Alt tags are descriptions attached to an image which is invisible to readers unless images have been disabled, such as when disabled in a marketing email, or when the reader is using a screen reader. Their function is to aid accessibility, particularly for those who have sight problems. Screen readers pick up the alt tags and read them out.
Poor eyesight isolates the sufferer and any restrictions make their situation worse. In using alt tags, marketing emails become more inclusive. They were a great innovation and over the years the systems have developed to become not only more effective but to be expected. There is a choice of free screen reader software for Windows, Macs and Linux.
Google has confused matters by using the text in alt attributes as a positive for SEO. This has ensured that most commercial websites use alt tags. On the other hand, the priority in many cases is not to assist the sight impaired but to litter the images with keywords to the detriment of the sight impaired.
Use a reader on competitors’ sites and the problems will be obvious. We will point out a few and give the remedies.
1/ Repeating the captions
If an image has an explanatory caption there is no need for alt text as the screen reader will give both. For instance, if you have a view of the Bay of Naples, with the caption, The View from a First Floor Balcony, the person needs no further information.
2/ Not needing a caption
An image might be referred to in the text. For instance – On the left, you will see Jessica Thompson using our special alloy pedals. In most cases, there is no need for further information. However, if the image was to show a certain attribute that is not clear in the text, such as the rather unusual cleats, then say this in the alt tag.
3/ Alt tags should clarify
Whilst the image might have a caption, it might not explain what the subject is. Someone might be shown struggling with a collapse of a window frame with the caption, You want to avoid this happening to you. The alt tag should explain what is in the image: Falling window hitting builder on the shoulder.
4/ Ignoring the image
If the alt tag will add nothing to the marketing email or website then a simple alt=“” will suffice. If it is left blank the screen reader will default to the image’s file name.
5/ Keyword laden tags
Seeing alt tags as merely an SEO attribute and to include keywords in all of them is a certain way to irritate your subscribers who have sight problems. They will feel their needs are of little concern to you.
6/ Ask your subscribers
It can be demeaning to ask subscribers to your email marketing list if they have any particular problem that needs support. Ask if they require text only marketing emails. You could ask if they use a text reader and, if so, put them on their own segregated email marketing list and design an email to suit their needs.