Only 3.7% of homepages are suitable for people with disabilities, according to WebAIM. Millions of other pages on the internet are just as inaccessible, with missing alt-text, low-contrast text, empty buttons, and empty links just some of the problems web users experience.
Marketers and business owners often presume web accessibility is the responsibility of web designers and developers. But incorporating accessibility principles into SEO is critical for improving the user experience, which can have an indirect, but positive, impact on search rankings.
Below, learn more about the topic of SEO and accessibility and read best practices for making your site more accessible.
What Is Web Accessibility?
Web accessibility is the process of making websites usable for everyone, including people with disabilities and other impairments. Improving accessibility means all internet users can navigate a website and access its content across different browsers and devices. That involves designing and developing websites in a certain way. For example, using descriptive URLs, adding alt-text to images, and allowing visitors to change font sizes. There’s much more to web accessibility than this, though.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main standards organization for the internet, has various recommendations for making websites more accessible for all users. It says:
“Web accessibility is about designing websites, applications, technologies, tools, products, and services in an inclusive manner, and thus lifting barriers to communication and interaction that many people face in the physical world.”
Is web accessibility a legal requirement?
Yes. In the United States, at least. In fact, you could risk legal action from the Department of Justice if your website is not accessible to people with disabilities. That’s because Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bans discrimination toward people based on their impairments.
The ADA doesn’t specifically mention websites — it was signed into law in 1990 before the internet really took off. However, many companies have faced ADA violations in court because their websites lacked accessibility features. That’s something to bear in mind when optimizing your website for SEO!
Situational and environmental impairments
Web accessibility provides better user experiences for people with all kinds of disabilities. That includes people with situational and environmental impairments, such as the following:
These are temporary disabilities based on specific circumstances. Situational impairments include:
- Breaking an arm and being unable to navigate a keyboard and access a website
- Having an eye infection and not being able to view small text on a website
- Experiencing hand pain and finding it difficult to access a website on a smartphone
These are also temporary disabilities brought about by being in a particular environment, such as:
- Being in a loud room and unable to hear a video on a website
- Being in a light room and unable to view a website properly
- Being on a fast-moving train, which makes website navigation more difficult
4 Principles of Accessibility
So what accessibility should a website have? The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outline four principles of accessibility that website owners should follow. These principles state that all websites must be:
Learn more about each principle below:
WCAG says websites should provide users with information and interface components in “ways they can perceive.” In other words, website visitors need to understand the information presented to them. For a website to be perceivable, it must:
- Provide text alternatives to non-text content so people can change it into other forms, such as braille, symbols, speech, and large print
- Provide alternatives to time-based media — media embedded into a website that moves, makes noises, or includes content that changes without user interaction
- Contain content that visitors can use in different ways without losing its structure or information — for example, by making content simpler
- Present content that users can see and hear, including content that separates the foreground from the background
Website content needs to include interface components and navigation that is operable. In other words, interfaces can’t require interaction that someone can’t perform. Operable websites are those that:
- Allow someone to access all website features from a keyboard
- Provide users with enough time to use and read content
- Design content in a way that doesn’t cause seizures or other physical reactions
- Help users find the content they need
- Make it easier for people to operate website functionality with different inputs other than a keyboard
- Navigable: Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
- Input Modalities: Make it easier for users to operate functionality through various inputs beyond the keyboard.
Understandable websites help users understand the information presented to them. That involves making text content readable, designing web pages to display and function in predictable ways, and helping users avoid and correct errors when browsing websites. Users should also be able to operate the website’s interface.
Robust websites are those that can be interpreted by current and future user agents, such as assistive technologies.
Why Web Accessibility Is Important
Making your website accessible is important for reaching a wider audience, increasing usability, and reducing legal risks, among other benefits.
Reach a wider audience
The last U.S. census revealed that around 42.5 million Americans have disabilities. That’s about 13% of the population. These disabilities include hearing, vision, and cognitive impairments. By improving web accessibility, you can reach people who are unable to navigate many other sites and expand your audience.
Accessible websites are easier to use for everyone, not just people with disabilities. Providing captions on videos, for example, allows people with hearing impairment to enjoy your content, as well as those in a loud room.
Increases customer satisfaction
When a website is accessible and easy to use, customers will be more satisfied. They will enjoy browsing your site without any limitations and likely return in the future. An inaccessible website, on the other hand, can provide a poor user experience, which will frustrate customers and encourage them to go elsewhere.
Reduces risk of legal action
As previously mentioned, websites should be accessible to people with disabilities, as per the ADA. Failing to make your site accessible can result in the Department of Justice taking action against you, which can cost you legal fees and jeopardize your business reputation.
Improve public relations
By having an accessible website, more people will see your business in a positive light. You can prove to customers that you want to create more inclusive online experiences for everyone.
How Does Accessibility Affect SEO?
Website accessibility won’t impact your SEO efforts directly. Google, for example, doesn’t consider accessibility a ranking factor because it’s too difficult to measure. However, making your website more accessible can improve your SEO in other ways:
Improving the user experience
Accessible websites are user-friendly websites. They remove limitations for people, whether they have disabilities or not, and make browsing more enjoyable. That can result in better user experiences for everyone.
While Google might not consider accessibility a ranking factor, it certainly considers user-friendliness as one. So you might notice increases in your search rankings when you add accessibility features to your site, such as large buttons, simple menus, and closed captions on videos.
Reducing your bounce rate
Like accessibility, bounce rate isn’t a specific ranking factor used by Google. However, a high bounce rate — when a large number of people click the Back buttons on their browsers — signals to the search engine that there’s a problem with your site, which ultimately impacts your position on results pages.
Increasing accessibility can reduce your bounce rate and, therefore, positively impact your rankings. That’s because features like clutter-free pages, large images, and simple navigational menus can keep people on your website for longer.
Making it easier for search bots to crawl your site
A simple, user-friendly, and accessible website is so much easier for search bots to crawl and index. A search bot will be able to categorize information on each of your pages if you have a simplified website architecture. It will then use that information to determine your position on results pages in a quicker time frame. This is particularly true if you reduce page loading times as part of your accessibility efforts.
Of course, an accessible website is just one piece of the pie. You still need to optimize your content with relevant keywords and create engaging content pieces that resonate with your audience. However, making your site easier to crawl is the first step in improving both SEO and accessibility.
Best Practices for Web Accessibility for SEO
So you want to make your website more accessible? Here are some of the best ways to do it:
Add proper tags for titles and headings
Tags separate titles and headings on your web pages, improving the reliability of your content. In an accessibility context, screen readers can easily scan your content when you use tags. However, tags are also valuable for SEO. When search bots scan your content, they gain lots of valuable information from titles and headings, including keywords and what the article is about. That can help bots categorize and index your content for search results pages.
One way to improve accessibility on your website is to add an HTML site map at the footer of each page. That helps people with disabilities move around your website using the Tab key on their keyboard, removing the need for complicated drop-down menus and other navigational elements. Google won’t give you extra SEO points for including a site map on your site. However, this component signals to the search engine that your site is easily accessible, which can improve your rankings.
Add image alt tags and alt text
Alt tags and alt text both tell people what the visual content on your website is about. Developers place alt tags in the code surrounding an image, and visitors can only see these tags if that image doesn’t load properly. Alt text, on the other hand, helps people with vision issues and other disabilities learn the meaning and context of an image.
Both these elements let search bots crawl your site easier, which can be great for SEO. So don’t forget to create alt tags and text for every image on your website, including those on blog posts.
Proper website navigation
There are various ways to improve website navigation and usability for your visitors. For example, you can simplify your website structure so screen readers can interpret it more effectively. Also, make sure people can navigate your site using only the Tab key on a keyboard. That helps visitors who can’t use a mouse to browse your site. By making a few changes to your website navigation, search bots will understand your site better, resulting in more effective indexing.
High readability content
People with vision impairments might struggle to read content on your pages, impacting usability. Consider making the following changes for SEO and accessibility :
- Use lots of white space on your pages and include space between lines of text
- Don’t post sentences in all caps
- Align all your text to the left
- Use a single font throughout your site and make sure it’s easy to read
- Allow website visitors to change the size of your text
- Use bullet points and lists to break up text
Improve Your Website’s Accessibility for Greater SEO Outcomes
Accessibility doesn’t directly impact SEO — Google, for example, doesn’t consider it a ranking factor. However, an accessible website signals to search engines that it’s user-friendly for everyone, which can indirectly improve your position on search pages. Follow the tips above to improve SEO and accessibility and provide a better user experience for all your visitors.
Want to know if your website meets accessibility stands? Seek out guidance from Symphonic Digital. This SEO marketing agency can help you create an accessible website that satisfies everyone who visits it, increasing your chances of ranking highly on search engines. Request an SEO audit now to get started.