Using Alt Text to Drive Shopper Engagement on Shopify
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Earlier this year, Semrush teamed up with BuiltWith and AccessibilityChecker.org to explore the accessibility and discoverability of web content, and the highlight was that web accessibility is vital to driving organic traffic. 73.4% of sites analyzed saw an increase in monthly organic traffic after installing remediation solutions for digital accessibility. Specifically, 66.1% of the sites experienced a traffic boost between 1-50%, while 7.3% saw growth exceeding 50%. It’s worth noting that incorporating features like alt text on Shopify, which describes images for those with visual impairments, is one of the essential steps in improving web accessibility and enhancing the user experience for all visitors.
Interestingly, one of the most impactful yet overlooked accessibility fixes is alt text. However, crafting unique and engaging alt text across product catalogs can be daunting for online merchants using eCommerce platforms like Shopify. While managing alt text for stores can be a challenge for all marketers and eCommerce managers, the most affected are multi-store Shopify users because they must overcome implementation barriers not just once but as many times as the stores they operate. If you find yourself in such a situation, read on to better understand how to best manage alt text for your stores.
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What Exactly is Alt Text?
Alt text, short for alternative text, is a written description of an image that gets displayed when the image fails to load on a web page. It serves as a textual alternative to make visual content accessible. eCommerce platforms embed the text in the HTML code of images on web pages.
The alt text appears in place of the image if there is a slow internet connection, the image file is missing, or the user cannot see it. But what does the text achieve? According to WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), a Utah State University-based non-profit organization that provides comprehensive web accessibility solutions, alt text primarily serves as a backup form of content when the browser or mobile app fails to render the image.
Alt text is one of the leading solutions for web accessibility challenges. Speaking of web accessibility, this concept encompasses designing and developing websites so that users with different situations and abilities can use and understand the content easily. It focuses on providing all users sufficient access to services and information on the web. Other than alt text, other web accessibility fixes include color contrast, keyboard navigation, captions and transcripts, and clear and logical structure.
An apt example of tools that benefit from alt text is screen readers. Screen readers will read aloud the alt text to convey the scenes and objects the image portrays. For this reason, the text should provide a concise description of the image content and function. In other words, a practical alt text includes the following key elements:
- Concise descriptions: Alt text should be straight to the point and briefly describe the image content and function. The recommended length is 125 characters or less.
- Filename matching: The alt text should match the filename of the image for consistency and SEO purposes. For example, if the image’s name is ‘power-drill.jpg,’ the alt text could be “Cordless power drill with Phillips head bit.”
- Keywords: Relevant keywords can be organically incorporated into the alt text to optimize for search engines. For instance, “Table saw making rip cut on large piece of plywood.”
- Formatting: Alt text uses no special formatting or characters except for punctuation and capitalization as needed.
So, what is a good alt text? Below are three examples of good alt text:
“Electrician wiring a commercial building electrical panel.”
“Worker using a rotary hammer to drill into concrete.”
“Pile of lumber stacked on a flatbed truck.”
These texts are less than 125 characters, include keywords, and do not include special formatting.
The following are bad examples of alt text:
“Photo” or “Image” – too generic
“Picture of a drill” – repeats file name
“Heavy duty 18V lithium ion cordless rotary hammer drill kit with ¾ inch SDS chuck, variable speed trigger, and brushless motor” – too long and focused on keywords
The good version describes the scene, subject matter, and relevant attributes for context. The bad one is vague and lacks helpful specifics. Simply put, implementing quality alt text vastly improves accessibility and the overall user experience.
The Importance of Alt Text on Shopify
Alt text plays a vital role in making Shopify stores more accessible and optimizing the content for search engines. For example, consider shoppers using screen readers who cannot use regular devices to access the web for one reason or another. These customers cannot fully engage with product content when images do not have descriptions. With alt text, the image content gets read aloud so these shoppers can access the information.
Far from screen readers, alt text is also essential for search engine optimization (SEO). The text provides crucial context to help search engines properly understand and index images. Without descriptive alt text, an image file is just that – an image without any indications of what it represents. However, search engines rely on words and text to categorize and index content, meaning an image without alt text is effectively invisible to a particular search engine’s crawler.
For example, an image uploaded to a Shopify product page with adequate description would be meaningless to a search engine. The crawlers (or algorithm) have no clues to determine what the image contains or represents. But with appropriate alt text such as “Cordless circular saw cutting through plywood,” the search engine can now recognize this image includes a power tool and the material being cut. This descriptive text helps the search bot categorize the image under relevant searches like “circular saw,” “power tools,” or even broader categories like “building materials.” That is to say, the alt text makes the image appear in search results for related keyword queries. As such, when users search for “circular saw,” the image can appear in the results and other relevant web pages.
Challenges of Managing Alt Text for Multi-Store Owners
Shopify merchants with multiple stores face greater complexity when it comes to managing alt text across their inventory. Some key pain points include:
A Tedious and Time-Consuming Manual Process
Shopify does not have a bulk editing functionality for alt text unless you pay for third-party apps. As a result, most store owners must manually write and edit alt text for every product image, one at a time. This becomes exceptionally laborious and time-intensive for merchants with thousands of product SKUs across multiple stores. Worse still, the manual work does not scale as inventory grows – adding new items or modifying existing products requires updating alt text on each store site individually. These repetitive tasks can distract from more strategic work.
Maintaining Consistency Across Stores
When managing multiple storefronts, inconsistencies can quickly arise in alt text for the same products. For example, a product image may have detailed alt text on one store while missing or inadequate alt text on another. This creates disjointed messaging and brand experience across channels. Additional proofing and coordination are needed to align alt text across stores selling common products, which requires more resources and funding. Without oversight, conflicting alt text undermines the customer experience.
Tailoring Alt Text to Each Brand and Audience
To reflect each brand’s unique identity, merchants must customize alt text per store instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, an accessories store targeting teens would use different descriptions than one targeting professionals. Writing and optimizing alt text while keeping the brand voice consistent requires extra strategic effort versus streamlined automation.
Continuous Optimization as Inventory Changes
As the product catalog evolves, ongoing work is needed to update and refine alt text. When merchants add new items, they must also create appropriate descriptions for each store. If products get updated with new features, alt text may need edits to stay current. Monitoring and maintaining optimal alt text across a multiplying product inventory requires extensive supervision without automation.
Difficulty Maintaining Centralized Oversight
With each store administrator able to freely edit alt text, inconsistencies can develop without proper governance. For example, one employee may overwrite alt text created by another without realizing it. Maintaining unified messaging and centralized oversight is extremely difficult as stores multiply.
No Visibility into Missing Alt Text
Within each Shopify store, the product page highlights images lacking alt text. However, there is no consolidated view showing missing alt text across all stores. Identifying which product images need alt text descriptions becomes increasingly challenging.
Solutions for Efficient Alt Text Management on Multi-Store Shopify
Utilizing Alt Text Automation Tools or Apps
Automation tools or apps can significantly streamline alt text management for merchants with multiple Shopify stores. Rather than manually writing and updating alt text descriptions one-by-one, automation allows bulk editing and management. These tools provide a range of benefits, including:
- Bulk editing capability to add, modify, or delete alt text in batches across hundreds of products and variations. This saves an enormous amount of time versus manual work.
- Centralized management of alt text from a unified dashboard across all stores, giving visibility into inconsistencies.
- Ability to synchronize product data, including alt text, across sales channels, ensuring consistent messaging.
- Alt text templates that allow efficient reuse with customization for each product.
- Automated optimization of alt text over time, based on search analytics and AI, keeping descriptions relevant.
The Shopify App Store has several alt text automation apps, such as AltText.ai, Easy Alt Text, Image Alt Text Optimizer, and Alt Text Wizard. These tools require a premium subscription and tend to be a good value for your money, but more robust solutions exist outside the Shopify ecosystem. And the best example is digital asset management (DAM) software.
DAM systems control all aspects of the lifecycle of a digital asset, from creation to syndication to channels. Regarding the implementation of alt text, DAM tools offer a comprehensive solution as opposed to the narrow utility users gain from the automation apps from Shopify App Store. A solid DAM system centralizes assets (images, videos, files, etc) from different distribution channels into a single platform, creating a single source of truth and making it easier to market and sell products. While alt-text automation apps focus on optimizing image alt text for better search engine ranking and accessibility, DAM software provides a broader set of features for managing product content.
A great example of a robust DAM tool is Catsy. Catsy centralizes product data like titles, descriptions, and alt text so merchants can manage once and syndicate everywhere. It offers a bulk editing feature, allowing easy alt-text optimization across all products and stores. Users also enjoy automated processes, ensuring alt text stays up-to-date as inventory changes. Another feature that towers Catsy above Shopify’s alt text automation apps is collaboration. Brands can provide access to the asset repository (of course it has an access control mechanism to avoid unauthorized access) such that other users (individuals, distributors, etc.) can access the most current files anywhere and anytime. Most importantly, the platform uses proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to generate SEO-optimized alt-text descriptions. If you look at it carefully and consider the offerings, Catsy looks like the top solution for efficient alt text management for multi-store Shopify users.
Deploying a Centralized Alt Text Management System
Having a centralized approach to manage alt text across multiple stores provides several critical advantages for merchants:
- Unified platform – A single dashboard to view, create, and edit alt text for all product images in every store, enabling consistency.
- Improved efficiency – Most solid centralized systems offer bulk editing and automation capabilities, which streamline alt-text workflows instead of manual product-by-product management.
- Enhanced oversight – Users get a centralized tracking and reporting capability, getting visibility into inconsistencies and gaps in alt text coverage across stores.
- More robust governance – You can enforce role-based permissions and workflow rules to maintain brand and messaging alignment. For example, Catsy allows you to control access to various product information and digital assets based on roles. It also offers templated workflows to streamline end-of-life workflows and product updates.
- Scalability – As merchants scale up their product catalog and open new stores, centralized management allows alt text processes to match the pace seamlessly. This is another area where Catsy becomes an essential Shopify tool. The software allows setting unique alt text values for an unlimited number of different storefronts on a single product image. This level of multi-channel flexibility and automation is unmatched for scaling alt-text management.
Leveraging Themes and Templates
Specific Shopify themes and app templates include built-in functionality to generate alt text for product images automatically. They pull relevant information from the product title, description, variants, etc., to create an alt text value.
For example, a “Makita 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless Combo Kit” product with a description highlighting details like the tools included and battery voltage could auto-generate alt text such as: “Makita 18V LXT lithium-ion cordless drill and impact driver combo kit.”
This approach provides the following benefits:
- It requires less manual effort since the themes and templates generate alt text automatically.
- Taps into critical product data already provided to generate relevant descriptions.
- Alt text is dynamically updated if product details are changed.
However, there are some limitations:
- The auto-generated alt text may still require edits to make it fully optimized, concise, and consistent.
- Automation is dependent on the theme. The store loses the auto-alt text functionality if the merchant changes the theme.
- Limited flexibility in auto-generated templates compared to creating fully customized alt text.
- Quality depends heavily on existing product data—limited or missing information results in poor auto-generated alt text.
- It does not address workflow management needs like oversight, permissions, notifications, etc.
Overall, theme and template-driven auto-generation can help kickstart alt-text content. However, for optimal quality and management efficiency at scale, a dedicated alt text automation solution, such as Catsy, is recommended for multi-store Shopify merchants.
Best Practices for Alt Text on Shopify
Concise, Accurate Descriptions
Alt text should concisely describe the key details included in the image to provide enough context for the user. Recall that the ideal length is 125 characters or fewer. Also, the description should be accurate and precisely explain the product features, style, color, etc. Good examples of alt text were shared previously, but for emphasis, the following descriptions display the best practices for alt text: “Cordless drill with Phillips head bit drilling into wood”; “Galvanized steel I-beams stacked on a flatbed truck”.
Customized Alt Text per Product Photo
Each product image should have unique alt text tailored to the specifics of that photo. Avoid using duplicate or boilerplate alt text across images that may result in a poor experience for shoppers. If, for example, a product has photos showing different angles or details, the alt text should reflect the distinct view in each image.
Reflect Brand Voice and Audience
The alt text tone and style should reflect the brand’s voice and personality. Is your brand fun and casual or elegant and sophisticated? An appropriately aligned alt text will have the answer glaring at the shopper. Furthermore, messaging should be tailored to connect with your target audience on each storefront. This means you must optimize vocabulary and style accordingly.
Periodic Reviews and Updates
Treat alt-text optimization as an ongoing process. Continuously review and improve descriptions to keep them engaging and aligned with SEO goals. As new products are added or existing inventory changes, ensure alt text is updated and enhanced to remain current. Pro tip: set reminders to revisit older alt text and refine it.
Utilize Relevant Keywords
Where possible, include relevant keywords and search terms in the alt text. For a product image, incorporate keywords related to style, color, design, material, purpose, etc. For example, an image of plywood sheets could include keywords like “plywood,” “wood,” “boards,” “building materials,” “construction,” etc. This helps the image rank for those related searches. However, avoid overstuffing with keywords.
In summary, proper alt text is critical for the accessibility, SEO, and success of Shopify stores. However, crafting optimized alt text across multiple stores creates challenges with manual management at scale. You can circumvent these hurdles by implementing robust automation tools, helping to save significant time and effort.
Of all the solutions explored, Catsy DAM stands out as the most comprehensive centralized and automated alt-text management platform. Its multi-store syncing, bulk editing capabilities, automatic readiness reporting, and advanced workflow tools provide unmatched efficiency and oversight.
Beyond streamlining alt text, Catsy enables multi-channel management of product meta information, digital assets, enriched content, and more from a single source of truth. With this solution, Shopify merchants gain a decisive competitive advantage through productivity, consistency, and making product experiences shoppable for all. The result is increased organic traffic and more robust customer engagement across stores. If you’re ready to experience the power of Catsy DAM and unlock the full potential of your Shopify stores, don’t hesitate to schedule a demo today.
Image optimization enhances page speed, user experience, SEO, cost-efficiency, and brand professionalism across all devices. Shopify’s high-res support allows large, detailed images, but they must be properly optimized.
Shopify requires images to be under 20MB, with a maximum resolution of 20MP, an aspect ratio between 100:1 and 1:100, and JPEG, PNG, WEBP, HEIC, or GIF formats. Videos must be under 1GB, maximum 4K resolution, under 10 minutes, and MOV/MP4 formats.
No, Shopify does not actively modify original image files. Instead, merchants must optimize images themselves before uploading. Shopify only applies minor lossless compression and converts images to 72 dpi (dots per inch).
Keep high-res originals for product zoom views requiring fine details. But generate lower-resolution versions for small thumbnails (200px or below) and product galleries (800px or below). This balances quality and performance.
A DAM tool like Catsy allows bulk editing to easily compress, resize, and convert batches of images at once. Catsy streamlines image tagging, aids search, and syncs optimized assets with Shopify via API for efficient management.