Web Accessibility and SEO: A great match for marketers
When it comes to Web Accessibility and SEO, not many marketers see how they compliment each other. They’re typically so entrenched in SEO tactics that they fail to appreciate just how important Accessibility is to an SEO strategy.
In this article we’ll look at just how important Accessibility is and how it impacts SEO goals.
Web Accessibility in a nutshell
In short, Accessibility is about making the web usable for everyone.
It’s about serving web pages that ensures people with physical and cognitive impairments are able to interact with them. This includes both page content and how sites are built under the hood.
The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) is the governing body behind Accessibility standards and offers both documentation and tools for applying their guidelines.
As we’ll discover, how closely your site adheres to W3C guidelines matters by impacting whether a user chooses you or your competition.
Accessibility and search engine rankings
While Google doesn’t consider Accessibility in and of itself a ranking signal, it’s what Accessibility brings to the table that can influence your rankings.
Many of the practices used in building an Accessible website results in features or formatting that are actual ranking signals or influences other signals.
But you can’t cheery pick which guidelines to follow when it comes to doing things right, especially when it comes to maximizing your potential for higher rankings and page value.
Just with SEO, there are no shortcuts when it comes to Accessibility.
So, why don’t more sites embrace Accessibility?
As demonstrated in this article, there are a lot of reasons to embrace Web Accessibility guidelines even if your only concern is dollars and cents.
If Accessibility can contribute to higher conversions and better SEO, then why are so many websites falling short here?
A lack of awareness
Like they say, you can’t know what you don’t know.
Despite the available documentation, nudging from professionals like myself, or official bodies like Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) being a tad more aggressive in getting organizations and companies to jump on board, there’s a whole lotta ignorance out there.
Marketers don’t see the potential return
The second reason is that making an existing website meet even the basic WCAG 2.0 guidelines can be extremely expensive.
With so many funds and resources available, marketing teams, IT departments, agencies, and the like may not have the flexibility they’d like when it comes to earmarking funds for a project or quarterly target.
This ties into the ignorance factor as not seeing the value and potential for more business can create the impression that the efforts required to adopt Accessibility practices aren’t worth it.
How following Web Accessibility guidelines can improve your SEO
While the value of an Accessible website can’t be understated, the impact it has on SEO can go pretty deep.
Stricter development practices
For developers and designers, Accessibility forces greater consistency in use of front end best practices which influences both the quality of content pages and page speed, both of which are critical in SEO.
In terms of Accessibility, the use of semantic markup, ARIA attributes, and other elements is part and parcel to practicing lean, mean, and meaningful web pages.
Improved writing practices
For marketers, it keeps their writing practices in check by enforcing rules around use of cascading headers, semantic use of bulleted lists and other content elements, as well as discouraging things like use of additional inline styling or third-party widgets and rich elements that can’t be read by screen readers or used without a mouse.
Not to mention the push to focus on tone and readability, the latter being a key item for both SEO and Web Accessibility.
Improved user experience
When it comes to SEO, user experience is a big one and A WCAG-friendly site enhances UX.
Getting the best of both worlds involves using the following:
- Sufficient font sizes and colour contrast for users with visual impairments
- Leaner, intuitive navigation
- Use of breadcrumbs
- More meaningful use of iconography
- Device-agnostic design
- More readable text
- Transcripts for embedded audio and video
And that’s just the shortlist.
Better site performance
One major win that Accessibility can help you with is in performance, which is one of the key ranking signals that Google has really been pushing site owners to take seriously.
Maintaining optimal desktop and mobile page speeds impacts user experience and your users’ ability – and therefore their willingness – to convert or hit that back button and go to your competition.
Improved visibility in image search results
Using descriptive text in the ALT attribute for your images is great for Accessibility because it helps those with visual difficulties understand the context of your images.
How descriptive your ALT text is also impacts your ranking in image searches.
SEO isn’t only about the text results!
Higher goal conversions
If Accessibility drives improvements to everything from creative, publishing, and user experience, this all leads to what marketers are ultimately interested in: turning visitors into leads and customers.
This is why the big players invest a lot of resources into usability testing, A/B testing, data analysis, and, yup, Accessibility.
Because it always proves that the easier (and quicker) you make it for users to convert, the more likely they will.
Greater user loyalty and trust
As equally important to marketers, perhaps more so to many, is the retention of users and customers.
As mentioned, Web Accessibility helps address issues surrounding user experience and performance – two things that marketers are already familiar with when it comes to SEO.
Because Accessibility helps streamline and even improve these factors, your potential for building greater loyalty and retention with your customers is also increased.
If everyone can interact with your website with ease, your SEO can benefit through increased returning visitor rates, lower bounce rates, more positive reviews and social mentions, even possibly an increase in high-quality backlinks.
Accessibility can help set you apart from the competition
While Accessibility continues to grow as a best practice and governing bodies like AODA work at holding organizations to task on their WCAG adherence, many companies and marketers are still missing the boat.
This is your chance to step up and do what your competition may very well not be doing.
Not making Accessibility a priority is essentially making the decision to cut off a sizeable portion of the marketplace.
If it hasn’t been made clear by now, I’ll spill it out: Accessibility means a wider reach means more opportunity for conversion and retention.
Seems like a no-brainer, even if your only concern is numbers.
What marketing teams can do to keep Accessibility a priority
If the reasons to include Accessibility as part of your marketing strategy are clear, you can’t be it’s only champion.
It’s truly a team effort and there can be no gaps in its execution.
Get on the same page
Pull the team together to talk about Accessibility, why it matters, and how each person contributes to it through their work.
Whether it’s your writers, designers, developers, or sales and support staff, everyone can and should own their role in making your web content usable by everyone.
If your marketing goals offers bonus incentives to staff, help them understand how Accessibility can help them even put a little more money into their own wallets.
Empower your creative team
Make sure your designers and developers embrace Accessibility practices as part of their job and allow for enough time to not rush through the process.
Make sure they understand that Accessibility isn’t meant to limit or stifle their creative freedom and to treat it like a creative challenge.
As a web creative myself, I’ve found that when given the time and resources to not skimp on Accessibility, the more satisfying it is when achieving the results.
This builds experience, confidence, and a desire to step up.
Make user testing exercises more diverse
Whether it’s user testing with a new user interface or site design or A/B testing on a landing page, be sure to include participants with visual and cognitive challenges in order to get the kind of feedback that both validates what you’re doing right and points out issues you may have missed.
Engage your customers
When turning to your existing customers and users for input on their experience, include questions with how they use your site and what issues may be keeping their experience less than optimal for their needs.
Also pay close attention to your user reviews. You may find valuable feedback with your site’s usability from those who interact with your site with assistive technologies.
Check your Accessibility regularly
One task you should be conducting on a regular basis is running your site through an Accessibility check.
Not all of the tools out there are created equal, but there are common ones like achecker, WebAccessibility.com, and Wave, which are (mostly) pretty reliable for double-checking your HTML and content and flagging any potential issues.
If you don’t have anyone on staff with at least an intermediate level of knowledge on WCAG standards, consider earmarking some of your budget for getting professional help.
It’s clear that Web Accessibility and SEO goes hand in hand, yet if you’re still hesitant to get started whether out of fear of how much work is involved or even where to start, start with baby steps so you can focus on one task at a time.
For example, you may run your site through one of the aforementioned checkers to start cleaning up your HTML and ensuring images have descriptive ALT text.
From there, you may want to tackle your site navigation system to make sure it and other core navigational items – which includes your footer – are accessible with both a mouse and keyboard, as well as including proper AIRA attributes for screen readers.
Then, onto your content.
The point is, start somewhere and once you’ve resolved any major issues, you can look to integrating Accessibility practices as a standard part of your workflow.