How to use alt text on Instagram and in WordPress

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

Instagram now allows users to add alt text to photos. This articles shares how and why you want to consider that.

I ran across this as I was launching the new Instagram account for my new site. On this site, I share reviews and content of places I’ve visited. Therre’s even a new podcast. Of course, travel reviews are very visual so launching an Instagram account where I can highlight photos of great places makes sense.

As I was editing a post, I stumbled into the new feature that allows me to add alt tags to photos.

What is alt text?

Alt text is a written description of what’s in a picture. WordPress strongly encourages content creators to add them with a relatively new feature that I discuss below. Alt text can help Google decipher what’s in a picture and good descriptions with your photos can help you rank for the terms – as long as relevant and real. Don’t say “elephant” in the description when it’s a picture of dolphins.

Read next: How original photos can help you rank higher in Google Image Search 

And as Instagram put it it’s about accessibility.

Alt text describes your photo for people with visual impairments. 

Alt tags on Instagram explanation

As a general rule, I would always recommend to use alt text with the images wherever alt text is allowed. On your website, it can also help you find images by searching for keywords later on.

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Using alt text on Instagram

As Instagram continues “Alt text will be automatically created for your photos or you can choose to write your own.”

I went through some pictures and as far as I can tell, Instagram doesn’t tell me what copy it auto generated for an image when I didn’t write my own.

Adding alt text on Instagram to new photos

When you upload the photo, click on Advanced Settings – way at the bottom of this screen:

Alt text on Instagram for new images

That brings you to this screen where you get an option to add the copy. The field looks very similar to the regular caption field. Something to keep in mind if you get distracted while working on this. Alt text on instagram new post

Keep in mind that good copy is to the point, describes what’s in the picture and uses the right words.

Using alt text on Instagram for existing posts

You can even go back to old posts and add alt texts. Click on the top right – three dots – of a post to edit. Then click “edit alt text” in the bottom right to add your text.

Alt text on Instagram for existing posts

From there you get a screen to enter copy. Since this post has three pictures, I’m able to enter copy for each:

Alt text on instagram with multiple photos

It’s kind of hard to remember the photos in my opinion and then enter the alt text somewhat blindly. It would be nice if Instagram would show a thumbnail image of the picture that you are adding content for.

Images with our blog posts matter. So does ALT text, which helps Google and other search engines categorize pictures and serve them to people searching for related topics.

Of course, for hurried content creators the ALT text is also easy to forget to fill out.

Why? Because the article will publish without it. Readers for the most part can’t see it anyway. That means that when we proof our posts in preview mode we also can’t see it right there. It’s not something a visual proofreader will see.

But ALT tags are important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Alt text prompt in WordPress

In a perfect world content creators would always write alt text. Of course, if we’d live in a perfect world the note inside the WordPress upload area wouldn’t be needed:

Why alt text matters

Describe the purpose of the image. Leave empty if image is purely decorative.

Purely decorative images may be generic stock art images that some people add to their posts because somebody once said that images matter.

In the mobile app this note isn’t there – yet.

Images do matter, but using the same image many others are using and have bought for 9.99 won’t help your story stand out. Or rank for that matter.

Of course, what I don’t know is what would happen if a smart SEO uses great ALT text on a crummy stock art image. Will it rank? Maybe. For now.

Like all content creation and SEO strategies things evolve and change.

For now, the smart WordPress developers have determined that this is a problem worth addressing and maybe this will help content creators remember to add ALT text.

How important is alt text?

Original images can help us rank and alt text can make them more accessible for people with visual impairments.

Also keep in mind that social media accounts are showing up more and more on Search Engine Result Pages. I’ve seen tweets rank prominently and even podcasts.

Read next: [Analysis] Does social media help with SEO?

It’s hard to say how important it is to manually enter the text on Instagram. If I could tell what Instagram automatically creates for alt text that would be easier to answer.

It’s probably like any other technology solution. It gets better over time. Take social media writing from blog posts. Years ago, that was a truly manual process. Today, you can copy your blog URL into a software tool and social posts are automatically created.

Consider adding alt text to some of your posts and see if it helps with content performance of those posts.

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