What is Alt Text on Instagram?

By Citizen Affiliate | Internet Marketing

Aug 29

You might have heard about alt text before, in the context of images or websites. But did you know it now exists in Instagram too? It is also a killer underground tip for getting more reach and engagement on Instagram. Hardly anyone is doing, it is easy to do, and Instagram loves you for doing it. This article will explain what it is, how to do it, and why you should do alt text on Instagram.

What is alt text?

The phrase “alt text” is short for “alternate text” and is an old concept from the dark ages of the World Wide Web. As bandwidth improved and people started putting more and more images on the web, the designers felt that this was becoming a problem for two types of people:

  • People with low bandwidth who sometimes had to wait a long time for images to upload or who had connections that dropped out and meant images weren’t displayed
  • People with visual disabilities e.g. blindness, colour blindness, short-sightedness, who couldn’t see the images properly or at all.

So we have the concept of “alternate text”. This means text that is shown as an alternative for an image. The text describes the image for people who can’t see it. What does this mean then?

Using alt text on  images is a “best practice” in web development and has been for years. It helps people use your site properly, it helps Google understand your content, and helps optimize your pages for search (you can put keywords in alt tags).

You might be wondering what all this has to do with Instagram – good question!

What is alt text on Instagram?

In 2018, Instagram added the ability to set alt tags on images. Why you might ask?

Instagram is obviously a visual platform based around images, and they decided they didn’t want to exclude people. While high-speed internet connections are plentiful and cheap in developed countries, that isn’t the case in developing countries. And Instagram is very popular in some of those places (like India and Indonesia). And there’s more.

Also, Instagram is a huge global company owned by an even bigger global company, Facebook. So it is important for them to be inclusive and supportive and offer options to different people with different abilities or disabilities. Or so they say…

Of course, you might think that they are just being cynical and it is all a ploy to make themselves look good. And that they don’t care a hoot about people with disabilities or anything. That is more of a philosophical question that I’m not even going to try to answer here! So the long and the short of it?

For better or for worse, Instagram has added this ability for putting alt text on images, and has encouraged people to use it. So use it!

But how you might be wondering?

How to add alt text on Instagram

It is actually easy to add alt text to content when you post it on Instagram.

When you are about to post a photo, slideshow or video, you might notice that right at the bottom of the screen where you can put in tags, locations and so on, there is a little panel called Advanced Settings.

instagram alt text

Alt text can be found under Advanced Settings (nobody knows this exists!)

The options that you see there will vary based on a few things. But the last panel will be called Accessibility, with one link: Write Alt Text.

Click that and you will see a box where you can type whatever you want!

What should I put for alt text on Instagram?

This is your chance to describe your photo for Instagram and the world.

The alt text will be directly used (i.e. shown to people) in two circumstances:

  • When a network connection issue means that the photo cannot be loaded (users will see the alt text instead)
  • When a person is using their phone in some kind of Accessibility mode because they have a visual impairment (the alt text will probably be read to them as audio).

But there’s more!

Alt Text is also your chance to give important information about your image to Instagram.

Nobody is exactly sure how this is used. However, Instagram is very interested in analysing and categorising your content, and Alt Text is definitely used in some way in that process.

My recommendation is to write a helpful, simple description of what your image is. If it is based around words, then don’t write out all the words, but provide a brief description of what the words are about.

So an example one for a “motivational quote” type picture might be:

Photo of a man in a car driving along a highway and a quote about the only limits in life being those that we set in our mind. So we can break these limits and achieve whatever goals we want.

It describes the things in the content (a man and a car, though Instagram has probably figured that out already via image analysis software that it runs whenever you upload content), and what the actual meaning and purpose of the content is (inspiring words about having no limits in life and being able to achieve our goals).

Feel free to use some keywords or phrases that you would want Instagram to associate with this post. But make it natural!

Don’t be like the stupid hashtag spammers and put in “millionaire millionaires millionairegoal millionairelifestyel” and so on. It isn’t helpful to anyone and the algorithm will almost certainly detect it and disapprove of it.

I’m not sure exactly what kind of penalty it might give you but I don’t have a mind to find out!

Where you can (and can’t) use alt text in Instagram

So there are some places where you can put alt text, and some you can’t.

At the time of writing this article, Alt Text can only be used in two places:

When uploading a photo

When uploading a slideshow of photos.

At the time of writing this article (August 2019), you cannot put alt text on stories, videos, Lives, or IGTV.

You can put a free description on an IGTV video, which I suppose is pretty similar to that concept. And you can of course write a caption when uploading a video (though it’s not quite the same thing).

Summary

Alt text is a nifty feature of Instagram that almost nobody uses and can give you an edge in distributing and ranking your content. And remember, it is that: a feature. It is not a bug or trick or hack that might get you in trouble. Instagram wants you to do it and appreciates it if you do! So it’s a win-win all around.

I put alt text on every single picture I upload and I recommend you should too!

What if I want to take this further?

If you really want to boost your Instagram game and start growing and monetising your Instagram account, I recommend Niklas Pedde’s excellent course, Instagram University. You can get it here, or check out the Instagram University Review I wrote here.