Hidden in plain view


When designing a website, common sense dictates that you should display key information in plain text, rather than rendering it into an image. The rationale is simple: search engines can’t read words that are part of an image, and site visitors can’t do normal things like copying that text into a separate document for later reference. With this in mind, I’m amazed when I see websites that put key information into images, without any corresponding text version.

I came across this issue while trying to locate the dates for a conference I’m attending in November. I tried searching for the conference name on Google, but all the results were from third-party news sites. I didn’t know if that data was current, so I restricted the search to the conference organizer’s site — and got zero results. Only after going to the page and clicking through a few Flash and image menus was I able to confirm the dates. Since the key info was only provided in the image, this was truly the only way to access it.

As a rule, you should use images to reinforce your message and provide visual aids to the visitor. Don’t rely on images to convey key information that would work just as well in a block of text. And if you can’t resist putting that information into an image, try to provide a plain text copy of the same info elsewhere on the page. (Perhaps you could use the Alt tag for this, but most people would never see it.) Remember, just because you can see the contents of the image, there’s no guarantee that your visitors will be able to find that information.