I love finding unique products from independent businesses and designers online, and one of the deciding factors when I am making a purchase is if the owner knows how to write image descriptions for online products. I have a visual impairment that impacts my ability to see product images clearly, and frequently rely on text-based descriptions so that I can know that the product I am looking at is described accurately. Here are my tips for writing image descriptions for online products for sellers and businesses on Etsy, Shopify, and similar websites to reach customers with visual impairment.
What is alt text? What is an image description?
Alt text tells people what is in an image, such as text or basic essential details. If an image fails to load, alt text will display in its place. Search engines also index alt text information and consider it a factor when determining search engine ratings.
An image description gives more details than alt text and allows someone to learn more about what is in an image that goes beyond alt text. Alt text gives the user the most important information while image descriptions provide further detail. For example, alt text tells someone that there’s a puddle on the floor, and image description tells someone that the puddle on the floor is in the middle of the floor and it’s orange juice.
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- How To Create High Resolution Images For Users With Low Vision
Should I use both alt text and image description?
If possible, use both alt text and image description when creating product listings, as it is impossible to include every detail about the product. Alt text is read out loud when hovering over the image, while image descriptions are typically written in a different area. It is strongly recommended that alt text be 125 characters or less to ensure compatibility for popular screen readers. Image descriptions can be longer, but I recommend keeping them the length of a tweet, or about 280 characters if possible.
What to include with alt text
Since alt text is typically a short description, users typically include very basic details and expand on the information further in the image descriptions. These are often the same as the product title, but not always
Here is how I would write alt text if I was selling items that are in close proximity to my computer:
- Art print with a sun and lyrics from the song “I’ll Follow The Sun” by The Beatles
- Plush zebra with gold hooves
- Small green notebook with white stripes
- Yellow slip-on loafer shoes
- My College Desk
- Selecting Plush Animals for Kids With Visual Impairment
- Paper Size and Low Vision
- Eight Adult Shoes Without Shoelaces
Where to put an image description
Trying to figure out where to put an image description for the visually impaired? For product listings, I recommend putting it at the top of the product description so that screen readers will read this information first. This can be slightly more detailed than the traditional product description and provide information about all visual details of the product.
If relevant, I also recommend having a text-based sizing chart, as images of size charts can be difficult to enlarge in my experience.
- Seven Factors That Make Websites Accessible To The Visually Impaired
- How Web Accessibility Impacts My Life With Low Vision
- Seven Elements Of Accessible Store Layouts for Vision Impairment
What to include with an image description
Here are examples of information to include when writing an image description, using the products I mentioned above:
- An art print that features a large yellow sun in the bottom right corner that extends to the top right corner, taking up 75% of the image. The remaining 25% shows a light blue sky. Inside the sun, the lyrics to “I’ll Follow The Sun” by The Beatles are printed in black calligraphy writing
- A plush zebra measuring 8 inches tall and 11 inches long, with smooth black-and-white stripes and metallic gold hooves. The eyes are embroidered with black thread and the zebra’s nose is mint green.
- A 5 inch by 7 inch notebook with a hard green cover and exposed spiral binding. The cover features large white stripes that alternate with green, and the inside has unlined paper.
- Light yellow loafer slip-on shoes made from merino wool fabric, with white soles and gray lining.
- Writing Image Descriptions For Red Carpet Outfits
- How To Write Alt Text For Memes
- How To Write Alt Text For Digital Comics
Sharing alt text and image descriptions on social media
Do you advertise your products on Instagram, Twitter, or other social media? Make sure to add alt text to images there as well, and include an image description at the bottom of your caption, or include the image description as a separate caption. I have a post about writing alt text for Instagram that provides more detail on how to do this.
I’m always excited to see people include alt text and image descriptions for the visually impaired in their product descriptions. This helps me ensure that I know what I am buying, and I don’t end up buying something that isn’t my style in the slightest. By knowing how to write image descriptions about online products for visual impairment, customers can feel more confident and independent when making purchases.