Web browsers and computer systems have had accessibility features built in for years, from screen readers to the ability to zoom fonts, so it’s curious why so many companies and website developers fail to implement accessibility well.
For the most part, it seems to be a lack of budget and time, along with the mindset to "just do enough". This practice is obviously wrong, for every accessibility feature you ignore, you alienate a small but possibly crucial part of your audience. For example, there are a number of guidelines regarding text readability and colour contrast. If you don’t adhere to these guidelines you could be making your site hard or unusable for colour blind citizens of which it’s estimated there are 3 million people in the UK, 3 million of your potential customers.
However, there is another side effect of making your site accessible which most companies and marketers don’t think about. We try so hard as developers to make code that can be read perfectly by search engines, and the website editors create content with the right keywords in the hope that their pages can be easily spotted and ranked by the search engines, but one of the key things that will make YOUR website stand out above your competition to the likes of Google is how accessible your site it. Yes, believe it or not, if you take the time to make your site fully accessible then it will rank higher against your competitor that didn’t, simple as that..
SEO is more about hard work and talent than mystery, Google itself states that you should always “Create primarily for your users, not search engines”. If your site is easy to use and content is relevant for your user then it will rank highly, and that includes making your site accessible for all users.
In this article I’ve compiled 6 areas where accessibility can benefit your search engine rankings greatly. If you aren’t doing them, then you are not ranking as high as you could be so please take a look, ask your developers, designers and content providers and take the time to implement them:
Responsive design is a no brainer for any kind of site and to be honest, nobody would build a public site nowadays that isn’t responsive. However, it stands to reason that a website with a standard responsive design no matter what device or screen size it’s being used on will always be better for accessibility tools such as screen readers and Google states that it will rank fully responsive sites higher. If your website is more than 5 years old, it might not be responsive so check with your designers and developers.
Remember that some of your users are unable to use traditional input methods such as keyboards, mice, touchpads and touchscreens. If you make your website fully navigable without these devices or input methods then you are also allowing search engines to navigate your website easier (Google software doesn’t use a mouse or keyboard either remember).
An example here is that if your website has hundreds or thousands of documents only available through a text search then you are alienating not only users who can’t easily type, but also search engines who have no idea what to enter into the search box. In this type of scenario you should add a navigation which gives direct links to the content using genres, sections or categories to whittle down to any document on the system. Again, if a user can find any of your content with ease, so can the search engines.
With content management systems being the norm nowadays, it’s so easy to upload that “IMG12345.jpg” from your camera to you website and leave the description as either blank or let the CMS enter the filename in its place. Clearly a description such as this is useless when it comes to either a screen reader voicing the description or a search engine trying to determine what it is.
By adding a quality and relevant description for images, you will be helping your users who rely on this information to determine what the picture shows and the search engines to rank your content, after all a description such as “Lady holding a child's hand while crossing a busy road” is so much more helpful than “MainBanner”
Video is becoming so much more popular on websites than ever before, from a 10 second intro to the Managing Director trying to explain their product to you. It goes without saying that if your user has an inability to hear properly, then your message will be lost. By adding subtitles to your video as well as a link to a transcript of the video, you're allowing search engines to read the content of the video also. Has to be a good thing.
Yes, we’ve all been to those websites which use so much Jargon or fully stuff the content with irrelevant keywords in the hope that search engines will pick up on the terms. Usually they are so hard to read or understand that we just close the site and move on to the next one. Modern search engines now pick up on this and can actually lower your ranking if they think it’s not going to be easy to read for your users. Your content should be easy, concise and relevant to the message you are trying to get across or you’ll be alienating your users and the search engines.
Of course, there’s plenty more you can do to help your users with accessibility issues and for search engines to read your content properly and I’ve only covered six in this article but these highlighted ones are some of the biggest mistakes you can make and possibly the easiest to sort out. Of course, headland have years of experience in making sites accessible. We recently developed the blaby council website (https://www.blaby.gov.uk/) which earned the accolade of being tested the most accessible local council site in the UK when it launched and continues to be 6 months later.
We have the tools and skills to be able to check your site, give a report on your accessibility level as well as detailed advice on each issue making your site fail so if you are having problems with accessibility and want your site to rank higher on the search engines then don’t hesitate to contact us.
Craig Pickles - Technical Director, Headland.co.uk