What’s so great about ALT-tags?

by Allen Nance, Mansell Group

ALT-tags are a hot topic in the email marketing world right now as e-mailers strive to engage recipients despite the over-abundance of emails crowding the inbox. Images are an important part of appealing to your reader and piquing their interest, but what happens if your readers can’t see any of those great images?

 There are several reasons why recipients may not be seeing your images: some choose not to load graphics, others may be using mobile devices, and there are those on dial-up who may be looking at your email for several seconds waiting for the images to load.

These recipients are left with a big blank page full of red X’s which can reflect poorly on your brand and alienate your customers. Enter the beauty of the ALT-tag. An ALT-tag is basically the alternative text that is displayed when images are not. Most often, this happens in email clients that automatically block images. With over 60% of email users blocking images from automatically displaying, ALT-tags definitely have a place in today’s email world.

ALT-tags allow you to add descriptive text to your emails so readers know what they are supposed to be seeing, even when their images are turned off. You can engage and interest your readers, without having to rely on images. Use ALT-tags to describe a picture, state a call to action, or promote a headline.

So how do you best use ALT-tags in your messages? Some helpful hints are that ALT-tags should not be more than 50 characters and should not include special characters. If an image contains special text, simply use the text that is represented within the image. And remember, be creative, I’ve seen some ALT-tags that say, “By blocking this image, you can’t see that you are missing out on a great deal.”

As great as ALT-tags are, they do have some limitations with certain email clients. For example, Outlook 2003 and 2007 add a long security message before the ALT-tag text to explain why the image is not displayed—thus rendering your ALT-tag almost useless unless the image is large enough so that readers will still see some ALT-tag text after the security message.

Bottom line, ALT-tags are a great tool that should be employed in your email communications. However, you should still try to use as much real text as possible to ensure optimum reader engagement.

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