Woman sitting on the floor with laptop, writing alt text for her website

Don’t forget to add alt text

One important website accessibility standard every website manager should know is that EVERY photo on your site MUST include alt text. Alt text (alternative text), or alt attributes play an essential role in making your site accessible to all visitors.

Here are three tips to ensuring your image descriptions and informative and optimized for screenreaders.

Describe the photo accurately

Computers and e-reading devices can’t analyze images. Alternative text works to inform screen readers and searchbots what’s in the picture. It’s also what will display on the screen should the image fail to load.

When writing alt text for images, make sure you’re describing the image and it’s purpose accurately and succinctly. You need to give enough information so that readers and search engines understands how the image relates to your page.

For example, if you’re writing a blog, revealing the cover of your novel, the alternative text would describe what your book cover looks like.

The surrounding content on your page can also provide the readers additional context around the image, so be sure to make sure the description is original, adding value to the reader instead of being redundant.

In our cover reveal example, including your name/byline in the alt text is like redundant because you’ve already referenced that information within the body of the post.

Screenreaders also know, thanks to the alt text line, that this is an image, so avoid unnecessary words in the description like “image,” “graphic,” etc.

Keep it under 125 characters

It’s like the original Twitter. You don’t need to fluff up the description or be verbose. The more succinct you can be, the better the description. In fact, many screen readers will only read the first 125 characters, so it’s important to keep your alt attributes under that limit.

What about images that are purely for design?

There may be times when an image is purely decorative, and does not add any context or meaning to your page. When this is the case, simply insert “” in the alt text field. This signifies that the value is null, rather than missing/inaccessible.

Mint green, sky blue, rose pink, plum purple paint dabs sit on a white table

Are the colors on your website accessible?

Colors choice is important. It helps sets the tone for what you, your brand/business and your website are all about. If you’re a middle grade or picture book writer, you might use warm, primary colors to evoke a playful sense of youth. If you’re a fantasy writer you might look for more mature, deep colors to strike a serious, adventurous tone. But there’s one more important thing you should consider before selecting your color palette–make sure your color choices are accessible to all users, regardless of visual or cognitive disabilities.

What is web accessibility and why should you care?

Simply put, web accessibility means that your website is designed and developed in a way that allows ALL people to use it, regardless of any chronic or temporary disabilities they may have. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are developed by The World Wide Web Consortium in collaboration with individuals and organizations. It strives to define a single, shared, international standard for accessibility across all digital content.

From a font perspective, this means that your font needs to have enough contrast between it and its background so that it can easily be read. For example, imagine an individual who is color blind is trying to navigate and read your blog content. Can they see your headlines and the body of your post?

There are a number of benefits to ensuring your color (and your whole website for that matter) are accessible. In addition to building content that all can experience and enjoy, you’re also optimizing your content for search engines (SEO).

Search engines want to be sure they’re delivering the highest quality results to their users. This means search engines not only evaluate WHAT the content on your site is but also HOW it’s built and displayed.

In this regard, there are a number of ways that SEO and accessibility overlap: page structure and heading tags, image alternative text, as well as size and contrast of text, to name a few.

Double-check colors in pre-built website templates

You might be thinking, “I picked a template from Squarespace or WordPress, so I’m good. They must screen or ensure those meet standards right?”

Unfortunately, that’s wrong.

Few sites screen template designs (especially their free ones) to ensure accessibility standards are being upheld. So it’s your responsibility to confirm the colors you want to use are accessible.

How to test contrast and accessibility

How much contrast do you need? WCAG requires a 4.5:1 contrast ratio between the foreground (your text) and the background.

Thankfully there are a number of sites that offer free tools that help you test the accessibility of your colors. I prefer this contrast checker by Web Accessibility In Mind, because it’s easy to see if your color passes or fails WCAG standards, and allows you to manipulate a color’s hue to see if deepening or lightening the color improves the contrast ratio.

A screenshot of WebAIM's contrast checker shows a light purple color on white background fails accessibility test

Crumpled pieces of yellow paper sits next to a laptop, pencils and a cup of coffee.

Why your broad blogging approach is harming your online presence

crumpled piece of paper lies on table next to pencils and a laptop

What’s the number one mistake bloggers make? They cast their nets too wide. They blog about anything and everything that comes to mind. And, as a result, their content is typically broad, unfocused or too basic to be helpful.

Casting a big net doesn’t mean you’ll reap bigger rewards. You’ll spend a lot of time trying to draw in readers who will only stick around to read one article. Or worse, they might not find much meat, quality or merit in what you’re saying because it’s too broad. The number of readers visiting a page isn’t necessarily the most important measure of success when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization.

More traffic doesn’t mean better search ranking

If 10,000 people view your post, but leave your blog after only a few seconds–that indicates to search engines like Google that your content isn’t very great or informative. Google is all about helping users find the most relevant content when they need it most. When Google sees users quickly leaving your blog, they tag your post with a lower quality score. As a result, your search ranking will typically be lower as well.

If you only have a few hundred readers but a majority of them spend several minutes on your page, and possibly even click through to read other articles, Google marks your content with a higher quality score, that will help improve your rankings in organic search results.

That’s who we’re after here–those highly-engaged and dedicated readers who are deeply interested in the specific subject matter.

This is why your first step of creating a blog should be to define your niche audience. Get as specific as possible. For example, my niche audience isn’t just authors (that’s too broad). Instead, it is children’s and young adult authors (narrowing in), who are beginning to build or rethink their digital presence (narrowed–ding, ding, ding).

Write deeply in order to build audience engagement

Once you’ve defined your niche audience, move on to define your value proposition. What unique insight or needs are you going to fulfill for this audience? What questions are you prepared to help answer for them?

The Internet has turned humans into instant-gratification seekers. We have very specific questions and we want to find the best answer right now. We live our life in what Google likes to call “micro moments.”

Blogging is all about answering those specific micro-moment questions.

You might be afraid that narrowing your focus limits the blog topics available to you. But I think you’ll be surprised at the number of micro moments and questions that emerge the deeper into the issue or topic you go. As you plan your blog content, you’ll be able to explore one facet/angle, deeply and thoroughly over the course of your blog’s lifetime.

Writers, please note, your blog does not necessarily need to be craft and publishing related. Your blog doesn’t even need to target the same audience as your novels (i.e. your readers).

As you begin to launch your blog, here are a few questions to consider to help you think through your value proposition and determine your blog’s purpose and theme:

  • What are the re-emerging themes in your novels?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What issues are you passionate about?
  • What subjects or topics are you passionate about?
  • What skills do you possess that others might like to learn?
  • What issues or pieces of the writing process/industry interest you the most?

If you’re having trouble coming up with topics within a narrowed category, re-evaluate whether or not you have the knowledge or skills to write on that subject matter. You should select the topic that you’re most qualified to and interested to write about.

And don’t give me that “I’m not qualified” excuse. I believe we’re all skilled at something. We all have unique talents to share. 

A woman reads Google Analytics on her laptop in a conference room.

3 tips for building an awesome author website

over a shoulder we see a man reviewing website analytics on his laptop

If you’re reading this post, it’s probably safe to assume you’re getting ready to launch your author website. So let me start by saying, “Congratulations!” You’re taking a big step forward in building your digital brand and presence!

No matter what layout or design you choose for your website, here are three things you’ll want to keep in mind:

1. Building a brand takes time

Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and consistent energy, so be thoughtful in what you publish.

Search algorithms are constantly trying to improve results for users—they want to be sure they’re pointing users to the best possible content. Your website will be ranked based on it’s authority and relevancy (among other factors).

How can you improve your site’s authority? One way is to have other sites of authority link back to your content. And the best way to get others to link to your content is to have content worth sharing in the first place.

Stop to consider: What are you the expert in? What can you offer readers that others cannot? Then write and produce blogs or content of that nature for your website.   

2. Don’t wait until you have a book deal to build your website

Often times, I see authors cramming all of their marketing and digital brand development into that period between their book deal and publication date—all while simultaneously trying to complete final revisions and working on their next novel.

If at all possible, begin building your digital brand as early in your professional writing career as possible. I recommend starting your website when you’re starting to querying agents.

If you already have a book deal and are just now starting your website—don’t panic. It’s never too late to start building your digital presence.  My advice here is simply don’t procrastinate.  

3. Don’t skimp on buying a domain name

Gone is the day of paying an arm and a leg for a developer to build a website for you. Nowadays, there are a lot of free or affordable platforms that the everyday writer and business owner can use to design, customize, and maintain their websites (Squarespace and WordPress, to name a two).

Let’s face it, writers don’t make a ton of money. We can’t afford to spend more than necessary on business expenses. The one thing don’t want to skimp on, though, is your domain name.

Your domain name is the web address that individuals will type into their browser to find your website (for example my domain name is sacassell.com).  Search bots are crawling the web, indexing pages and content—looking for keywords users might be using in their search queries. Having a domain name that’s tied directly to your brand as an author, will help your website appear in search results related to you, your books and your writing.

When you use the free domains offered by these sites (i.e. yourname.squarespace.com or yourname.wordpress.com), you’re actually helping wordpress and squarespace improve their search rankings, not your own.

Both WordPress and Squarespace offer affordable, annual custom domains. If you have an annual plan through Squarespace, your plan actually includes one custom domain for a year.  Then, you’ll pay a small (currently $20) annual fee to Squarespace for the continued use of your my custom domain name.