Web accessibility refers to the design and development of websites that people with disabilities can easily use.
Website accessibility is essential for SEO because it enriches the user experience and opens content to a larger and more diverse audience. This can be accomplished by introducing various capacities in the content, making it easier for users with disabilities to access the website, and ensuring that the website structure and design are optimised for accessibility.
What is the Importance of Web Accessibility?
Search engines like Google are known to prioritise user experience, and so designing our websites with accessibility in mind naturally leads to a better user experience. This can, in turn, improve site speed, mobile experience, and website structure, all of which are important factors for SEO.
In my experience during site migrations and on the back of countless website audits, investing in accessibility as part of a strong foundation can prevent particular problems, flaws, and other accessibility violations from appearing, which can all negatively impact organic performance.
Is Web Accessibility an SEO Ranking Factor?
There are numerous factors within Google’s Search Rater Guidelines, and while web accessibility is mentioned here, a website should not be explicitly penalised for lack of some accessibility features.
Common problems with website accessibility include:
Lack of Alt Text: Alt text describes an image that screen readers use for people with visual impairments. If alt text is missing or poorly written, users with visual impairments will not be able to understand the image’s content. Since search engines cannot “see” images, they also use alt text to understand what the image is about.
Poor Colour Contrast: If the colour contrast between the background and foreground text is too low, users with visual impairments may have difficulty reading the text. This is discouraged in web design.
Inaccessible Forms: Forms that are not accessible can be difficult or impossible for users with disabilities to complete. A form can be considered inaccessible if it requires the use of a mouse, as users with motor impairments may need help to complete the form.
Inaccessible Multimedia: Multimedia content, such as videos and audio files, can be inaccessible if it does not have captions or transcripts for users with hearing impairments. Many users also prefer to consume this content with captions while commuting or in other social situations.
Unusable Navigation: Navigation that is not accessible can be difficult or impossible for users with disabilities to use, harming UX. For example, if a website relies on hover menus, users with motor impairments may be unable to access the menu. If this becomes a persistent problem, search engines may take note of this behaviour too.
These difficulties are challenging for users with disabilities because they can prevent them from accessing and using the content on a website they want to visit. This can lead to frustration, exclusion, and more. In addition, it is important to know that website accessibility is a legal requirement in some countries. Failure to follow these requirements can result in legal action and reputation damage for the website owner.
How Can I Make My Website More Accessible?
There are several ways that we can improve website accessibility with our SEO efforts:
Use descriptive and meaningful alt text for images: As we mentioned, good alt text helps visually impaired users understand what the image is about and can also help search engines understand the page’s content. Remember not to use any old alt text to an image or use this as an opportunity to stuff with keywords. Alt text needs to be specific, appropriate and descriptive of each image.
Provide a proper heading structure: Properly structured headings can make it easier for screen readers to navigate the page’s content and help search engines understand the hierarchy of the content. Use headings in hierarchical order, beginning with an H1 (usually the post title), followed by an H2, H3 etc., in descending order.
Provide transcripts and captions for audio and video content: We discussed this earlier, too, so remember that captions and subtitles make it easier for users with hearing impairments to access the content and helps search engines understand the content of the media. If you have a podcast or similar media, using transcripts can improve the visibility of this content on search results too.
Use descriptive link text: This link or anchor text helps users understand where the link will take them once they click on it and can also help search engines understand the context of the linked content. It adds additional context to internal links and can be very beneficial.
Ensure the website is mobile-friendly: Mobile friendliness is vital for accessibility, as many users with disabilities may rely on mobile devices to access the internet. It is also helpful for SEO as Google uses a mobile-first index.
By enforcing these strategies, website owners can improve web accessibility and SEO by providing a better user experience and helping search engines better understand the website’s content.
Additional Benefits of Website Accessibility
SEO and accessibility go hand in hand. By designing a website that is accessible to all users, we create a more suitable user experience, which leads to better engagement with our content, increased traffic, and improved search engine rankings.
It’s also important to realise that designing for accessibility can help prevent common SEO issues, such as broken links or slow page load times, which can negatively impact search engine rankings.
Investing in website accessibility is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense.