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Why Instagram Alt Text Matters (And How To Use It)

Learn how to add Instagram alt text to your posts, plus best practices to keep your content accessible and searchable.

Hannah Macready December 14, 2022
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Are you using Instagram alt text? If not, you should be.

Alt text, or “alternative text” on Instagram, is an important tool for increasing accessibility and improving user experience. And it’s especially important when it comes to reaching new audiences. It’s also important for Instagram’s own algorithm, which uses alt text to understand what a post is about.

In this article, we’ll explain why Instagram alt text matters, how you can use it effectively, and what you need to know to get started.

Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a fitness influencer used to grow from 0 to 600,000+ followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.

What is Instagram alt text?

Instagram alt text is a short description used to explain the content of an Instagram post. This could be a photo, video, carousel post, or Instagram Story. It’s often referred to as “alternative text.” It’s displayed when an image is slow or fails to load, or is read by screen readers.

Although Instagram creates automatic alt text for posts, the generated text is not always reflective of the image. That’s why it’s important to add your own Instagram alt text.

Why is Instagram alt text important?

Instagram alt text is important because it improves accessibility on the platform.

Instagram users with visual impairments or other disabilities may use screen readers that read aloud text descriptions of on-screen images. Providing alt text for Instagram posts ensures that your content is accessible to these users and also makes sure that their experience isn’t compromised.

According to the WHO, there are 1 billion people worldwide who have moderate to severe visual impairments. So, it’s safe to assume people in your audience benefit from Instagram alt text.

Aside from boosting accessibility, adding Instagram alt text can also help improve the performance of your Instagram posts through SEO.

Instagram’s algorithm takes into account the words you use in your posts when deciding which ones to show in people’s feeds. Including keywords related to your post in a descriptive Instagram alt text can help Instagram’s algorithm recognize your post as relevant. Then, your post will likely be served to more relevant users.

Learn more about Instagram SEO here.

How to add alt text to your Instagram posts

If you want to add Instagram alt text to your posts, either new or old, follow these steps.

How to add Instagram alt text to new posts

To add Instagram alt text to new Instagram posts, start by launching the Instagram app on your phone. Follow your usual process for selecting and editing your photo, but pause before you publish.

bulldog with different filters

Click the forward arrow on the top-right corner to go to the next page. On this page, you’ll see an option for Advanced Settings near the bottom of your screen. Tap it.

advanced settings icon

On the next page, tap Write Alt Text.

accessibility write alt text

You’ll now be able to write your Instagram alt text.

instagram alt text large white dog looking grumpy

When you’re done writing the alternative text, click the checkmark or Done button at the top-right corner. Now you can add your Instagram post as usual.

If you’re uploading your image on a desktop, simply move through the post-creation process, and choose Accessibility on the last screen.

accessibility options on desktop

How to add Instagram alt text to existing posts

If you didn’t add your alt text when you first posted, don’t worry. Instagram allows you to add alternative text to older posts too.

To do this, find the Instagram post and tap the three dots in the top-right corner of your screen.

instagram three dots top right icon

Select Edit from the pop-up menu.

edit pop-up menu

At the bottom of your Instagram post, there’ll be an Edit Alt Text link.

edit alt text

Click the link, and enter your alt text. If your post is a carousel, you’ll see a separate slot for alt text for each photo.

instagram alt text added to two images in carousel post

Once you’ve added and checked your Instagram alt text, click Done in the top-right corner of the screen. Your post will now include Instagram alt text.

If you’re using a desktop computer, follow the same steps, but choose Accessibility on the final screen.

accessibility function on instagram desktop upload

How to write great alt text for Instagram

If you’re new to writing Instagram alt text, or just want to make sure you’re doing it right, here are the best practices to follow. We’ll also include some alt text on Instagram examples to help you get started.

Be clear but descriptive

The purpose of Instagram alt text is to accurately describe the image you are posting. Make sure that the alt text you write provides enough detail to help the user understand what’s in your Instagram post.

For example, alt text that simply says “a photo of a dog” doesn’t give much information. It’s better to provide more detail, such as “black labrador guide dog with orange harness sitting in front of orange tree in fall.”

Similarly, this image could read “women on surfboard.” But, a more accurate description would be “woman in orange bathing suit crouches down on surfboard as she rides a wave.”

Remember, Instagram alt text is primarily used for accessibility. Think about how someone who can’t see the image would experience it, and use that as a guide when writing your own alt text. Add detail about any important features or context in the photo to provide an accurate description of the image.

Be concise

The best alt text for Instagram accurately describes the image you’re posting, without being too long or cluttered.

Instagram allows for up to 100 characters of alt text. And some screen readers also cut off the content at 125 characters. So make sure your text is concise, as well as descriptive.

For example, when writing alt text for illustrations or art, it’s tempting to include a lot of detail. But, try to break down the most important elements into shorter phrases and words. That way Instagram users can still get the gist of what’s in the image if they are using a screen reader.

In this image, in-concise alt text would read “illustration of earth deity casting spells with crystal ball while orange and black butterflies fly around it. on its head is a tv with a wolf’s face and a dessert in the background.” While this alt text is descriptive, it is too long and bulky. It also makes assumptions about the art, which could cause confusion for the viewer.

A better version would include only the most necessary elements to accurately capture the essence of the image such as “Earth deity with crystal ball and TV on head showing wolf face.”

If you do feel you need more room to describe the image, consider adding a photo ID in the caption. More on this below.

Keep your alt text relevant

This one should be obvious, but unfortunately, Instagram alt text is often filled with random hashtags or irrelevant jokes. Relevance matters here and writing an irrelevant Instagram alt text can be quite confusing for the platform and could eventually backfire on you.

Be sure to write Instagram alt text that is authentic and relevant to the image or video being shown. For example, this is an image of a pug with a basketball. It is not NBA legend Stephen Curry.

Inaccurate Instagram alt text here could read: “Steph Curry NBA tickets now for sale at“. This is obviously spammy, and gives the viewer no insight into what the picture is about.

Accurate Instagram alt text here could read: “fawn colored pug holding orange basketball with one paw”.

Use photo IDs

Some Instagram users choose to use photo IDs, as well as Instagram alt text, to offer a more complete description of their posts.

Instagram photo IDs are shorter descriptions placed at the end of Instagram captions. They provide an additional layer of information for screen-reading programs to identify an Instagram post.

Note: Instagram alt text and Instagram photo IDs are two separate forms of alternative text. They should be used in conjunction with each other as much as possible.

The benefit of Instagram photo IDs is that you have more room to include additional details that Instagram alt text cannot accommodate.

Feel free to get creative here. Instagram photo IDs can include:

  • Additional context to the Instagram post
  • Descriptive details of the image
  • A more creative story-telling approach (optional)

If you’re using a carousel, be sure to provide an ID for each individual post.

Note: Image IDs and alt text should be distinct. Do not copy and paste the same text for both.

Describe text in images

If your Instagram post includes text as part of an image, be sure to include it in your Instagram alt text. Words in an image cannot be read by screen readers and other assistive technologies, so it needs to be included in an alternative way.

Alt text for this image could read: “tweet showing @hootsuite account asking “Am I testing new Instagram features or are they testing me?”

Avoid filler words

The best alt text for Instagram posts will provide useful information without being too wordy.

If a description is too long, uses difficult vocabulary, or has irrelevant information, it will be hard to follow for screen readers. Search engines will also have trouble determining what it is about.

Similarly, avoid phrases like “picture of”, “video of”, or “photo of” and instead focus on describing the scene. Users already know Instagram is a visual platform, so there’s no need to reiterate.

For example, alt text like”photo of mountains at sunset” for this picture doesn’t offer valuable context. “Snow-topped craggy mountains splashed with orange light at sunset” is better.

Your audience likely knows that your Instagram post is either a photo or a video. So don’t waste their time with filler words that don’t describe the content itself.

Include keywords (sparingly)

Keywords can be an effective way to boost your Instagram SEO, but excessive use of keywords can be detrimental. Instagram alt text like “Instagram mountains photo Instagram sunset picture Instagram” is not only disjointed and impractical, but it’s also a sign of keyword stuffing.

Instead, use keywords only when they fit naturally into your alt text. For example, beauty blogger @haircarewithsmoya focuses on posts about hair care, fashion, and beauty. While those keywords might not fit into every post she makes, there may be creative ways to include them, even if partially.

In this post, alt text could read: “somya sits on white carved char in the sunset, her healthy long hair flows behind her.”

In this post, the alt text might read: “somya strikes a fashion pose in a long leopard print dress.”

Don’t be repetitive

Finally, be sure to avoid repeating information that is already explicitly stated in the Instagram post. Captions are always read aloud by screen readers, so there isn’t any benefit to including the same phrasing in your alt text.

For example, if the Instagram post includes a caption describing what is pictured, there’s no need to use that description verbatim as alt text. Instead, try to be creative and come up with an alternate description of what is being shown in the image or video.

Frequently asked questions about Instagram alt text

What is alt text on Instagram?

Instagram alt text is the written description of an Instagram post’s images or videos. It helps screen readers and search engines identify the content of your Instagram posts. It is also known as alternative text. By adding Instagram alt text, Instagram users can make their content more accessible and searchable.

How to see alt text on Instagram?

You can currently only view alt text for your own Instagram posts. To do this, click the three dots at the top right of your Instagram posts, choose Edit, click Edit Alt Text on mobile (or Accessibility on desktop) and view or edit your alt text there.

Can you add alt text to an Instagram story?

No, there is currently no way to add Instagram alt text to Instagram stories. You can, however, make Instagram content more accessible by adding captions to your stories. Or, try adding transcripts for longer videos. Turn on Instagram captions using the Captions sticker function, or use apps like Cliptomatic and Caption This.

How does alt text work on Instagram?

Alt text on Instagram is an accessibility feature that makes Instagram content accessible to those who are visually impaired. Instagram alt text is added to each post and describes the content in a way that can be read out loud by a screen reader.

How to use alt text on Instagram?

You can add alt text to Instagram posts through the Instagram app:

  1. Open up Instagram and select your post from either Instagram Feed or Instagram Story.
  2. Select the Edit option at the top of your screen and then select Alt Text. Here you can enter a description of your Instagram content that will be read out loud by a screen reader.
  3. You can also add alt text to new Instagram posts by selecting the Advanced Settings option when you create a new Instagram post.

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By Hannah Macready

Hannah Macready is a freelance writer with 12 years of experience in social media and digital marketing. Her work has appeared in publications such as Fast Company and The Globe & Mail, and has been used in global social media campaigns for brands like Grosvenor Americas and Intuit Mailchimp. In her spare time, Hannah likes exploring the outdoors with her two dogs, Soup and Salad.

Read more by Hannah Macready

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