Website accessibility and SEO work like bread and butter and are something all web owners should know. Website structure is an integral part of search engine optimization that helps all your visitors access your website content.
Both complement each other so well that it is easier to talk about one with the other. Your website is accessible if users with disabilities can comfortably reach and access your web pages and content.
That is why you cannot ignore people with disabilities while designing websites and crafting content. It is more efficient to consider and include them in the design process from the start and not at the end.
Ensuring websites are accessible and optimized helps your targeted visitors quickly find your website. This may be challenging, but it is worth the time and effort spent. And we can help if you need more time and experience.
We are ADA Site Compliance, the #1 resource for ensuring ADA website compliance.
Why is website accessibility so important?
Website compliance is essential because it provides equal access to disabled users, improves the website’s overall user exercise, and ensures businesses comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Besides accessible websites:
- Tend to appear in search results as search engine crawlers easily index them
- Provide a better user experience and higher engagement rates
- Are likelier to be recommended to friends and followers
- Provide easy site navigation
- Prevents any possible legal implications and consequences of inaccessible websites
What Is Web Accessibility?
Site accessibility involves ensuring accessible and usable websites which are accessible to everyone. Everyone, including disabled users, can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with accessible websites.
This includes permanent auditory, physical, cognitive, neurological, and visual impairments and temporary impairments like users recovering from surgery or fractures. The disabilities include situational impairments like limited internet connection and movement, environmental impairments like a brightly lit room, and inability to play loud audio.
When Search Engine Optimization & Accessibility Meet
Search engine optimization focuses on ensuring search engine access for websites. However, in addition to this, most SEO also impacts the website’s accessibility. Here is an in-depth analysis of how and where SEO affects website accessibility.
Accurate Page Titles Benefits Screen Readers, and Searchers
The page title mainly reflects your website content for the visitor. In addition, it also serves multiple purposes:
- Providing context and describing the web page to visitors
- It is the main headline search engines understand
- It helps users identify relevant information on pages by distinguishing information
- It differentiates content when multiple pages or tabs are open
- It explains to screen readers while they navigate between pages
- It explains to Google your content to match the user’s intent and needs
So optimizing page titles based on the user’s intent instead of stuffing keywords helps improve the accessibility and SEO rankings of your website.
Heading Tag Structure
Header tags do not play an active or direct ranking factor for Google rankings but are essential for navigation on screens using the help of assistive technologies. Header tags are generally reserved for the web page content management system to create visually focused page layouts.
Search Engine Crawlers
The H1 tag sizes the content weight in SEO and produces keyword-rich headings. It provides an overview of the main page content to search engine crawlers, while other header tags further define the page structure. Similarly, assistive technology uses the help of headings to navigate pages and move to a particular content section.
Onsite sitemaps improve accessibility by providing an overview and transparent access to the site’s important pages and content. Site engine crawlers use sitemaps to find links on other site pages, especially links not linking anywhere onsite.
Link Anchor Text
Link anchor text describes the linked page content and helps users decide if they want to click the link to visit the page. Both screen readers and search engine crawlers use anchor text to understand the destination page’s context.
Targeted URL topics and keyword-rich anchor text help web crawlers understand the content better. As the sentence containing the text helps for SEO and accessibility, the anchor text must not be a generic ‘click here’ message. It should be concise and relevant to the linked page.
And it does not matter if the link is external or internal to your site. You can make it informative and align your content to the target page topics.
Breadcrumb links let visitors trace and navigate back the path to the page they are on and reveal the site structure to screen readers and search engine crawlers. They also play an integral role in improving a site’s internal linking, especially in large websites with complex navigation structures.
However, when it comes to breadcrumb links, there are a few things to remember to improve their accessibility. For example, they must be placed in the same place throughout the site, and they should be descriptive enough for screen readers to tab through.
Video transcriptions contribute to video indexing
According to the Web Accessibility Guidelines, websites must provide video transcriptions for all their videos. Thus blind and deaf users can watch the video in real time without unnecessary interruptions. Besides, video transcriptions
The Web Accessibility Guidelines also require that websites provide video transcriptions to enable blind and deaf users to view the video in real time without interruption. Moreover, it helps search engines understand videos by adding captions that improve search engine rankings.
The image alt text provides text alternatives to those with visual impairments and is perhaps the most popular accessibility and SEO intersection for web pages. As screen readers read alt text aloud, they have to be relevant and accurate and not just stuffed with keywords.
Search engines can now detect keyword stuffing, and computer vision can identify an image and automatically create relevant alt text. Besides, relevant alt text helps search engines better understand images and how to crawl them. Even search engine crawlers use alt texts to understand an image’s context for image searches.
Text-based ALT helps display images and information more interactively and helps Google understand images better. Besides, adding keywords to images increases searchability and drives more traffic to the site. The text description especially proves helpful if there’s a slow internet connection when the picture doesn’t load.
The website navigation displays the site’s integral pages to users and other search engines and engine crawlers. It additionally also helps users find what they want. And as they are generally tab-able, keywords and screen readers can read them.
Having only primary pages instead of the entire site provides for accessible navigation. Besides, having the entire site in navigation only confuses users and makes search engine crawlers understand that you have a flat site architecture.
Readable and digestible simplified reading-level content is essential for users and search engines. It proves helpful to users with cognitive disabilities who may be distracted while reading content.
It also helps users where the website content is not their first language. Avoiding jargon and challenging language, using lists where appropriate, and ensuring left-aligned text help simplify the website’s readability.
As readable URLs are essential for accessibility, using dashes to separate words and easy-to-understand URLs helps. URLs inform users of what they can expect on a page and helps search engines determine the page context.
Restrict the number of physical interactions as much as possible on your website. This is because Googlebot and screen readers cannot perform physical interactions like clicking buttons.
Always keep any text within the source code in drop-downs and accordions. It helps ensure screen readers and bots read the content without any interactions. However, do not just stuff the text with keywords.
Instead, have something relative to whatever is written on the page. It is also better to avoid the need for hovering actions to reveal content unless the content is in the source code.
Frequently Asked Questions
The answers to these frequently asked questions should help clear most of your questions about the importance and connection between SEO and accessibility.
1: How does accessibility impact SEO?
While accessibility is not an SEO ranking factor, they work together. Accessibility helps search engine algorithms understand website content better to increase the chances of the site getting found.
2: How important is an accessible web design for accessibility and SEO?
Web accessibility is essential for SEO. It makes content more accessible for users and crawlers. Accessibility ensures everyone, including those with disabilities, can find and understand your content.
3: Does accessibility have no impact on SEO?
Accessibility does affect SEO, making the site easier for Google to rank and improve your SEO rank report.
4: How do you analyze website accessibility?
There are a few things you can do to analyze website accessibility that include:
- Checking color contrast
- Ensuring the site is keyboard-friendly
- Checking for video transcripts and closed captions
- Checking alt text for images and non-text content
- The ability to zoom in without loss in functionality or content
5: Why do I need an accessible website for search engine crawlers?
An accessible website helps the web owner in many ways. It especially lets people with disabilities access your web content, thus providing equal access to everyone. Additionally, it improves SEO by improving your site’s usability and indirectly affects your search rankings.
People are less likely to interact with difficult-to-use sites, thus reducing their visibility in search engine rankings. On the contrary, a user-friendly, engaging, and accessible website leads to a better user experience and higher search engine results.
What Does ADA Website Compliance Mean?
ADA compliance means the website is accessible to people with disabilities, and the site is navigable, has proper contrast, alt text, and is keyboard-friendly. Website owners increase the chances of their website appearing in high search engine rankings if it meets ADA requirements.
Is accessibility an SEO ranking factor?
While accessibility does not directly affect SEO, the two complement each other. Accessibility helps search engine algorithms understand the content better for improved searchability and higher search engine rankings. So taking time and effort to ensure your website’s content is accessible is indeed in the best SEO interests.
How to begin your digital accessibility journey from search engines?
This analysis proves that web developers make accessibility important for SEO and that your website experiences increased visibility if accessible. So all it takes are a few simple updates to your site to increase the number of your website visitors and reach millions of customers.
You can start by conducting an accessibility audit based on a guidebook on web content accessibility guidelines. Or you can use one of the many website accessibility tools for an assessment and then perform accessibility remediation as required.
While performing an audit, you will have to check other website elements like:
Use of the right colors
It is not recommended to use light grey color for text. And always strive to use contrasting colors for text and button backgrounds. And while maintaining contrast, the contrast between the background and text color should be 4.5:1 for small text and 3:1 for large text.
Proper use of links
While using links, ensure the user can differentiate between links and surrounding link text. Be more creative while creating link text, and avoid using words like ‘click here.’
Always use link text that clearly defines the purpose of the link. And most importantly, do not forget to include skip links to your keyboard users. Users can use the skip links to navigate and directly reach the main content if necessary.
Always choose and use your links wisely. Links are potent elements of your website. They can break or make your website authority. If unsure, it is better to have experts handle the link-building aspect. They will save time and effort by ensuring you do not make link-building mistakes.
Reminders for screen readers tab
Screen readers depend on the links and tags on your website to help the user navigate your web pages and website. So ensure that you use sensible links with the proper and relevant keywords. This way, the users are less likely to get confused.
It helps if you use buttons for activating forms on screen readers and have skip links too for users to jump to the main content.
Proper content structure and semantics
Follow and maintain uniformity while planning your content structure. This means including a title for all the pages and keeping the first heading always H1. Do not forget to maintain the proper hierarchy while using headings.
While selecting the font, choose something plain without curvy tails because they are easier to read. And when it comes to the text size, choose a size that is readable and easy to see. On average, the recommended regular size is about 14-16 px. The navigation link text should preferably be 16-18px.
When it comes to content alignment, ensure it is left-aligned except for the case of headings and subheadings. These can be either center or left-aligned. The reason for maintaining left alignment is that it helps people suffering from dyslexia and even a regular person who tends to read from left to right.
Even when it comes to breadcrumb navigation, it is better to have it left-aligned for more straightforward navigation. And do not forget to let disabled readers magnify fonts on the website if they find the font size too small to read.
Proper use of images and media
It is mandatory for website accessibility for all images to have appropriate alt text. And when it comes to the image links, it should describe the link destination. This is crucial, especially for easy and convenient navigation of screen reader users.
Always warn users about links that take them off the site. This applies to both visually impaired and regular users. While selecting the alt text, it should be concise but at the same time also clearly explain the image.
If you have videos on the web pages, do not forget to include close captions. In addition to close captions, the video should have a transcription of the dialog, narration, and all the other sounds in the video.
Similarly, do not forget to transcribe any podcasts you have for visitors with hearing impairments to enjoy. In addition to the transcription, impaired users should be able to pause, stop and even hide any media content that automatically plays.
The web content accessibility guidelines by W3C give an even more concise and detailed description of everything you need to do to improve your digital accessibility journey.
No matter if you consider accessibility affecting your website’s SEO ranking, you must focus on and value accessibility. The main aim of a website owner is to generate traffic to your website.
And you will want to generate organic traffic through search engines and help your website visitors find relevant information and take desired actions on your website. The last thing you want is visitors reaching your website only to leave because of inaccessibility.
So if your SEO strategy emphasizes generating organic traffic to take desired website actions, you should include accessibility considerations in your SEO strategies and audits. There is a lot of uncertainty amongst many marketing experts about the need to future-proof websites from an SEO viewpoint, specifically using improved web accessibility.
They tend to see web accessibility as an afterthought. However, Google’s UX testing tools prove that the need for additional accessibility-related ranking signals is not far off. And the focus on digital accessibility should not be only on increasing website traffic and conversions.
Practicing accessibility should be your emphasis only because it is the right thing to do as a website owner. Look at the extra organic search traffic and visibility it generates as a bonus for your website.
Besides, the many websites that have violated ADA web accessibility guidelines have ended up paying for their negligence through a low-ranking site and facing expensive lawsuits.
So it is time to shift your perspective and give web accessibility its attention to give your users a smooth user experience and also improve your SEO. While referring to a guidebook and using tools do help, you will also need to have an actual accessibility audit performed by humans.
Do not worry if you need help to reach web compliance.
We at ADA Site Compliance, the #1 resource for ensuring ADA website compliance, can help. We have a team of professional web developers well-versed in ADA compliance. We will be able to ensure your website is both accessible and search engine optimized to generate more traffic to your site and keep visitors onsite.
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The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.