The power of alt text in communications

Did you know that in our increasingly digital world, ensuring inclusivity and accessibility in all forms of communication has become so important?

One important tool that helps create an inclusive online experience is alt text. Short for "alternative text," alt text provides textual descriptions of visual content, making it accessible to individuals with visual impairments.

In this article, we’ll explore the origins of alt text, its benefits and how to effectively incorporate it into your email communications.

Let’s dig in.

What is it and why does it matter?

In simple terms, “alternative text,” or “alt text” is the written description of an image or visual element on a website. It's like a little caption that helps people who can't see the image understand what it looks like or what its purpose is. Alt text is also used by screen readers, which are special tools for people with visual impairments, to read out the description of an image. So, if an image doesn't load or if someone is using a screen reader, alt text helps them still get the information from the image.

The origins of alt text

Alt text emerged as a solution to address the challenge faced by visually impaired internet users in understanding images on websites. It was first introduced in the early 1990s when the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released HTML 1.2 and introduced the "alt" attribute. This attribute allowed authors to provide textual descriptions for images on their web pages.

The main reason for using alt text is to make sure that people who use screen readers or other tools can understand what an image is all about. By describing the images with text, visually impaired users can grasp the meaning and context of the visual content. This way, they can fully engage in and participate in online activities, just like anyone else.

Benefits of alt text in your communications

1. Accessibility

When you include alt text in your email, it ensures that visually impaired subscribers can access and understand the visual content you share. It demonstrates your commitment to inclusivity and allows you to engage with a broader audience.

2. Improved SEO

Alt text can help your website get more visitors through search engines like Google. When you add alt text to your images, it gives them a descriptive and meaningful description that search engines understand. So, when people search for something on Google Images, your images have a better chance of showing up in the results. This means more people might click on your website and visit it.

Having alt text on your images is good for search engine optimisation (SEO). It's like giving your website a boost to appear higher in search results and get more visibility. So, alt text not only helps people but also helps your website get more attention from search engines.

3. Enhanced User Experience

Alt text helps everyone, not just visually impaired individuals. It provides valuable context for all recipients, including those with slow internet connections or emails clients that don't display images by default. Alt text allows them to understand the content of your email, even without the visual elements.

Using alt text in your emails: Best practices

1. Be descriptive

Write alt text that accurately describes the content and purpose of the image. Use concise language and focus on conveying only important details. Avoid generic phrases like "image.jpg" or "photo of a person."

2. Keep it brief

Aim for alt text that is at most 125 characters because some screen readers might cut longer descriptions. Be mindful of the balance between providing sufficient information and avoiding unnecessary verbosity.

3. Be contextual

When you're sending emails with images, it's important to think about how the image fits into the overall message. The alt text you use should be relevant to the image and the text around it. Think of it like making sure the description of the image matches the story you're telling in the email. This way, the alt text makes sense and supports the main idea or goal of your email. So, when you're writing alt text, consider the context and make sure it fits well with the rest of the email's content.

4. Use simple formatting

When you write alt text, it's best to keep it simple and use regular text. Avoid using special symbols, punctuation marks, or formatting styles like bold or italic. These things can make it harder for screen readers to understand and might cause confusion. By using plain text for alt text, you ensure that screen readers can easily read and convey the description of the image accurately.

5. Decorative images

Sometimes, there are images in emails that are there just to make things look nice and don't have any important information. In those cases, you can let screen readers know that they don't need to read anything about those images. You can do this by leaving the alt text empty, which means there's nothing for the screen reader to say about the image. Another way is to add a special attribute that says alt="" which tells the screen reader to ignore the image completely. This way, the focus remains on the important content in the email, and visually impaired users won't have to listen to unnecessary descriptions for those decorative images.

Examples of good Vs bad alt text

Example 1


Image Source: Pexels

Good alt text: A woman reading a book in a library.

Bad alt text: "Image 1" or "Reading."

Example 2


Image Source: Freepik

Good alt text: Happy woman strumming a guitar by a bonfire.

Bad alt text: Guitar player.

How to add alt text in Mail Blaze

Once you’re in the template builder, you can use the drag-and-drop builder to build your layout and edit your content.

Click on the CONTENT tab and drag a content block into the template window, as illustrated below.


On the content block, you’ll see the words, “Drop your image here or click me.” Go ahead and follow the prompt. Once you click on the placeholder image to bring up the Media Library, upload or search for the image that you'd like to add, in the search panel.

When the image has been inserted, click on it to add the alt text. On the side panel, you’ll see an empty block that allows you to add the alt text. Go ahead and do so, keeping in mind the examples we gave you above.

Here’s to creating a more inclusive digital world

The power of alt text in communications cannot be overstated. This often overlooked, yet invaluable tool has the ability to bridge gaps, break barriers and create a more inclusive and accessible digital landscape. Alt text provides a lifeline for those who rely on screen readers and other assistive technologies, ensuring that everyone can fully engage with and understand visual content.

As communicators, it is our responsibility to be mindful of the power of alt text and integrate it seamlessly into our digital content. Let us know if this article has changed your perception of alt text and how you’re going to use it moving forward.


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