Why should I always provide alternative text for my images?

When adding images to our email messages, it is very important to include some alternative text for cases where an image is not or cannot be displayed.

What Issue Does Alternative Text Address?

Often times, our subscribers don't see the images we place in our HTML messages immediately. Instead they see nothing at all or some kind of place holder for it:
By default, many email applications our subscribers use do not display or block images. The subscriber is required to take some action in order to view them:
Our images can add some type of important content to our messages, and if all our subscribers see is a box with an X in it or some other variation, the impact of our email messages may suffer.

Alternative Text Provides Information About Images

Fortunately, there is a way to have some text appear where an image otherwise would that helps us address this common problem.

By taking only a few moments to add Alternative text to all images we add to our messages, instead of an empty box, our subscribers will also see whatever alternative text we provide:
This way, if our images are absent, there is at least some descriptive information about it that helps to maintain the effectiveness of our messages.

How to Add Alternative Text to Images

When adding an image to your messages, within the "Image" menu that appears there will be a text input area for "Image Alt Text."

alt text section

Approach 1: Describe the Image

One approach is to just enter something that describes the content of the image. In cases where an image is used prodominantly to enhance the design of the email, this is sufficient.

Approach 2: Include a Call to Action

In another case, you may have also made it clickable and linked the image to a page on the web.

In some email applications, your text will be hyperlinked, so here you might consider including some call to action in addition to or in place of the description text.

Another Suggestion to Enhance Message Performance

When added to the contacts list or address book of a subscriber, many ISPs will automatically display images for all messages sent from that address.

So that subscribers can view the images in our messages without having to click in every message to enable them, it's useful to suggest they add the sending address to their address book.

This can be done by asking them to do so:

On the "thank you page" they see after giving permission to receive email
Prominently in the autoresponder message they receive after signing up
In subsequent messages, before or after the main content

This may have other side-benefits for your messages, such as making them more deliverable and avoiding problems with links in certain email applications.

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