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Web Accessibility and SEO

Paul Hudson August 24, 2016

 

Web Accessibility and SEO

This has been a focus of late discussions and with good reason. The goal of setting web accessibility standards is to provide easy access to more of the web for those suffering from a range of visual disabilities. At present, website design best practices do not fully support those with disabilities. Consequently, many feel left out and and unable to access the content they desire when they wish to.

The main pillars of this initiative are that visually impaired individuals can access, interact with, understand, perceive and navigate websites.

The demographic of disabled web users is actually very significant. There are millions worldwide making use of the internet for a variety of reasons. The drive for greater web accessibility is focused on bringing a more positive experience to these individuals.

As you might imagine this has a significant impact on the SEO scene. Especially when it comes to web layout and design and page ranking. The best practice for site optimisation should keep in mind the subject of accessibility by those with disabilities.

Fortunately, this consideration falls in line with a good understanding of web structure and optimization when it comes to SEO. Key points of accessibility include content being clear and easy to identify, digest and navigate through. These points being a focus of site design will aid in user experience as well as assisting those with disabilities.

What we’re specifically looking at however is the subject of how your SEO should consider this. Moreover, there might be ways to benefit from including itinto your strategy.

Clearly communicating page content

The title of any page is, as we all know, one of the most important elements of SEO. It’s critical that it is clear and relevant while being consistent with your keyword strategy. Titles should of course include any important keywords and be different for each page on your website.

It’s also important that the title is most visible when a user lands on that page. This falls in line with web accessibility requirements for ease of understanding by disabled users. Try a solid description that’s easy to understand and consistent with your keyword strategy. This should be simple enough and do the trick just fine.

Making your content reader friendly

As you should know, headings are only classified accordingly on any website in terms of SEO if they use appropriate H tags. Simply bolding your text won’t have this content recognized as a header by search bots. This might cause you to lose out on potential ranking.

It’s important to make your web page as readable all as possible when it comes to accessibility. Those with visual impairments can struggle to digest the full content of a page.  Hence, making proper use of headers can aid disabled users by allowing the easy extraction of page headlines. It actually helps provide a general sense of page content and focus.

Having proper and consistent use of H tags should be a standard part of your SEO work. It is also worth pointing out how a structured set of tags can assist in web accessibility.

Clear images and accurate alt text

Images were originally enhanced with alternative text with the focus of providing readers who were unable to see the image with a summary of its content. Sadly we’re not at the point just yet where search bots can fully discern the content and meaning of an image and as such alt text is key for both accessibility and SEO.

It’s important to have your alt text consistent with the image content as such. If you have a disabled user accessing your website and reading a page where they can’t see the images clearly it’s critical that you have good alt text below or around the image so that they can get an idea of the content.

Alt tags don’t have to be exhaustive or flowery in any way. A simple and concise sentence is perfectly fine and it’s best to keep it as brief as possible while still conveying the image content.

Good links

As you work on your page and include outbound links to other sections of your site or other sites entirely as part of link building you need to make sure that your hyperlinked text or URLs are clear to read and understand.

All website visitors and users should be able to clearly understand what they are being taken to from the URL alone. It’s important to keep in mind the programs that are commonly used by the impaired. Screen Reader is a very common choice and while it’s sophisticated piece it has limitations.

If you’re using Screen Reader, the biggest thing to keep in mind from a site design and accessibility perspective is that the program won’t display formatting details such as columns or menu bars.

This means that you need be careful in what you place in your text.

It’s no use having critical links that are just highlighted with a sentence such as “check our sidebar menu for more information!” This won’t be understood by a disabled user and isn’t in line with accessibility best practices.

You can instead try phrasing your sentences a little differently. Instead of the above a great sentence for general understanding and accessibility would be “you can see more details on the menu on the left which has the heading xxx”. This helps confirming the correct link for any user. Moreover, it also helps the impaired user understand what link is being referred to as well as the overall content of the link itself.

Navigation that makes sense

A final point to consider here is that when you are directing visitors to your site to a different area your instructions needs to be clear to all types of users.

An individual using Screen Reader will be given all content on the site page in a single elongated audio reading. This can make it challenging for some site layouts. They are sometimes overwhelmed by a large list of content and unable to discern what is critical and what isn’t.

Similar to the above point regarding clear links is the need to have any directing text to be easily understood by users of such programs.

A bad habit is to use what is referred to as a sensory instruction. An example of this in a bad sense is a sentence that just states that you can find more information on the left of the page. This won’t be clear to an impaired user.

The key point here in an SEO sense is that this links in with the fact that search bots don’t recognise sensory characteristics. This means that sensory instruction won’t be picked up properly. Consequently, you’ll lose out on some page ranking potential as a result.

In conclusion

It can seem like an irritation having to spend more time tailoring your content when you’re already busy. However, the fact is that once you have your head around the main points and themes it will become second nature.

Not only will all your users, disabled or not, benefit from clearer site design. You’ll also benefit from it in an SEO sense. It’s a great thing to pick up as once you’re over the hump of incorporating it you’ll naturally benefit and be better SEO as a result.

You can now go as far as to shout from the rooftops about how good your site accessibility is. You Just have to get in touch with other websites and organisations that advocate this. Free high quality organic links ahoy!