Website Accessibility and SEO: How the Two Overlap
Jan 29, 2019
By: Alexandra Barcelona
With over 53 million American adults reporting to have some form of disability, it comes as no surprise to see website accessibility becoming a growing trend.
Despite search engine giants like Google promoting search engine optimization (SEO) benefits of applying web accessibility techniques, many websites still do not address the needs of users with visual, physical and cognitive impairments.
But as we share in this article, applying the best website accessibility practices can become a major boost for your SEO efforts.
Website Accessibility and SEO in the IoT-era
Thanks to the influx of various IoT devices such as iPhones, iPads, Amazon Echo and Fitbit, brands are now designing more omnichannel experiences across different devices, touchpoints and contexts.
Consumers are now doing their own research on a mobile device when they are in-store via mobile ads and user-generated content, only later to conduct further research by watching videos and reading articles that showcase product reviews or demonstrations on their laptop or tablet device.
While providing an omnichannel experience serves to bolster customer engagement, a lack of accessibility can put vital information out of reach for those who have a disability.
This is why many smart brands are now competing for consumer attention through delivering easy-to-navigate, intuitive interfaces or mediums which enables users to find the relevant content quicker and easier.
How Website Accessibility and SEO Overlap
On taking a closer look at how website accessibility strongly relates to the essential elements of SEO, both practices rely on familiarizing with the structure of the content, metadata, semantics, design, and functionality of the website.
Similar to someone who has a visual or hearing impairment, major search engine crawlers can’t really see video content and neither can it hear audio content, they crawl through HTML to determine the relevance and rank the site by the inputted search terms.
When accessibility techniques are applied, it exposes the search engine’s ability to understand content. However, if audio or video content is not optimized, then neither SEO or website accessibility technique would be able to understand it. And this is why the two go hand-in-hand.
By providing a better experience for all your users, you will achieve a lower bounce rate, higher conversion, more engagement on social media, more positive comments, and less negative feedback. All these elements factor in how a search engine ranks your site.
7 Areas Where You Can Improve Both Website Accessibility and Search Engine Optimization
Generally speaking, website accessibility is all about making a website usable for everyone regardless of their ability. For those who have a visual impairment, they need to be able to access the site via a screen reader. And for those who have a physical disability, they need to be able to easily navigate through both your site and your content with minimum effort.
Let’s take a look at the following 7 areas that not only improve your website accessibility but also your SEO.
1. Overall User Experience (UX)
For quite some time, Google has advised that websites that provide a better UX will rank higher than those the deliver a poor UX. As a matter of fact, Google has made a 160-page PDF document that goes into what makes quality content and how this affects the overall UX.
Even though UX is not a single ranking factor, there are other elements to keep in mind that can determine the overall experience. Google has clearly stated that site load time and responsive design all play a key role in SEO.
From an accessibility perspective, high-quality UX is all about putting the user first and enabling the end-user to navigate with little effort as possible. For those with visual impairment, in addition to ensuring your website is accessible via a screen reader, you also need to ensure your website has legible text too.
2. Title Tags
Title tags, not to be confused with title headers, are not visible on the page itself, but they are present at the top of the browser and on the results page of a Google search.
Title tags enable people who use screen readers to quickly differentiate between multiple pages. It is the first element that is often read by a screen reader.
When formulating your title tags, it is imperative that the tag reflects the content on your page as accurately as possible. If you find that your title tags are long-winded and complicated, it might be wise to separate the content into separate pages. This will help to keep your title tags short, simple and easy-to-understand for your user.
Title tags are critical for SEO. And it is one of the key on-page SEO elements that should match your user’s intent. For example, a company that sells smart vacuums would benefit from having a title tag that says, “Smart Vacuums from Company Y”, rather than, “Hoovering Just Got Easier”. The former prevents the user from second-guessing.
3. Content Structure (Header Tags)
Header tags help to define the hierarchical structure of your content on your website. A good header structure should follow a logical sequence and each tag should accurately describe the content below it, as succinctly as possible.
Google says that it is good practice, and beneficial, to break up your content into “logical chunks” which coincides with your user intent.
As for people with limited reading comprehension or cognitive impairment, the use of headers can enable these users to decide which sections are worth reading. Plus, good headers allows screen readers and other assistive technologies to navigate a page more fluently.
4. Alt Text
Short for alternative text, Alt text is used to describe all the visual elements in a textual manner. It can be read by screen readers and they are typically applied to standard image formats like .jpg, .png or .gif.
Alt text represents one of the most fundamental accessibility needs. It is even addressed in the first section of WCAG guidelines where it states: “non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose.”
Similar to title tags, alt text must be accurate and should truly reflect what is on the image. When writing the alt text for your image, think how you would describe the image. Avoid using alt text for keyword stuffing, which is bad practice anyway.
For search engines, alt text provides crawlers with additional information about the content on your page, which is a welcoming benefit to your SEO.
5. Link Anchor Text
Hyperlinked text should be linked with anchor text that, similar to alt text and title tags, accurately reflect the user’s expectation when they click on the link.
For users who use screen readers or navigating a website with a keyboard, good link anchor text will inform the users where the link is pointing.
From an SEO perspective, if a search engine sees multiple quality links with similar anchor text, then it will further associate the page with the terms used in the anchor text.
6. Video Transcription
As mentioned, search engine crawlers can’t see or hear video content, but they can understand a transcription of the video file. Since video content is becoming increasingly important, with Cisco predicting 79 percent of consumer traffic will be directed to video content by 2020, embedding or adding video transcription will eventually become standard practice.
The benefit regarding accessibility is fairly obvious here. Video transcripts will allow video content to be accessible to a broader user base.
7. Schema Markup
Schema markup is a type of programming language which helps to better define more complex elements on a site. While header and title tags will usually suffice for a website with static content, sites with advanced features like eCommerce and dynamic content will need additional markup, which is where schema comes in.
Schema tags can also add rich snippets to your search results. For example, it could add a rating, time to complete a recipe and related links. These additional elements can improve click-through-rate, and in return boost your SEO.
How dotCMS Can Assist With Both Website Accessibility and SEO
dotCMS is an enterprise-grade open source CMS that provides headless capabilities. Built on leading Java technology, it comes with a host of built-in SEO tools and features, including full control of HTML headers and content tags. Plus, dotCMS auto-generates tags and titles for documents and assets, saving you time from having to do it all manually.
dotCMS also facilitates the automatic creation of an XML sitemap of your site, which ensures Google indexes all your content so that it can be found. And since it is framework agnostic, it can work with any development framework and language, including schema.
And as a best of breed solution, dotCMS allows you to integrate with popular web accessibility tools APIs like AATT, Accessibility Viewer and AChecker.
For further information on how dotCMS can help you deliver a truly accessible and optimized experience, join our upcoming webinar.