The Saga of the Alt Tags


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When I went online in 1998, my experience with PCs was limited to basic word processing, and the most technical term I knew was, “Load game. "

Today, I maintain my own website and I roam the Internet with confidence.

But during those first months online, I gained more worry lines and lost more sleep than I ever did when my children were teenagers!

Most of my frustration was due to the lack of any simple instructions on how to do the most basic things. Allow me to illustrate with the Saga of the Alt Tags. . .

After creating a killer of a website, complete (or should that be “replete"?) with dancing raisins, gold fish swimming in bowls, bounding panthers, five different fonts on every page and a flock of birds that flew from one side of my page to the other (is that cool, or what?!) I decided that I'd log on to one of those sites that offered a free assessment of web pages.

I couldn't understand 90% of the report, but one point did penetrate, and that was the warning that I should use “alt tags".

I was convinced of the need to use alt tags (I'd received so many “warnings"); I was willing to use alt tags; I was desperate to use alt tags - but what on earth were alt tags?

I scoured the Help files on all my programs; I visited all the message boards and help forums I could find; I instigated searches on the Internet's finest search engines . . .

Every source told me that I should definitely use alt tags, without explaining what they were.

As the time decreased and the frustration increased, I finally found out that alt tags were the alternative names for images and that they should provide a description of the image.

I dutifully went through, typing in names for every image on my site. . . "red bullet; black square bullet; black round bullet; black squiggly bullet . . . "

This seemed totally pointless, but I'd been told by the web's finest to include the name of each image and who was I to argue?

A couple of weeks later, I happened to be viewing the source code for a site that was number one in a search listing, when I noticed that their alt tags included the name of their site.


I spent another few hours, changing all my alt tags to read, “mysite red bullet; mysite black square bullet . . . "

This nagged at me, however; it seemed a bit too close to trying to fool the search engines for my comfort.

It wasn't until another month had passed that I read yet another article that explained why alt tags were necessary. It seems that many people turn off the images on their browsers and the alt tags show up in place of the missing goldfish, birds etc.

Suddenly, it all made sense; there was actually a logical reason to include alt tags; they weren't names or descriptions, they were captions! (I have to confess, that I haven't added ‘captions’ to all my bullets this time - I know it's possible to use “invisible tags" such as alt=" " but I haven't quite had time to do it . . . it's next on my list . . . )

So, now when you visit my site, you'll notice that my alt tags are phrases that tell you something about what the site has to offer, “Professional writing services, " “Home study tutorials, " “Improve your writing" and so on.

And it only took me four months to discover this!

How many millions of hours have been spent in fruitless searches for such simple problems? We could have found the answer to the meaning of life in less time!

Jennifer Stewart offers professional writing services for web pages, press releases, advertising material, business reports, content for autoresponders, technical booklets and articles for newsletters. For those who want their own writing double-checked for accuracy, Jennifer offers proof reading or full editing. Website:


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