The general misunderstanding is that web accessibility stands in the way of search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. But, in fact, web accessibility and SEO are mutually beneficial and interrelate in many ways.
Web accessibility is a growing need, as nearly 61 million people in the United States are reported to have temporary, age-related, or lifelong visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive disabilities. To put that into perspective - that’s 1 in 4 Americans who may have trouble with accessing your site!
Implementing accessibility isn’t just a way to serve and reach a larger audience, though. By investing in accessibility, you can also expect to improve your search rankings. That’s because search engines and algorithms favor pages that are most accessible!
In this post, we’ll share how web accessibility and SEO are interrelated when it comes to optimizing your website performance.
Before we dive in, let’s do a quick refresh on what exactly accessibility and SEO are:
- Web Accessibility: Web accessibility is the practice of designing and developing websites, tools, and technologies so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, web accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring there are no barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, websites.
- SEO: SEO stands for “search engine optimization”. It is the process and practice of improving the appearance and positioning of web pages in organic search results. Best practices range from quality of content, to technical soundness, to best practices in user experience design.
What’s the link between accessibility and SEO?
Contrary to belief, search engines aren’t designed to prioritize the sites that are best optimized. Rather, they are designed to help users find sites that provide the most relevant and accessible content. In fact, Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
How accessibility interrelates with SEO
Accessible design enhances everyone’s user experience on your site
Accessibility: A good user experience puts its users first - meaning the goals of accessible web design are the same! As visual elements of your website are designed, they must be considerate of people with disabilities. Some elements to consider are color contrast ratios, ARIA labels for forms and navigation elements, and an easy-to-use UX. WCAG guidelines lay out exactly what needs to be considered when designing and developing your website.
[👋🏼 Pssst! C2’s WCAG checklists are a helpful resource for understanding each guideline and the individual role that content editors, web developers, and UX designers have in enabling accessibility.]
SEO: Search engines like Google have made it clear that websites that have better user experiences will be more visible in search engine result pages (SERPs) than websites with poor UX. Caring for things like site load time, mobile device compatibility, quality content, and internal linking, in addition to what’s listed above, all play a role in SEO. When users can easily accomplish what they came to your website for, your website becomes more relevant in search rankings.
Easy-to-use menu navigation structure
Accessibility: Navigation menus reflect the underlying structure of websites. As a critical part of web page operability, it’s important to contain your main pages, relevant ARIA attributes, and be navigable via keyboards so that all users can access your website. Buttons and sitemaps will also need to be accessible for proper navigation.
SEO: Having strong website navigation makes it easy for your visitors to find what they want and for search engines to crawl. The result? More conversions and greater search visibility. By keeping your most important and frequently visited pages in the menu, search engines can easily crawl and cache them frequently.
Relevant page titles for screen readers and search
Accessibility: Title tags are the first thing that screen readers read to the user when the page has loaded. They also tell users what the page is about in search results before they even click on it. Each title tag must be unique and direct to contextually and quickly communicate what the page content is about.
SEO: Title tags are one of the most significant ranking factors on search engines because the page’s title will show up in the search results and the tab of the browser. Title tags are your website’s best opportunity to summarize the content on the page and entice users to click through. Incorporating target keywords is one simple best practice to increase your page’s keyword relevance.
Proper heading tag structure
Accessibility: Heading tags communicate to the user the importance and organization of the content on the page. They define the hierarchical structure of a website page, much like they do in essays, documents, and other content. There are six levels of header tags (H1-H6).
Using proper heading structures does the following:
- Follows a logical sequence
- Do not skip sections (for example, an H5 does not directly follow an H2)
- Accurately describes the content below the header
SEO: Search engines use headers to quickly crawl through a web page and determine how to rank your content. Header tags not only help search engines discern your content but also help people read your content more efficiently, ultimately making content easier to follow and read.
Descriptive alternative (alt) text for images
Accessibility: Alt text is one of the easiest accessibility practices to implement today. It is a core element for users who are visually impaired to understand the context of an image (and that an image even exists). Screen readers read the alt text to the user, providing an understanding of the graphic on the page.
SEO: Like screen readers, search engines can’t read images if they don’t have metadata, such as alt text, to decipher the context of an image. Descriptive and accurate alt texts allow search engines to understand what the images on your website are about and rank your site accordingly. Alt text can also help surface your images to appear in Google Image Search, which can drive additional traffic to your website.
Accessibility: Transcripts and captions help provide an alternative to understanding video content to users who are deaf, hard of hearing, have difficulty processing auditory information, or are blind. Transcripts provide a full explanation to users of video content. On the other hand, closed captions provide a real-time, textual representation of the sounds on a video, timed with the action on the screen. They capture not only the speech but also essential sounds, like [doorbell], [laughter], [applause], etc.
SEO: Since video is not text-based, transcripts and captions act as an extension of your SEO to inform Google what your video is about. It also allows search engines to crawl everything that is said in your video, increasing not only your keyword density but also your keyword diversity. Rather than rely on keywords and terms in your video description, title, and tags, transcripts and captions work together to improve SEO, views, engagement, and search rankings.
Make your web content easy to read and understand
Accessibility: One of the four core principles for web accessibility is ‘Understandable’. Users should be able to comprehend your content easily. Some simple tips for making your content easier to read include:
- Reducing your sentence length by ending it with a period, instead of commas, to break up ideas
- Cater your language to your audience and use simple and shorter words where possible
- Use subheadings, numbered lists, and bullet points to break up large chunks of content
- Provide a further explanation for any slang, acronyms, and other professional terms
SEO: You are writing first and foremost for your readers, not search engines. Although search engines look for keywords, they want people to read quality content! Google boosts concise and easy-to-understand content, so make sure you write for your readers rather than overstuffing keywords you want to rank for. If you find yourself keyword-stuffing, consider rewriting your content to intentionally inject keywords you want to rank for.
Making accessibility and SEO work together
Many aspects of SEO and web accessibility go hand-in-hand with one another when it comes to web performance. Aligning these two aspects of your website will not only provide a better user experience for all of your users, but it will enhance your website visibility, convert more traffic, and ultimately generate more revenue.
As search algorithms continue to evolve, continuing to invest in providing a best-in-class, inclusive web experience to your users today will likely pay off by helping you achieve better search rankings in the future.
Ready to get started prioritizing web accessibility? Not sure where to start? C2 has over a decade of experience helping organizations develop an overarching approach to maintaining digital accessibility. Learn how we can help with your accessibility initiatives.