October 19, 2022

Website Accessibility and SEO

By: Mary Hiers

SEO and website accessibility go together. After all, SEO is ultimately about making your website discoverable by more people by optimizing it for their needs. 

When you prioritize your website’s accessibility, you naturally make it more attractive to search engines. Here’s why you should emphasize accessibility and ways you can start doing it right now.

What You Should Know About Accessibility

In his book Nothing About Us Without Us, James Charlton makes the obvious, yet underappreciated point that people with disabilities know what is best for them. Yet many businesses consider accommodations for people with disabilities as an afterthought, if they consider them at all. 

Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) report that worldwide, over one billion people live with some type of disability and that the number is increasing all the time. At some point in life, just about everyone will experience some type of disability, whether temporary or permanent. 

A person using your website may enlarge the text, use a screen reader, click on keys using a prosthetic limb, or use captions or transcripts to understand audio content. The steps you take to improve accessibility often overlap with tactical measures you take to improve your SEO.

Don’t think of website accessibility as an “add-on” or as something nice to have (although it is nice to have). Think of it as an entire attitude or mindset that should influence every aspect of website design.

Website Accessibility Begins with a Mindset

Currently, search engines do not penalize websites for lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But the actual people who use your website might if they find it difficult to use. 

Moving forward, you should set accessibility goals starting with the first outline or creative brief and pursue them throughout every stage of website development. 

The most common accessibility technologies that people with disabilities use when accessing the web include screen readers, voice control, keyboard navigation, color modification, and captions. Are you facilitating the use of these technologies, or hindering them?

Changes that Improve Website Accessibility

WCAG Guidelines

Familiarize yourself with the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). All guidelines are based on four principles. Specifically, web content must be

  • Perceivable, meaning users must be able to perceive the content you present
  • Operable, meaning users must be able to operate your website interface
  • Understandable, meaning users must be able to understand both the content and the interface
  • Robust, meaning content must be interpreted reliably by a range of users and assistive technologies and should remain accessible as assistive technology advances

Alt Text, Title Tags, and More

Also, pay particular attention to your site’s alt text, headings, links, multimedia, and title tags.

  • Alt text should have accessibility rather than SEO as its main purpose. This is particularly true for e-commerce sites. Alt text should be accurate, concise, and contextual, and should convey sufficient detail in up to 150 characters. It’s a tall order, but it’s doable with practice.
  • Headings are essential for screen readers in moving around a page. Only have one H1 tag per page, at the top of the main content. Your headings should make sense hierarchically, and you shouldn’t skip heading levels. In other words, you should go from H2 to H3, not H2 to H4. It’s a good practice to read page headings by themselves to ensure they flow logically and are relevant to the more detailed content under them.
  • Links should be anchored to text that makes it perfectly clear what the linked page will be about. They should also be visually distinguishable from their surrounding text through underlining or strong color contrast. Avoid using anchor text like “click here,” or “read more,” and don’t let more than one set of anchor text link to the same destination. 
  • Multimedia should include captions, transcripts, and if possible, visual descriptions. Captions and transcripts should be verbatim, correctly spelled, and inclusive of background sounds (like birds chirping or traffic noise). Visual descriptions should convey to people with visual impairments what is on the screen accompanying the audio (such as a fire in the background of a breaking news story).
  • Title tags are also essential to the proper use of screen readers because they are the first things that users of screen readers hear. Every title tag should be the equivalent of a concise, informative, relevant headline. Title tags should mention whether an action (such as clicking on a link going to a landing page) was successful, or if there was an error. 

If you develop mobile apps, you can use the Android Accessibility Scanner. This tool scans the app’s interface and provides recommendations for improving the app’s accessibility. Suggestions might include things like enlarging too-small touch targets or increasing contrast levels for text and images. Making such changes can improve app uptake by making it usable to a larger audience. 

Companies Improving Accessibility

Businesses of all sizes and in all industries have taken significant steps to improve website and app accessibility. And they have uniformly described the results of these efforts in positive terms. Here are two examples. 

Cosmetic giant L’Oréal built its latest website based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Users can customize settings in the website navigation menu, and can deactivate animations (which can aggravate vestibular disorders). The company also made their menus high-contrast to enhance readability. 

Procter & Gamble added audio description voice overs in their video ads to ensure that more users are able to perceive key elements of video narratives. In 2021 they débuted the first Super Bowl ad with this feature. Since that time, they have added these descriptions to their YouTube content as well. 

Benefits of a More Accessible Website

When you improve website accessibility, you can expect several key benefits to your SEO and your business as a whole. Some of those benefits include

  • More web traffic because more people with disabilities will be able to access it.
  • More customers, because inaccessible websites can miss up to 20% of potential customers!
  • Greater innovation, because increasing website accessibility requires creativity and innovation at every stage.
  • More powerful SEO, because the steps that improve human accessibility also have favorability with search engine algorithms. Moreover, the same steps that improve accessibility often increase your page loading speed.
  • A better business reputation, because you make it clear that you value people with disabilities as clients.
  • A smoother user experience that leads to more conversions. Accessibility improvements depend on logical architecture and navigation, and the more intuitive your navigation, the more likely people will be to proceed further along the customer journey.

Your Business Website Accessibility

Maybe your website hasn’t undergone a renovation in a while. Or maybe you’re about to build your company’s first website. At Best Websites, we know how to build accessibility into sites and improve SEO at the same time. 

If you’re interested in improving your website accessibility or in building a website that is usable by as many people as possible, set up a call with our team. We’re experts in solving the problems that hold your website back from performing at its peak!


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