Pet Peeve: Alt Tags

Accessibility is essential for building a robust user experience. There are many aspects to it. One that comes up most often is alt text. It’s important for screen reader users, as well as search engines. The alt tag is a means of providing meaning to visual elements for non-visual users. People mistakenly refer to it as alt tags, which drives me nuts. Put simply: There is no such thing as an alt tag. It’s a misnomer.

There is no such thing as an alt tag

The phrase alt tags is a big pet peeve of mine. Every time somebody says it or writes it down, a puppy dies! They also spread incorrect information. Instead, you should say alt text, alt attribute, or alt description, which are all valid terms. The easiest substitute of the three is alt text. I’m wondering if because they sound so close to one another, that may be how the term got started.

HTML Syntax

A tag is an individual component of an HTML document. It represent an HTML element. The H1, P, IMG, and A elements are represented by tags. The provide the structure of the HTML page and act as containers for the content.

An attribute is a part of a tag that either modifies or provides functionality. Some common attributes are id, class, and lang. The alt attribute is part of the img tag, and used to describe the content of the image. This description is mean to be short 7 to 10 words.

To continue using the phrase alt tag, is akin to referring to a door knob, as if it were a door. It misrepresents it’s purpose.


In short, words matter. If we’re going to communicate effectively with each other, and teach the next generation of web developers, we need to begin with the correct technical foundation. We need to properly educate people as move forward. So save the puppies — Stop using the phrase alt tag.

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