly -  it also allows people with visual impairments to fully consume your content.

Alt text will typically consist of 1 or 2 short phrases (less than 420 characters). For anyone with visual impairment alt text will be read aloud by a screen-reader, or the person browsing might be provided with your alt text via a braille display.

The other crucial purpose alt text serves - is to be your back-up plan! Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a partially loaded web page and having no idea what you should be looking at. If your content is unable to load for any reason, alt text can be displayed instead.

Alt text is a familiar term to those who work with websites, but may be a newer addition if you work in social media - however, alt text is fast becoming an audience expectation, rather than a nice to have! Instagram already auto-generates alt text for your posts, without needing any assistance, and you can manually add alt text to other social platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, making your content accessible and enjoyable for a broader range of people. All brands and content creators have a responsibility to be inclusive, and alt is a great step in the right direction.

Why you should start adding alt text to your social posts now?

The number of visually impaired people across the globe is estimated to be approximately 285 million. Furthermore, vision can deteriorate with age, so if your content is not fully accessible, you could be alienating a large proportion of people globally.

How to write alt text...

Remember that no alt text is way worse than poorly written alt text! It’s always worth writing something, even if you’re not feeling too confident in your alt text writing abilities.

To keep you on the right track, here are 3 key pieces of advice:

1. Be specific

Imagine how you would describe the image to somebody over the phone. You need to literally state exactly what you can see, without making any assumptions about the motivations, race, or gender of anyone/anything in the image.

2. Don’t state the obvious

Those experiencing your alt text will know that you are describing an image, so there’s no need to start with ‘Image of…’. It’s helpful to state the type of image such as illustration, headshot, graph, screengrab, etc. Your description should be as short and concise as possible, only include the essential details. Furthermore, if your image already has a caption that summarizes it clearly and concisely (and we do mean caption; not copy on the image), then the job has already been done and there is no need to provide alt text in these circumstances.

3. Say what copy is on the image

If there’s any text or copy on the image you’re describing, this is another key thing to mention in your alt text; as long as you’re not being repetitive!

Let’s run through an example...

sea turtle image alt text blog

Alt text: Very soothing picture of a sea turtle swimming in the ocean, likely looking for food

❌ BAD: This alt text states the obvious by telling us this is a picture, it adds unnecessary personal commentary by mentioning that the image is soothing, and makes assumptions about what the turtle is doing.

Alt text: Sea turtle, swimming, ocean, sea life

BAD: Repeating a slew of keywords isn’t enough context for somebody to understand what’s happening in your image.

Alt text: Sea turtle

🤷 OKAY: This alt text clearly states what’s in the image but there’s still room to describe the image with a tad more information.

Alt text: Full-body of sea turtle in ocean

✅ GOOD: This clearly and concisely paints a picture as to what is in the image with just the right amount of detail and no assumptions about what the turtle is doing.

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