Note: This guest article discusses web accessibility in relation to the United States’ Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Find out more about ADA guidelines for web accessibility with this guide from Essential Accessibility.

 

Accessibility should not be an afterthought

The recent WordPress 5.0 release brought the issue of accessibility to mind. Accessibility was addressed by a plugin instead of being a core part of WordPress. This gave the impression that accessibility was treated as an afterthought and not a core requirement.

A member of the WordPress and SEO community brought this to attention in the official announcement by WordPress:

Screenshot of Joe Hall commenting on the official WordPress 5 announcement

Seven reasons to focus on accessibility:

  1. Accessibility can enhance SEO
  2. Accessibility should be considered by everyone who works in web development or digital marketing
  3. People with disabilities are consumers
  4. It’s an opportunity to dominate your niche by serving a community that competitors are overlooking
  5. Accessibility can increase traffic
  6. Accessibility can increase sales
  7. Accessibility can decrease bounce rate

What the SEO community says about accessibility

I asked four members of the search marketing community about integrating accessibility concerns with SEO and web development.

Here is what they said:

Screen readers, much like search engine crawlers, rely on code

Jenny Halasz is a professional speaker, SEO & Analytics Expert from North Carolina.

“It is past time! The ADA is actively working to make the accessibility requirements in section 508 standard for everyone. Not to mention that accessibility requirements are also good SEO.

For example, a fully JS (Javascript) site that a bot couldn’t crawl won’t pass accessibility tests either. I should say likely will not pass all tests…”

 

Several accessibility requirements directly improve overall SEO

Alan Bleiwess is a top site auditing professional. He said that accessibility was a part of his site audit checklist.

“Accessibility is integrated into the vast majority of my site audit work. Since I perform broad, overall strategic audits, I don’t focus on the full spectrum of accessibility considerations. Yet I have my assistant run WCAG compliance tests on a sampling of page template types, and I also see how those templates do within Google’s Lighthouse tests specific to Accessibility as well.

One way to get more people in the search industry caring about this is that often overlooked issues specific to SEO are also accessibility issues. Like missing or badly worded image alternate attributes for example. Several accessibility requirements directly improve overall SEO at the code level.

And if SEOs, designers, & developers are unwilling to respect the needs of the visually impaired, or anyone who relies on screen readers that do NOT behave like the top visual web browsers, there’s also the additional threat of lawsuits – more sites and companies are being sued every year for failure to provide properly accessible sites.”

 

Web accessibility is about inclusion

Julie Joyce is a monthly columnist for Search Engine Journal and host of the SEMrush link webinar series.

“I feel very strongly about accessibility as my neighbour is blind and he took me to his workplace to see how other blind users navigated the web. I was amazed at how many sites were so poorly coded for users with visual difficulties.

It made me really realize the importance of things like proper image alt attributes and simple navigation. Just in NC alone, in 2016 there were estimated to be 269,600 people with visual difficulties. They do use the web too, and I’m tired of them being left out when people consider what to do with their websites. We definitely need to pay attention to them. I mean blind people still need products and services and want to read articles and news.”

 

It may not be long until Google starts prioritising accessible websites over those that are not

I asked Dave Davies of the Webcology Podcast if it is time for accessibility to move to the forefront of web development and SEO. His answer touched on the pragmatic issue of additional cost.

Here is his answer:

“In the case of SEO audits – instinctively of course I want to say ‘yes’ because it’s the right thing to say but as a marketer and someone who deals with clients who generally have limited budgets I have to say ‘maybe’.

For some companies it will apply. For others it may not. It would be great if we could simply say ‘yes’ and it didn’t cost more but it would and we need to be respectful of what will maximize the ROI for our clients. That’s what they’re hiring us to do.

What this all gets me thinking about though is that I rarely stop to consider accessibility. With the exception of maybe knowing a site has an older demographic so we should make the text big enough to be easily read, I’ve rarely stopped to consider that there are other people with other accessibility needs.

And while it would be nice to say all our clients will go through the extra costs to ensure their positive experience simply because it’s the right thing to do, most wouldn’t however if we all keep it in mind instead of an afterthought.

I suspect a good case can be regularly made that if we’re the one site that does it well – then we will gain not just a good feeling, but a segment of the market by default because we’re the only ones that can serve them properly.

It won’t apply universally – but it will apply to a lot more than is presently being served.

And of course, how long until Google favours accessible sites and data sources for people with accessibility needs? Probably not long.

And with the blind especially we have to remember that they’re basically using voice search. I had a friend/neighbour who was blind. it was interesting watching how he used the computer.  For one – he’d take his wireless keyboard pretty much anywhere within earshot of the computer and make himself comfortable.”

 

Accessibility and succeeding online

As search marketers, we all look to squeeze that extra 1% conversion rate, to improve the bounce rate a few percentage points and to have kilobytes off an image file size. The mantra is that every little bit counts.

But when it comes to accessibility, why do we behave as if we were asked to take out the garbage… in the rain?

Every little bit counts. Every benefit, no matter how small counts. I’m preaching to myself more than anyone else because this is an area in which I can improve.

Search marketing benefits:

  • Accessibility can have ranking benefits via alt text and other features.
  • Accessibility can decrease bounce rates.
  • Accessibility can increase sales.
  • Accessibility can increase your site’s popularity among those ignored by your competition

When it comes to online marketing, everything I do has a pragmatic reason for attempting it. I don’t do things because they make me feel good. I do them because this is a business and business is about making money. Focusing on accessibility is about making more sales.

And as a bonus, it can make you feel good to know you’re serving every possible customer.

This post was originally published on Search Engine Journal as has been republished here with permission from the author and editor. Screenshots by Author, Modified by Author.

Roger Montti is an SEO consultant and search engine marketer with 20 years’ experience. He has presented at major SEO and content marketing conferences like PubCon Las Vegas, SMX Advanced Seattle and SES San Francisco.