As higher ed institutions assess their website’s accessibility, images are a big factor for both ADA compliance and SEO.
When it comes to ADA compliance on your website, images are a huge factor that must be addressed to ensure accessibility. Not only that, but making your images accessible can also make them more visible in search engines. In some ways, SEO and ADA compliance for your website actually go hand-in-hand.
When a screen reader hits an image on a web page, it reads aloud that image’s alt tag or text. If you’re familiar with SEO at all, think of this as the meta description for your image. If your image does not have alt text, then the screen reader will pass it by, meaning that your site is not accessible to all users.
To be safe, it’s best to limit your alt text to 125 characters, as some screen readers will only read up to that amount. The goal is to accurately describe what is happening in the image. In this case, being detailed is always better than being vague. Take this image for example:
The alt text for this photo could be: “Two bachelor’s in English students at St. Thomas Aquinas College chat with a professor in her office.” Getting keywords in there such as “bachelor’s in English” and the school name also helps with SEO.
Note: If you choose to abbreviate your school name with an acronym such as “ISU,” then you would want to separate the letters in the alt text so the screen reader will read each letter aloud (e.g., “I S U”).
Though less important than the alt text, an image’s title text is also a feature to be aware of. By including a title, you provide users with a tooltip for the image, which means when a user hovers over the image (in some browsers), a box will appear with a title. This could be helpful in cases where you have images on a page but no captions. The title can provide context as to what a user is looking at. For the image above, the title text could be: “English majors and professor.” To be clear, title text does not hold any weight for SEO purposes.
What about charts or infographics?
In addition to images, your website may also have charts or infographics. Many colleges and universities use these to list facts or statistics about their school. It’s important to remember these are visually appealing but not totally ADA compliant or SEO friendly. You simply don’t have enough space in alt text to describe all of the information in infographics. Furthermore, Google will not see the information contained in the infographic, which does not help your search engine visibility. That’s why it’s important for this information to also be communicated in the pages’ body text as well.
What about images that are linked?
If you have images or graphics on your website that also serve as links, you want to be sure that the alt text explains what page the image goes to. For example, it’s very common that a college or university website has the logo in the upper left-hand corner of all pages that links back to the homepage. In such a case, you would want to have alt text such as: “This image of I S U’s logo goes back to the homepage.”
If you want to learn more about ADA compliance for your college or university’s website, we’re here to help. You can also follow Rebecca on Twitter @beccablanchette for more SEO insights specific to higher ed.