Accessible alt text for images

Adding alternative text (usually referred to as alt text) for images is one of the first principles of web accessibility, but it is also one of the most difficult to properly implement.
Alt text serves several functions:

  • It is read aloud by screen readers in place of images allowing the content and function of the image to be accessible to those with visual or certain cognitive disabilities.
  • It is displayed in place of the image in browsers if the image file is not loaded.
  • It provides a semantic meaning to images which can be ‘understood’ by search engine AIs.

Getting the alt text right often takes some thought, and therefore some time!

Although every image must have an alt attribute, there are certain instances when it is correct to leave the attribute value blank. A simple question you can ask is: “is this image purely decorative or does it convey information?”

It’s often stated that logos specifically, must always have alt text. This is because a logo is often used to discreetly remind the user what the context of the current page is. In the case of all the logos in your Directory results listings however, the logo invariably appears alongside the listing’s title, and therefore SELDOM gives the sighted user any additional information. In other words when there is text adjacent to the image giving you the same information, then alt text could be considered redundant in some cases.
Try and imagine listening to the content of your results page being read aloud by a screen reader. You’ve just heard the current record title: “ABC care services”, so you don’t need to hear the EXACT same thing announced again when the screen reader gets to the logo.

The latest Directory wireframe comes with a new feature which allows all your content editors to now review and edit their own image alt text.
Speak to your account manager in the first instance to enquire about a Directory refresh.

(Further reading:

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Adding videos to your pages

Hosting online videos is a tricky and expensive process. Videos are resource hogs. Their files are very large compared to a page of text, and bandwidth requirements are also bigger. If a video is popular, it can grind the performance of your entire website to a halt.

For this reason, we have always advised hosting your videos on YouTube.

Any YouTube video (or even a playlist of videos) can easily be hosted on any of the editable pages on your site.  Follow the instructions in the link below, and simply paste the code that YouTube gives you into an editable content section of your page.

YouTube help page > Embed a video or playlist:

A word on accessibility.
Videos are a great way of conveying information to a wider audience, but consider the deaf, or the person who cannot play sound on their computer or device. It’s common nowadays to include a video transcript below a video.

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Inaugural Directory customer newsletter

This week we published the first of our Directory customer newsletters that we hope you have received by email, but you can also view it here.

Read about our collaboration earlier this year with Coram Family and Childcare, updates from our Local Offer online forums, our new FIS Directory website page, and an insight into the work being carried out with imin to offer a third-party integration service for directories. Sign up here to be included in future emails.

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Are you HTTPS yet?

HTTPS, the lock icon in the address bar, an encrypted website connection – it’s known as many things.

The “S” in HTTPS stands for “Secure”. It’s the secure version of the standard “hypertext transfer protocol” your web browser uses when communicating with websites.

HTTPS was originally intended for passwords, payments, and other sensitive data, but the web has evolved and now everything is moving towards secure connections.

When you connect to a website with regular HTTP, your browser looks up the IP address that corresponds to the website, and then connects to it. It just assumes it’s connected to the correct web server, and data is sent over the connection in clear text. An eavesdropper on a Wi-Fi network, your internet service provider, or other nefarious intelligence agencies could see the web pages you’re visiting and record the data you’re sending.

For internet service providers, your browsing history is actually a potential revenue stream. Many ISPs compile anonymous browsing logs to sell to marketing companies.

There is now a common consensus and a desire to move to HTTPS. All the newest standards designed to make the web faster, require an HTTPS connection.
Google is actively making HTTP unattractive by penalizing websites for using it. They plan to flag websites that don’t use HTTPS as unsafe in Chrome, and want to prioritize websites that use HTTPS in their search results.

If your site doesn’t yet have a certificate talk to your IT department, in the first instance, about generating a Certificate Signing Request – which is essentially just filling in a very short form.
Our support team is very experienced in adding SSL certificates and are always on hand to advise.

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Home(page) work

You don’t always need a homepage message, but if you have one keep it punchy. Think of a blackboard standing outside a shop – people won’t stop walking to read it.

Don’t assume ANY knowledge of the terms you’re familiar with because of your job role. Use simple terms that anyone would understand even if they’re unfamiliar with the subject matter.

Users are self-seeking as they hunt for information across the web.
A good welcome message could therefore be orientated around your user’s needs, rather than about what your site does.
So instead of saying “Our Directory gives families information about what services are available“, consider saying “Learn what services are on offer for your family in your local area.
You have an opportunity to write freely in a self-centred and self-promoting way on an “About” page.   Any site can have an About page where you can tell the world about yourself or your organisation, but don’t be too self-focused on your homepage!

You can’t promote everything!

Many sites have multiple stakeholders, who all want to drive traffic to their own section, but making a website homepage resemble the cover of a glossy magazine, is like killing your golden goose: it simply reduces the overall effectiveness of your homepage.

A successful website is built around the needs (and ease) of the user.  At Idox, we have many years’ experience in this field, so if you’ve found that a page isn’t working, don’t feel like you have to find the solution yourselves!
The most important step is to identify that you have a problem to solve.  Our support team, and your account manager, are always at hand in the first instance.

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Media Manager bugfix

As you may have noticed, the Media Manager had lost its ability to provide cut-n-past image filenames. That feature used Shockwave Flash which was discontinued by its owners Adobe, because “technologies evolve and the use of mobile devices has grown, interactive content has moved to platforms such as HTML5 Canvas and Web GL“.

In line with this philosophy, we are pleased to finally announce that this feature in our Media Manager app has now been recreated using modern JavaScript, which is supported on all modern browsers.

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What’s above the fold, affects SEO

The concept of above the fold dates back to early printing presses. Newspapers were folded over on news-stands, so only the top half of the paper was visible to the passer-by.

The newspaper industry quickly worked out that to sell papers, they must present attention-grabbing content in the top half of their front page. This basic principle remains the same for digital content.

How does this affect search engine optimisation (SEO)? The best search engines give us what we’re looking for quickly. They do this by mimicking human decision making, like whether or not to buy the newspaper. When a user lands on your webpage from the search engine results page, that search engine starts counting. 1… 2… 3… 4…

If a user fails to immediately spot what they want on the screen, the chances of them staying in your website are greatly decreased – studies have shown they will not stay longer than 10 seconds (far less if they’re young).

If 500 visitors find your site on Google and then stay there for less than 10 seconds, the search engine will record the verdict “This page isn’t really that interesting or relevant, so let’s put it a little lower down our rankings.” (a phenomenon known as Dwell Time Metrics and although officially unconfirmed, widely accepted as being used by the Google algorithm)

Simply rearranging items on a page is generally a trivial edit. On many of your pages, you can probably do it for yourself, but contact our support team if you need help.

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Spring pruning improves design

For the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines, a sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences.

Contrary to some printed content, where column inches signify importance, your users may not even SEE every word on your web page.

Words take up space, and can often be removed without altering the meaning. This reduces the “noise” level of the page and makes the useful content more prominent. Making any page shorter allows your users to scan it without needing to scroll.

What we’re advocating here mostly applies to introductions and instructions.
Web content doesn’t need verbose welcome messages that just reiterate the page title, or tell the user how great the site is.
If your site serves clearly separate purposes, it will have clearly separate sections, but don’t be tempted to write explanations at the start of each section. Once a user is happy they’ve reached the right page, they will scan down it, rather than reading it like you do a page in a book.
Regarding instructions, if a page NEEDS them, maybe it should just be redesigned.

So be ruthless and get pruning!

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New BCP design is not just for sighted users.

People who are blind can read books, use maps and even play specially designed video games. They can do anything they want to unless we build things that stop them!

BCP Council have just gone live with a redesigned homepage. Not only did their design carefully consider smaller screen sizes like phones and tablets, but also assistive technology such as screen readers.
The page is structured and some additional text has been included, to ensure ALL information that is communicated visually, is accurately conveyed to blind users.

You can view the homepage here:

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