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May 6, 2023

SEO and accessibility go hand in hand: here’s why

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Accessibility may seem like a highly technical subject, but it’s really about simplicity. Website structure is a significant component of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It only makes sense to consider SEO and accessibility together so that all users can access your website’s content, regardless of their ability.

Since site structure is also a major component of SEO, it only makes sense to consider accessibility and SEO together. In fact, there’s so much overlap between these two disciplines it’s becoming difficult to talk about one without the other.

When you start viewing things this way, it means you can’t avoid considering people with disabilities when designing websites and writing content. It’s not something you do at the end of the process but from the beginning. Integrating accommodations for people with disabilities into your workflow will always be a worthwhile effort. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If it was, everyone would have an accessible site already.

UserWay makes the process easier for everyone, from web developers to content writers to end-users. We do this through an AI-Powered Accessibility Widget that can make any site more compliant with ADA & WCAG standards.

What Does an Accessible Website Look Like?

The overlap between accessibility and SEO has never been greater. As many experts predicted, Google began to focus more on user experience rather than just the text on a web page. While this was rumoured for years, it came to fruition when Google’s Page Experience Update went fully into effect in March 2022.

Does Google’s 2022 Page Experience Update Include Accessibility?

This update factored in page experience metrics such as LCP, FID, CLS, and other core web vitals into Google’s search algorithm. While the update does not specify accessibility, good user experience and web accessibility are one in the same.

  • LCP means Largest Contentful Paint, which is a performance metric that measures the loading speed of the largest image or text block of a web page.
  • FID means First Input Delay, which measures the time it takes for a web page to become interactive after a user first interacts with it.
  • CLS means Cumulative Layout Shift, which measures the stability of a web page’s layout as it loads.

As part of this update, Google is also introducing a new page experience report in Search Console, to help website owners track and improve their page experience score.

These metrics, along with other “core web vitals,” are indicators of a good user experience on a website and are now being used by Google in its search ranking algorithm. Websites that have a good page experience, meaning they are mobile-friendly, fast and secure, now have a better chance of appearing higher in search engine rankings. An accessible website also checks the boxes for speed, responsiveness, and visual stability.

Plain and simple, an inaccessible website means poor user experience. Don’t believe us? Try using an inaccessible website with keyboard-only navigation, or read the text using a screen reader on a website that does not use proper tags or labels. A user who relies on assistive technology will leave an inaccessible website and Google will take note.

Visual stability, in particular, is inherently an accessibility standard. A visually unstable site has a poor cumulative layout shift score where you might have animations or visible changes on your page that are unexpected or scroll-dependent. For example, if an individual uses a screen reader, will your site provide all the content without needing to scroll down?

Screen readers, SEO and accessibility work hand in hand, so make accessibility part of your SEO best practices. Being inaccessible can lead to ranking penalties from Google and other search engines. It’s also worth noting that legal troubles may follow those who don’t abide by accessibility standards, such as those outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

A better user experience can lead to more time spent on your site and higher click-through rates.

What SEO Elements are Related to Accessibility?

The fundamentals of SEO and accessibility overlap so pay attention to both if you want to improve your site’s searchability. These are important areas to consider to achieve that:

1. Website Design

Both accessibility and SEO benefit from a well-designed website that is easy to use and navigate. For people with disabilities, a website with a good contrast ratio, easy-to-read font type and size, and clear UX can make it easier to use the site. For SEO, a website that is easy for users to interact with and find what they need can potentially improve search engine rankings by making the site more relevant to users.

2. Alternative (ALT) Text for Images

ALT text is an important accessibility feature that allows screen readers to understand the context of images on a page. It is also used by search engines to understand the content of images, which can potentially improve the SEO of a page. Using accurate, keyword-rich ALT text can potentially also help images appear in Google Image Search, which can drive additional traffic to a website.

3. Title Tags

Title tags are used by screen readers to give users an overview of the content of a page when it first loads. They are also used in search engine results and browser tabs to summarize the page and entice users to click through. For both accessibility and SEO, it is important to use unique, descriptive title tags that incorporate target keywords.

4. Metadata

Metadata, such as meta titles and descriptions, can improve both the accessibility and SEO of a page. Screen readers use metadata to give users information about the content of a page, while meta descriptions are used in search engine results to give users a preview of the page and encourage them to click through. In addition to meta titles and descriptions, there are other types of metadata, such as canonical tags and robot tags, that can potentially also improve the communication between a website and search engines.

5. Readability

Readability, or the ease with which content can be understood, is important for both accessibility and SEO. For people with disabilities, content that is clear and concise and avoids jargon can be easier to understand. For SEO, content that is easy to read and understand can potentially be more easily indexed by search engines, improving the page’s search engine rankings.

6. Headings

Using headings correctly can improve both the accessibility and SEO of a page. For accessibility, headings provide a clear hierarchy and structure to the content, making it easier for people with disabilities to navigate the page. For SEO, headings help search engines understand the content and structure of the page.

7. Mobile-Friendliness

Having a mobile-friendly website can improve both the accessibility and SEO of a site. For people with disabilities, a mobile-friendly website can be easier to use on small screens and with touch interfaces. For SEO, a mobile-friendly website can potentially improve search engine rankings, as more and more users access the internet on mobile devices.

8. Transcripts and Video Captions

Transcripts and video captions provide written versions of spoken or audio content, which can be helpful for people with hearing impairments or who are unable to access audio content for other reasons. They can potentially also improve the SEO of a website by making the content more accessible to search engines, which can’t watch or listen to videos.

9. Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are a type of navigation element that shows the user’s location within the site hierarchy. For example, if a user is on a page about “Shoes,” and the breadcrumb trail shows “Home > Clothing > Shoes,” the user knows that they are on a page about shoes that is a subcategory of clothing. Breadcrumbs can improve the accessibility of a website by providing a clear way for users to understand the structure of the site and navigate to higher-level pages. They can potentially also improve SEO by helping search engines understand the hierarchy and organization of a website.

10. Anchor Text

Anchor text is the visible text that is used to link to another page or website. It is important for accessibility because it should accurately describe the linked content, so users know what they will find when they click the link. It is also important for SEO because the anchor text can give clues to search engines about the content of the linked page, which can potentially help Google understand the structure of pages, the overall website, and understand important anchor text keywords related to specific pages.

11. Navigation

Effective navigation is important for both accessibility and SEO. For people with disabilities, clear and intuitive navigation can make it easier to use a website. For SEO, a well-organized navigation system can help search engines understand the structure and content of a website, which can potentially improve its search engine rankings. A navigation system can include elements like breadcrumbs, as well as links within the content of the page.

SEO principles like using headings, including keyboard controls in interactive elements, and adding alt text for images are all critical to helping all users navigate your website easily.

If you’re not sure, an SEO analysis of your website can be done to see what improvements can be made which will often overlap with accessibility best practices.

From a search engine optimization and user experience perspective, basic accessibility standards not only enhance the user experience, but they are also taken into consideration by search engines when determining website rankings. Non-compliance with accessibility guidelines can result in severe penalties, such as being marked as spam, but more commonly, it leads to low visibility in search results.

The Importance of SEO and Accessibility

How your website’s pages are structured for improved on page optimization is critical because it determines how easy it is for search engines to crawl your website and decipher what the pages are about.

Likewise, screen readers scan through a website to enable individuals with visual impairments to access its content. It is crucial to have well-defined sections on website pages and use relevant header tags, as it helps screen reader technology navigate the site effectively.

If your website’s pages are poorly-structured, your site’s readability is affected, making it highly challenging for those with disabilities to use.

Unfortunately, people who rely on screen readers to access the internet often have a difficult time navigating websites with poor structure. They may find themselves jumping around the page without being able to easily follow the content. This can be frustrating and make it hard to use the site.

Is Accessibility an SEO Factor According to Google?

While accessibility is not a direct ranking factor in search engine algorithms, it can have a significant impact on user experience, which can indirectly affect a website’s search engine rankings.

In a tweet, Google’s Search Advocate, John Mueller, said there are no plans for web accessibility to be formally included as a factor in future updates, but insinuated that if a user cannot use a website for accessibility purposes they will bounce off.

When a website is difficult to use, people may be less likely to interact with it and recommend it to others, leading to a decrease in important signals and making the site less visible in search results. On the other hand, a website that is designed with accessibility in mind is likely to be more user-friendly and engaging, which can lead to better user experience and potentially higher search engine rankings.

Google takes into account how people interact with a site when determining its ranking in search results. This means that if your website is easy to use and navigate, it can help improve your search engine visibility. In other words, having a properly structured website is not only beneficial for people with disabilities, but it can also help your business succeed online.

SEO & Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1

It’s necessary for marketers concerned about SEO to at least have a baseline understanding of W3C‘s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Working toward meeting the WCAG standards will help you meet what Google refers to as “readable content”.

Consider these four WCAG principles, commonly known as POUR, when thinking about accessible websites:

  • Perceivable – Users can identify the interface elements of a site.
  • Operable – Users can successfully use a website’s buttons and other interactive parts.
  • Understandable – Users can comprehend and remember how to use the interface.
  • Robust – The website is standards-compliant.

To improve SEO, consider which items need to be tweaked when looking at your website – even if the minor adjustments will significantly enhance your website’s SEO. The best way to get started is to follow the WCAG Quick Reference, which provides advice and techniques for implementing WCAG.

In addition to WCAG, another accessibility web standard related to SEO is Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA). It’s a code attribute that expands HTML’s capabilities to make it easier to optimize your site for screen readers. If your site is Javascript-based or you have applets that aren’t HTML-based, making these parts visible to assistive technologies ensures screen readers have no problems interpreting your content.

Much like WCAG‘s Quick Reference, ARIA also has an Authoring Practices document for understanding and creating accessible rich internet applications.

How Does the UserWay Accessibility Widget Help Improve SEO?

One of the best and easiest ways to improve your site’s accessibility is to install the AI-powered UserWay Accessibility Widget. The Widget instantly strengthens your website’s accessibility without relying on costly and time-consuming programming and development resources.

In just a few minutes, you can have an interface with options for adjusting your site’s contrast, font sizes, and color saturation—all with an accessible and compliant site structure that uses proper heading levels, giving your site visitors a better page experience.

The AI-powered UserWay Accessibility Widget is your first step to a more accessible and improved website.

Since UserWay programmed its widget according to the best practices for ARIA markup, search applications can quickly identify the structure and purpose of each page, improving your site’s searchability.

When you make Google’s job easier, you get rewarded. It’s also a plus that you’re giving site visitors who rely on screen readers the ability to “see” more of the web.And when it’s used in conjunction with a comprehensive accessibility strategy, it can place you on the right path to a better ranking website.

Other Ways to Make Your Site Accessible

ARIA markup is just the beginning when it comes to web accessibility. Numerous other standards improve the functionality of your site for people with vision, hearing, mobility, and other impairments that may not affect your SEO rankings. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try implementing them.

New web standards are being considered and suggested every year, so it only makes sense to stay current because you’ll fall in search rankings if you don’t.

Because of that, to meet current standards, you should consider optimizing your website to at least include the following:

  1. Ensure all interactive elements within your site can be activated using only a keyboard.
  2. Ensure all your website content works while zoomed in and is responsive to mobile technologies.
  3. Remove or adapt content only provided through sight, sound, or color.
  4. Avoid auto-playing audio without providing a mute button.
  5. Ensure all text is easily readable by using proper contrast with the background.
  6. Remove or have the option to pause/stop any site elements that automatically move.

Once this list is completed, you’ll be ready for the more sophisticated WCAG guidelines.

Can Accessibility Negatively Affect SEO?

No. At least not when accessibility standards are implemented correctly. But it’s important to remember that you’re building your site for people, not web crawlers.

Accessibility and SEO are generally meant to work well together. Still, in the cases where mistakes are made, it’s almost always due to a misunderstanding of accessibility or blatant abuse of tags for SEO purposes.

An example is non-descriptive alt text with rankable keywords as the primary focus. Marketers trying to stuff keywords into alt tags will find themselves at risk of being penalized by search engines in addition to confusing individuals using screen readers.

So what’s the lesson here? Don’t try to game the system. Advances in machine learning have made Google’s algorithm far more intuitive than most people think. On the off chance you’ve tricked the Google bots—it’s only a matter of time before an update catches up to you.

Is Accessibility Good For SEO?

Simply put, yes. When you make an effort to achieve ADA compliance with a more accessible site, Google takes notice. That’s why it continues to dedicate millions of dollars each year to prioritizing digital accessibility.

When you keep both SEO and accessibility in mind, you’re setting your website on a path to improved searchability and better user engagement.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why do I have to have an accessible website?

Having an accessible website is essential for several reasons. Most importantly, it helps those with disabilities access your site’s content, ensuring everyone gets equal access. Also, an accessible website may help improve SEO, as it has the potential to improve your website’s usability and which is an SEO ranking factor.

What Does ADA Compliant Mean?

Being ADA compliant means making sure that websites are accessible to people with disabilities. This includes making sure that websites are navigable, that text has proper contrast and font sizes, that images have alt text, and that navigation and forms are keyboard accessible. By making sure that websites meet ADA requirements, website owners increase the chances that their website will appear higher in search engine rankings.

Does ADA affect SEO?

ADA compliance can positively affect SEO. ADA compliance is all about making websites accessible to people with disabilities, which can help improve SEO ranking by making it easier for search engines to crawl websites, making content more visible, and improving user experience.

Is accessibility a SEO ranking factor?

Accessibility is not an SEO ranking factor, but SEO and accessibility are generally meant to work together. This is because accessibility helps search engine algorithms understand the content better and improve searchability. Additionally, accessible websites are more likely to appear on the top of search engine rankings, due to the improved user experience they offer. Taking the time to make sure that a website is accessible is essential for SEO best practices.

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