Web Accessibility and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Web Accessibility and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Last Edited January 24, 2019 by Garenne Bigby in Accessibility Testing

Brick and mortar stores are legally required to be accessible. What does accessibility mean? According to state accessibility laws, all individuals with disabilities are ensured different opportunities as those without. The Americans with Disabilities Act forbids discrimination based on infirmities in public employment, accommodations, transportation, commercial facilities, telecommunications, and state and local government. For example, a wheelchair must be able to fit through doorways. It only makes sense for stores to have to accommodate anyone and everyone, but what about the internet?

There are literally millions of people with varying forms of disabilities in this world and over one half of them are reported to use the internet. Accessibility is just as pertinent for companies that do business online. Think about it—if someone is disabled, and especially if he or she is severely disabled, wouldn’t it be much easier for both them and their respective caretakers to conduct their shopping, bill paying, and other tasks online? Then they could skip venturing out into the world, possibly in inclement weather. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the internet be accessible to absolutely as many people as possible, with or without disabilities, though this article will focus on those with disabilities.   

There are currently about 53 million American adults with a disability. That’s a lot of potential online shoppers and online users for your website. Physical impairments can strike anyone, anytime. They can stem from many different issues. You must prepare your site for any and all users, immediately. Having a accessible website will show the world that you are dedicated to social responsibility and equal opportunities for all, even if you are just trying to get their money. Accessible websites are often better organized and cleaner looking than usual so that will only serve to help you win over the good opinions of the masses, disabled or not. There is truly nothing like a good, loyal customer base.

Improved SEO goes right along with web accessibility in that providing an improved experience for all users will help your site in the rankings and whatnot. Search engines can only do so much. Sometimes they take feedback into account and a better site will receive better feedback. Whether you want an accessible site because it is the rigth thing to do, or you don't want to miss out on lost revenue, or both; you should start thinking about accessibility and the web. Read on to learn some of the similarities between accessibility and SEO.

Web Accessibility and SEO


Accessibility and SEO


Responsive Design     

Websites need to be compatible with desktop, and mobile viewing as your run of the mill web designer will tell you. Even if you have an amateur designer to create your site, you are still in luck as the majority of website themes or designs are built to be “responsive.” This means that they will most definitely automatically resize to be accessible and readable from a mobile device, tablet or other apparatus. Do not trust that to work correctly. Confirm all is well from every device you can get your hands on. If you have a friend or colleague who has a visual impairment, make sure it works for them as well. This is very important.


Use Appropriate Colors     

Color blindness runs rampant in certain populations and most of them can’t see red. Therefore, avoid using red text when at all possible. In general, colors can be hard to work with due to the psychological and emotional implications behind them.  

Worse even than having negative effects as a result of seeing certain colors is arguably not being able to see some colors at all. This is undoubtedly a disaster for your site if the text is red and someone cannot see red. They will not be able to see it at all. Red is a color often used for hyperlinks and stop signs. This is troubling because a large number of people cannot see red. Again, some people are not able to even see some colors. This is bad, very bad, for the sake of your colorful website.    


Methods of Interaction      

Imagine not being able to use a mouse, a keyboard or even your fingers—a problem when trying to maneuver around a website, right? Not if your website is set up using speakable.           

Speakable refers to devices capable of speech recognition. One such example is if you enable text to speech on a smartphone, you can talk and the smartphone will type the text message for you. Speakable devices are becoming more and more popular which is why it is increasingly important to make sure your voice search SEO is as optimized and well executed as it can be. Google and schema.org have collaborated to come up with the speakable specifications that optimize content for Google assistant. The speakable specification highlights excerpts on web pages that can be read aloud by certain devices. This is key for having a fully accessible website.         

Voice search is a speech recognition technology that allows you to search for something by speaking the term out loud rather than typing it into a search engine. As technology advances, most people want things to be faster, to be easier, to be instant. Telegraphs were an easier version of writing letters, mailing them, and waiting a number of days or weeks for the recipient to receive them. Telephone calls were a more accessible version of sending a telegraph.

Text messages were an easier version of making a telephone call. Voice searching is an easier version of typing something into an internet search engine, such as Google, Yahoo or Bing. It is not merely laziness driving this shift, but efficiency. Time is money, and some people are short on both. That being said, laziness is also a significant factor in why so many people desire and utilize this fascinating technology. Keeping up with advances in technology is key to everyday success online.

The world is moving towards an increasingly hands-off society. More things are automated, faster, easier, and attention spans are at all-time lows. People are constantly on the move. Imagine driving down the interstate. You receive a text message from your mother asking what time you will be home for dinner. You know how she worries about getting a hot meal on the table for her working man. Texting and driving is illegal, as well it should be.

Now, with the push of a button you can speak, yes speak with your mouth, just like you are talking to your mother, and say exactly what time you will be home for meatloaf and she will receive it just like a text you typed out. Win-win, especially if you did not want to spend your fifty five minute commute talking with her in a standard phone call. Please check with your local authorities as to whether or not even pushing the talk to text button is legal. Laws vary by state and country. As is just common sense, do not take your eyes off of the road for any reason, especially to monkey around with your phone. No text message, phone call or internet website is worth hurting yourself or others due to distracted driving.

Talk to text is not the only way speakable matters. You can tell certain devices, like Alexa to do things for you. For instance, you can say, “Alexa, turn on the lights.” If you have a smart home and things are set up correctly, the device called Alexa will actually turn on your lights. You never need to get out of your chair. Is this being lazy? Maybe, but what if you are immobilized for medical reasons? A paraplegic with speakable technology is a formidable opponent compared to paraplegic of the past. You could be in a lot of pain, unable to get up and need medical assistance. If you have a speakable device around, you can have it call 911 for you.      

As you can now see, speakable is imperative to helping your voice search SEO. Voice search SEO is, in turn, imperative to helping your website be successful. To many, it is more than just a website. It could be the way you make your living. It could be the driving force behind your business. It could be your way of applying to jobs. It could be the way you communicate with your doctor. It could be the way your doctor communicates with the specialized surgeon many miles away while you are under anesthesia. The possibilities are endless.

Keep It Clean, Simple and Streamlined

It is never a good idea to have too much information or wording on your website under any circumstances. These days attention spans are at an all-time low. Even a person without disabilities will not bother to read a long string of words, let alone pages and pages of information. Just imagine someone with learning disabilities or poor vision. Not going to happen. Refrain from using technical jargon or colloquialisms when writing for the web too. The simpler the language, the better. This will help anyone involved, including the author.   

Here is an example of a scenario in which nothing is clean, simple or streamlined:      

“The temperature must have been twenty below, and they had me outside changing light bulbs on the city's Christmas tree. Instead of going to jail for petty theft, I opted for community service, which is how I came to be a volunteer for the city. My fingers were like frozen sardines as I attempted to figure out which tiny light was burned out. After a few minutes of painful torture, I thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing here? I'm a professional." With that, I took the tree, lights and all, put it in the back of the nearest pickup truck and drove away.

Once I hit the interstate, I created a large sign that advertised a pre-lit Christmas tree for only $20. Soon after getting my cash I sped off but somehow wound up in a ditch. When the owners of the nearest house came running out to see what happened, I faked the injury so they would let me inside. Honestly, I have to say that I planned to kill them, take their identities and continue living their lives, but they beat me to it.”

A much better, streamlined version of this would be:

“An escaped felon gets what he deserves. “ No beating around the bush, no filler words, no trolling for bots, no SEO-riddled nonsense. Straightforward and to the point in a way that nearly anyone could understand. Perhaps if it is necessary to give out more information, do so but in a very concise manner if at all possible. Not many people will spend time reading through gibberish. Nor should they.   

 

Text Size  

We have already discussed text color, but size is even more important in some cases. For some, their debility will not be as severe to the point where they are not able to see your website at all but instead, it might be that they cannot read small fonts. Also, beware of using overly fancy fonts that look like cursive writing. Oversized text may look sloppy in web design. Your best bet then is to implement a text resizing tool so that visitors can select how large they want the text on their screen to display. Many devices will do this automatically. In addition, make sure your website works at different browser zoom levels.


Organization of Text

Be sure to use large and clear titles at the top of every single page. That will aid in navigation as well as readability, both of which are keys to success. In the body of the text of each page, use section breaks, clear header titles, and lots of white space so that visitors will enjoy a clear visual field to read from.    

By not using clean titles at the top of every page, the website will be much harder for a disabled person to navigate around or utilize your site in the manner in which it is intended. This will be an utter waste of time, both for the disabled person and you, or whoever you paid to set up your site. Imagine going through all the trouble of opening and stocking a store. You order merchandise. You hire employees. You train them to make sales.

If your customer is in a wheelchair and cannot fit through your narrow doorway, everything you have done in regard to your store has been for naught. Even though this disabled person has an embroidered purse full of cold, hard cash, they literally cannot get into your store and thus literally cannot buy anything. The exact same thing can happen on a website if it is not set up in an entirely accessible way. Please do not do this to yourself or your website.


Alternative Text is Great to Use

Some users may have a hard time seeing the images on your site. That is where alt text and caption field can come into play. They will not have to see an image in order to understand what kind of visual context you have used with your content. They will be able to read a script, or caption, instead of having to view or understand the picture.

Here are some examples of images and non-text things that require alternative text.

  • Captchas

  • Graphical buttons

  • Maps

  • Infographics

  • Animations

  • Graphs

  • Art

  • Pictures

  • Webcam images

  • Pictures

Some of the things you can do to optimize them for better accessibility are to insert short captions or text links.  This will allow your possibly disabled readers to better understand what the picture or graph is saying even if they cannot see or comprehend it. That is, of course, banking on the fact that they are not visually disabled to the point of not being able to read either. Then, speakable is imperative. Read about that in another of these bullets.


Transcripts  

Podcasts, movies, videos and other media may be impossible for some people to understand. For instance, deaf people who cannot read lips or with videos that do not show the mouths of the speakers. Here is when closed captioning will help. It is when the words of what is being spoken show up on the bottom of the page so that someone can read the script of what is being said if they cannot or do not want to listen. This also comes in handy for those who need to be quiet when watching videos, like, from within a library or on an airplane next to someone who is trying to sleep.      


Directional Cues

For people with cognitive impairments or perhaps those who just are not very tech savvy, you must have directional cues available to help them out. Tooltips are one example. This would be like the paperclip who gives you helpful information on your old desktop computer. Perhaps an arrow that highlights the way. 


Clear Navigation 

Clear navigation is imperative for any website regardless of disabilities. No one wants to muddle around and waste time trying to figure out a poorly organized site. Not only do they not want to, but they simply will not do it and thus there goes your site traffic. Make sure the navigation is easy and seamless and that each label is written in simple terms that everyone can understand.  A complex set up will result in people giving up before they get to the good stuff.


Ability to Search Internally

For some disabled users, a navigation menu will not be much help at all. Providing an internal search bar at the top of your website will be beneficial. That way, people can search for what they cannot easily find. Try to make everything as easy to find as possible and use this only for some sort of last, but still a very important, resort.

 

Contact Forms

Contact forms are a must for any website, whether you want to allow people to ask you questions or keep in touch or sign up for your newsletter. Remember those with disabilities here. Perhaps they cannot understand the most basic empty boxes where you may think it is common sense to fill in your email address. To some people, it will be very helpful if the box is labeled with specific instructions as to what to fill in. This will clear up any issues for them, and any issues for you later when you receive the information that they typed in. 


Use Natural Language

Many people are mistakenly obsessed with SEO or search engine optimization.  Just stop it. Instead of using every power word you can muster up, cleanly and precisely say what you need to say regarding the topic of your website. More than that can be confusing and annoying to your visitors. In fact, it can be literally crippling to those with mental disorders which do not allow them to weed through the garbage, so to speak. Also, make sure your alt attributes are descriptive and make sense to actual human beings, not just robots patrolling the internet for keywords.

Another way to describe this method of inserting a bunch of power words that do not necessarily bring any benefit to your website is called keyword stuffing. It is mostly an old-school SEO practice that needs to just go away. It was very popular in 2007. Still, it is an option, though a bad one. Do not stuff as many keywords into your site as you can in order to try and attract search engines. Write naturally and do not abuse keywords.

Use proper links and button markups at all times. Divs and spans are not links and empty anchors that do not have an href attribute or with a blank hashtag destination are all just plain useless. They go nowhere and help no one. If your main goal is to attract bots, you are making several big mistakes. Consider explaining breadcrumb links with some explanatory text off screen such as “you are here.” This will help. Breadcrumb links are links that are keyword rich.


Text-as-Images

Avoid these at all costs. Similar to using natural language rather than nothing but keywords to troll for bots, this will destroy what you are trying to do with your website. Using text as images mean that it can be a real hassle for people who want to magnify the text so that it becomes bigger and thus easier to see. Ironically, the bigger you make text that is an image, the more pixelated it becomes and it can be all but impossible to read for anyone, let alone someone with vision problems. Just do not do it.

Never use text as images for important information. If you absolutely have to, always use an alt attribute to describe the image. Consider styling actual text as an alternative. You can do this by using HTML + CSS. That can be complicated, so be very careful.


More Image Captioning Tips  

Never use alt attributes if there is already an image caption. Describing an image via alt attributes and a caption is just plain repetitive. Make sure to use a <figcaption> tag. They can be applied to images or other page elements. This will help both your site and the bots trying to find you. It also will not clutter up things, making the site easier to navigate around.

 

 

Garenne Bigby
Author: Garenne BigbyWebsite: http://garennebigby.com
Founder of DYNO Mapper and Advisory Committee Representative at the W3C.

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