the unlikely connection between seo and web accessibility

When building and managing a website, a few factors are more important than ensuring your SEO is up to scratch. After all, if your website doesn’t rank highly on the SERPs, there is little chance you will be able to draw large volumes of traffic to your digital content.

In contrast, web accessibility was often left as a distant afterthought, with very few businesses prioritizing it when developing and maintaining their websites. Yet, as our society becomes more focused on inclusion, the pressure is mounting on companies to do the right thing for their customers and invest in improving accessibility.

However, many people are unaware of the unlikely crossover between accessibility and SEO. As it turns out, many of the steps you must take to enhance accessibility also improve critical ranking factors across search engine algorithms, creating a win-win situation where both businesses and users can benefit.

What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring that no barriers exist that may impede or hinder disabled individuals from accessing digital content. It’s important to note that disabilities are diverse and can include blindness, deafness, cognition, and motor impairments (plus many more). With this in mind, website owners must implement measures that make their digital content accessible to people under all conditions, including ensuring content is compatible with screen readers.

To determine the accessibility of any given website, most legal bodies refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. This document outlines the standards that websites must meet across four critical criteria referred to as POUR:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

Where web accessibility and SEO go hand-in-hand

When you break it down to the fundamentals, SEO is all about improving the accessibility of your digital content to search engines. The easier it is for websites to find, index, and determine the semantic relevance of your content to various search terms, the faster and higher it will rank on the SERPs.

Web accessibility attempts to do the same thing but with the user in mind rather than a computer algorithm. On that note, let’s take a look at some main areas where SEO and web accessibility overlap.

Page titles for SEO

One of the first places to start with SEO is your page titles and meta descriptions. These elements play a crucial role in determining how your website will rank for various search terms and provide users with an overview of what they can expect from your content.

Page titles and meta descriptions, like the rest of your content, need to be clear and succinct for users with disabilities to understand the page. Page titles tell people if the information on a page is relevant to them and help distinguish material when numerous tabs or pages are open. Screen readers will look for page titles while users explore your site, making them a vital component of web accessibility.

Headings

Headings help break up your content, making it easier for users to scan and digest the information on a page. They also play an essential role in helping search engines understand the hierarchy and structure of your content.

From an accessibility standpoint, well-written headings also assist people in understanding the structure of a page, allowing them to quickly find the information they need. They are especially important for users who are navigating a page using only navigational keys.

Alt text

Another essential element of SEO is the alt text, which describes the contents of images for search engines. Interestingly, alt text is particularly critical for users who are unable to see images on a page, as it allows screen reader software to read out a description of the picture.

However, it’s also worth noting that you should avoid using image alt text for purely decorative images since this can interrupt the flow of the content.

Transcripts/captions

Video and audio content can be a great way to engage users and break up text-heavy pages. However, this type of content presents challenges for people with sight or hearing impairments. As such, providing transcripts or captioning for all video and audio content on your website is essential.

From an SEO perspective, transcripts and captions also provide search engines with additional content that can be indexed and ranked. This is particularly important for videos as they can often not be properly crawled and understood by algorithms.

Navigation

All websites need to have clear and easy-to-use navigation menus. This is crucial not only for users but also for search engine crawlers that are indexing your site. For users with disabilities, navigational elements must be well-designed to be used effectively. This includes ensuring that menus are keyboard accessible and links are properly labeled.

Readability

The readability of your content is significant for both SEO and web accessibility. For your content to rank well on the SERPs, you need to use clear and concise language that delivers information that is understandable to a wide audience. After all, the main purpose of search engines is to deliver the most effective answer to the searcher’s query.

Users may have difficulty reading text that is poorly organized. As such, WCAG 2.1 has clear specifications that outline the readability that different types of content must achieve.

In general, you can improve the readability of your content by using short sentences, clear headings, and bulleted lists. This also makes it easier for search engines to determine your content’s semantic relevance, helping you improve your ranking for the search terms you are targeting.

Sitemaps

A sitemap is a file that contains a list of all the pages on your website, as well as information about their hierarchy and relationship to each other. This helps search engines index your site more effectively and helps users navigate your content.

In order to be accessible, a sitemap needs to be well-organized and easy to understand. This means using clear labels and descriptions for each page. It also needs to be updated regularly so that it remains accurate.

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