Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and web accessibility have been two topics often discussed in the last couple of years. Website owners are often curious about how to implement both SEO and accessibility best practices. But what if we told you that if you comply with web accessibility guidelines or laws, this will positively affect your SEO strategy and vice versa, as the path to implementing both disciplines often overlaps.
In this article, we discuss 11 ways web accessibility and SEO work together to improve the experience of your users, enhance your web visibility, convert more traffic and generate more revenue.
11 Surprising Ways Accessibility and SEO Are Linked
1. Website Design
Accessibility: The design of your website encompasses many visual elements that need to be friendly for people with disabilities. Some elements to consider might be a good contrast ratio, easy-to-read font type and size (like a dyslexia-friendly font), ARIA labels for forms and navigation elements, and an easy-to-understand UX. There are guidelines laid out in the WCAG that assist you in having an ADA-compliant website.
SEO: Your website design can also have an influence on your rankings. SEO is all about being relevant to your users, in both content and design. So, when users are able to easily navigate your site, fill out contact forms, quickly make purchases, and enjoy rich media and FAQ questions, your website will be more relevant. This will often translate to higher search rankings.
2. Alternative (ALT) Text for Images
Accessibility: ALT text is a core component for users who are blind or with low vision to understand the context of an image (and that an image even exists). Screen readers read the ALT text to the user, allowing the visually impaired to understand the content of the graphics on the page.
SEO: Search engines still have difficulty reading and understanding images on the web. Accurate ALT text allows search engines to decipher the context of the image. This helps search engines to rank your website by understanding what the images on the page are about. Additionally, accurate ALT text can help your images to appear in Google Image Search, which can drive additional traffic to your website
Hint: By using accurate keywords in the ALT text, you can get an added SEO bonus.
3. Title Tags
Accessibility: Title tags are used by a screen reader for two main reasons. The first is that they notify the visually impaired user what the page is about when first loading the page. The title tag is the first element announced by the screen-reading software on the page, giving the user an overview of the content of the page. The title tag is also the default descriptive text used for a page when bookmarked by a user, helping them to navigate back to the page later in their browser. Each title tag needs to be unique and direct to communicate quickly and efficiently the page’s topic.
SEO: For SEO, title tags are one of the most significant ranking factors, as the page’s title shows up in the search results and the tab of the browser. It‘s the site’s primary opportunity to summarize the page and entice the user to click through. Incorporating target keywords, within the character limit, is an SEO best practice to increase the page’s keyword relevance.
Accessibility: Metadata typically refers to two main pieces of information: meta titles (discussed above) and meta descriptions. Meta descriptions are the text below the link that appears on the search engine results page. Screen readers will read the metadata to the user and help convince them to enter your page.
SEO: Metadata, like the meta description, is not a direct ranking factor but primarily influences the CTR of a page. A Meta Description can be about 3x the length of the meta title (~155 characters) and gives you the opportunity to convince users about your Unique Selling Points (USPs). The search snippet is meant to give the user a preview of the content on the page and entice them to click through to the search result.
It’s worth mentioning that there are other forms of metadata that provide additional opportunities to communicate with search engines like canonical tags, robot tags, meta keywords, and Open Graph tags.
Accessibility: Readability is mentioned in the WCAG and is an important factor for accessible websites. Content on your site should be “readable,” meaning that it avoids complicated jargon, is to the point, and fits the reading level and style of your readers. It should also be grammatically accurate and should avoid ambiguity in both the vocabulary and pronunciation.
SEO: Readability in terms of SEO has the same considerations and can be taken a step further. URLs should be readable (short) since both readers and search engines prefer URLs and content that’s clear and easy to understand. Writing for websites is different from writing a Ph.D. thesis so minimizing complexity should always be taken into account.
6. Lists and bullet points
Accessibility: Using lists and bullet points is one aspect of readability that can provide a better experience for those using assistive technologies. Simple lists and bullet points help group ideas together in an easy-to-understand format that can be used when natural and possible.
SEO: There are situations when search engines and users prefer list and bullet-point style content. Featured Snippets, the “featured” result on a search engine result page, can often be shown in list format. Considering that most users “scan” web pages instead of reading word for word, lists and bullet points are more compatible with how people read on the internet. Search engines strive to predict which content is best for users, so lists and bullet points come in handy from multiple angles.
7. Heading Structure
Accessibility: Having an accurate heading structure on your page is essential for websites to be accessible. Screen readers differentiate between HTML headings and normal paragraph text, so having a correct heading structure will help someone who uses web accessibility tools to understand a web page’s topical breakdown.
SEO: A proper heading structure is also essential for search engine bots to understand your page. Your heading tags should include a logical breakdown of your main topic and detailed subsections of the page. They should incorporate keywords, answer common questions or clarify subsections of the main topic.
Accessibility: Navigation can refer to a few sections of your website, but mainly it refers to the top navigation menu. To help make your website accessible, your navigation menus need to contain your main pages, contain the relevant ARIA attributes, and be keyboard accessible so all users can access those pages. Buttons and sitemaps also need to be accessible for proper navigation.
SEO: Your most important pages should be included in your top navigation menu to send the correct SEO signals to the search engines about the most important pages on your website. Aside from improving the user experience, it also helps search engine bots get to them easier, ensuring they’re crawled and cached frequently.
9. Transcripts and Captions
Accessibility: Transcripts and captions are an essential part of video accessibility. Without captions and transcripts, deaf or hearing impaired users won’t have access to what is being said in your videos. This also applies to podcasts or any audio files on your website.
SEO: Search engines are not very good at crawling and understanding video and audio content. So when you provide transcripts for video and audio files you give the search engines crawlable text to help them understand your media. This can aid in higher rankings of your video and audio content.
And see a full video transcript here.
10. Anchor Text
Accessibility: Anchor text is the visible, clickable text in an HTML link. As screen readers scan through the page, they identify the links in the code and read out the anchor text to the user. The screen reader informs the visitor that there is a link and reads the anchor text as the description of the link so that the user knows what to expect when they visit the new page.
SEO: Internal links and their anchor text are essential for many aspects of SEO. From the user’s perspective (and search engine bots), the anchor text is a strong signal of what the linked page is about and how it relates to the current page. Anchor text is a “quick win” for adding more context and relevance to a page without actually adding additional text to the linked page itself.
Accessibility: Breadcrumbs are the linked text placed at the top of a web page that shows the path and hierarchy of the page you’re currently on within the site. They help provide more straightforward navigation for users with motor disabilities and visual impairments to understand their location on the site and to navigate back throughout the site.
SEO: Breadcrumbs provide the same benefits for SEO as they do for website accessibility. However, there is an added benefit for SEO whereby breadcrumbs help search engines to understand the structure of your site and allow you to incorporate more internal links to connect the pages throughout the site
Web Accessibility And SEO Work Together To Improve Website Performance
Questions like “Will making my website accessible sacrifice my SEO (or vice versa)” are not the right questions to be asked. As we have demonstrated, many aspects of SEO and web accessibility go hand-in-hand and have the same overarching results. Aligning these two aspects of your website will provide a better user experience to your users, enhance your web visibility, convert more traffic, and generate more revenue.
So whether you’re looking to be more compliant or to grow your audience, you can accomplish two different goals by simultaneously improving the accessibility and SEO of your website.