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Only 25% of publishers use ALT text on social media

Updated: Mar 22

More accessible content means improved engagement - a no-brainer, right?

So why do we have poor adoption of ALT text across the publishing industry - specifically in social media? At the tail end of last year we did some social media competitive analysis for a client.

Out of the eight commercial and society publishers we analyzed, only 25% (two of which were from the big five) used ALT text on most of their social media imagery. No one used it on all social media imagery.

Part of our client audit work involves checking the accessibility of content and making suggestions and recommendations for improvement. We now have sensitivity readers in the team to help review text and make it more inclusive.

We need to stop thinking that ALT text is something we 'should' do rather than must do as part of our everyday practices. Something we have to find time for but don't. 57% of the world is connected to the internet, about 5.3 billion. We need to take this as an opportunity to create a richer experience for more users. Don't get me wrong; I can't say that we have done ALT text 100% of the time, but we are trying. As a community, we sometimes rely on the tools around us to help save time and add to our processes. We all need to take a good look at how we can improve the accessibility of our content.

ALT text is relevant not just to social media but across our digital ecosystem. 19% of Google's Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) show images, which means your website images are another source of organic traffic.

There are 12 million internet users over 40 in the US alone who have a visual impairment or low vision. We can do better to improve online experience across the world. Missing ALT text accounts for 61% of homepage accessibility errors.

Let's make a commitment and start with ALT text.

The pitfalls to avoid

  1. Don’t rely exclusively on figures. Important information should always be included in the surrounding text. ALT text is a supplement, not a replacement for context.

  2. Avoid redundancy. Screen readers indicate that ALT text is an image replacement, so don’t use phrases like “Image of…” or "Graphic of…".

  3. Don’t repeat the caption. ALT text should provide additional context, not duplicate what’s already in the caption or surrounding text.

  4. Avoid irrelevant details. Information not displayed in the figure (such as author, date, source, or bibliographical references) doesn’t belong in ALT text.

  5. Steer clear of interpretation. ALT text should describe what’s visible, not offer subjective interpretations or opinions.

  6. Don’t overload with text. Keep ALT text concise. Avoid lengthy descriptions that overwhelm users with unnecessary details.

  7. Avoid formatting. Screen reading software doesn’t interpret formatting (e.g., bullet points). Stick to plain, straightforward descriptions.

  8. Don’t assume visual context. Describe the image as if the user can’t see it. Avoid phrases like "As you can see…".

  9. Avoid gender assumptions. Be specific. Instead of “Man,” use "Smiling person reading a book." You can't tell someone's gender; simply refer to them as a Person.

  10. Don’t forget to test. Always verify your ALT text using screen readers to ensure it conveys the intended message effectively.

Cropped image of a Microsoft ALT Text box with a description that is too simple and a poor example: A photo of two phones.
Cropped image of a Microsoft ALT Text box with a description that is a good example of ALT text: Two phones on a table. The phone on the right has a wider screen, while the phone on the left has a higher quality camera.

Top 10 ALT text tips

Thoughtful and considered ALT text enhances accessibility. Make your content more inclusive for your users.

1. Think about the why. Think about how best to convey to someone what this image is, with or without having been able to 'see' it before. Why is it relevant, and what does this description add to the overall content?

"Illustration of a diverse team collaborating on a project."

2. Be concise. Avoid verbosity and be clear while providing all the details. Deliver a powerful message in a few words - no longer than a sentence or two or fewer than 125 characters. Screen readers may stop reading at this point and cut off the description. Use descriptive keywords. Check spelling and grammar!

"Close-up of a blooming sunflower."

3. Capture emotions. Describe feelings and expressions.

"Happy children playing in a sunlit park."

4. Provide context. Make sure you add context to a description to make it relevant. Will Awad gave me a great example from the London Book Fair 2024. If you use a picture of the Eiffel Tower to promote Paris as a holiday destination or to show the use of wrought iron in a tall structure or monuments throughout the globe or the best places to propose, your ALT text needs to provide the appropriate context to help bring the story to life.

"Vintage typewriter on a wooden desk, with a sepia filter to make it look like an old photo."

"My grandfather's typewriter on a wooden desk."

5. Avoid repetition. Focus on the unique aspects of the image.

"Golden retriever dog catching a frisbee mid-air."

6. Highlight key elements. Describe what draws attention and be specific.

"CEO addressing a packed conference hall."

7. Be descriptive, not prescriptive. Describe what is happening but avoid telling people how to interpret the image.

"Abstract artwork with vibrant colours and flowing lines."

8. Use active language.

"Hiker walking up a rugged mountain trail."

9. Think about colours and contrast. Be mindful that some will have never seen colour to understand what it 'looks' like.

"High-contrast black-and-white portrait of an older adult artist."

10. Test with screen readers and tools. Use tools like ALT text generators and screen readers, including browser plugins, to find out how the text appears but make sure you check it and update it. Context is essential. Harvard University has some nice examples of free tools. Follow the ALT Decision Tree from W3C to help choose what to write. Microsoft 365 will automatically generate text for you. Does it make sense? Could you do a better job making it more engaging?

Looking for support? Book a meeting with Lou and let us know what you need.

Download our infographic

Pitfalls to avoid with ALT Text Infographic - The International Bunch
Download PDF • 126KB


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