Introduction to the Overlap Between SEO and accessibility.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your website content for search engines. That means when you write your content, you have to ask “How can I enable a search engine bot to understand this content in the best way possible?”, “What questions/queries are search engine users typing into their search box?” and “How am I going to answer questions effectively for search engine users and provide value to them so that I can rank higher in search?”
All SEO practices are employed with the intent of fulfilling one of the above needs.
SEO and web accessibility are linked because many SEO best practices — things like adding image alt text — also help people with disabilities access your site more easily. Why? A major reason is because search engine bots and assistive technologies need similar infrastructure to understand your web content and relay that information to users.
What is Web Accessibility?
The web content accessibility guidelines — published by the W3c — are a set of practices that a developer or web designer should follow to ensure that everyone can access their website. The organization W3C was founded when the internet was still rather new with the mission of leading the web to its greatest potential.
For a complete list of guidelines, we encourage you to visit the W3C website and read the web content accessibility guidelines.
Why is Web Accessibility Important?
It’s important to follow the Web Accessibility Guidelines to ensure that everyone can access your website. A founding principle for equal access is the mindset that there are no disabilities, only societal structures that favor certain abilities — or modes of operating — over others.
When web developers adhere to website accessibility guidelines, they are expressing and reinforcing the idea that there is no one “correct” way to interact with the internet, and they are enabling all users to have access to whatever value they are bringing to their users.
It’s important to note that for many websites, adhering to the accessibility guidelines is not only a good thing to do, but having an inaccessible site can have serious legal repercussions.
For example, in 2019, a woman with a visual impairment took Beyonce to court because she was unable to use Beyonce’s website and buy herself a ticket to Beyonce’s concert.
According to the lawsuit, Beyonce Knowles’ Parkwood Entertainment LLC was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and New York state law, which “requires places of public accommodation to ensure access to goods, services, and facilities by making reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by George H.W. Bush in 1990 and is upheld by the U.S. Department of Justice.
6 Best Practices for Accessibility and SEO
Much of the overlap between SEO and accessibility best practices is because of the fact that search engines and assistive technologies — like screen readers — benefit from similar representations of data to deliver information to users.
Below you will find a list of Accessibility and SEO best practices you can apply to your website to help users and search engines have a better experience and to improve your online business.
A title tag is an HTML element that specifies the title of a page. Title tags appear as a clickable, blue link on search engine results pages (SERPs). The title tag typically reflects the title of the destination page.
Title tags are important for SEO because they indicate to a search engine what a given web page is about so that the search engine can rank your content on the appropriate search results page to go with a user search query.
A good formula for writing an SEO title tag is to include your primary and secondary keywords in the title, as well as your brand name. Additionally, the optimal length for a title is around 50-60 characters.
Title tags are an important aspect of accessibility because they enable screen reader users to easily understand what a page is about so they can find the information they are looking for from Google search.
Screen readers, like search engines, benefit from clear keywords that correctly reflect what web pages are about. However, on the topic of keywords, it’s important to remember that both search engines and screen readers don’t like keyword stuffing. Make sure to include your keyword, but don’t overuse any word simply for SEO purposes whether it’s in your title tags or within your content. Keyword stuffing creates a bad user experience for all users and will harm your SEO efforts.
Header structure refers to the title of your web page and all the subsequent subheadings. In other words, the header structure includes the HTML elements that indicate the structure of web content — H1, H2, H3 — in order to organize the information in a clear manner for users and search engines.
Headings and subheadings are arranged in a way that helps seeing users understand information on a web page more clearly through visual cues.
This method of organization, ideally, is similar to how a table of contents might be organized in a nonfiction book. The main heading (H1) indicates the overarching topic — For this article, it’s “SEO and Web Accessibility” — and is typically the largest title on the page.
Subheadings indicate the subtopics (H2) and are the second largest to visual users.
After the main subtopics, information can be divided up even further into topics within those subtopics (H3s, H4s). All of these headings appear to the visual user as gradually getting smaller.
Search engines don’t absorb web content data the same as visual users, so they require site owners to indicate the structure of information not by visual cues, but by header tag HTML elements.
Make sure to implement a clear header structure, and use the appropriate header tags. This benefits website accessibility for similar reasons it benefits SEO.
People that use screen readers don’t get the benefit of clear visual cues, which means they rely on H1, H2, and H3 tags, to organize the article or other content.
Image Alt. Text
Image alt text — or alt tags — are short bits of written text that explain what the content of an image is if an image fails to load or is not visible to a user. For example, the below picture is of a vector art computer. So, the alt text says, “grey computer vector art.” Image alt text is beneficial to both SEO and accessibility because it ensures that your image content is accessible to both users and search engines.
(If you want to get really meta, the alt text for the below image is actually “grey computer vector art alt image example.”)
Image alt text can be an effective way to increase traffic through your organic search channel via Google images. How does it accomplish this? Well, image alt text enables a search engine to understand what your image is about so that it can serve it to users when they type in a keyword related to the image.
“Google uses alt text along with computer vision algorithms and the contents of the page to understand the subject matter of the image. Also, alt text in images is useful as anchor text if you decide to use an image as a link.” (Source: Google )
Because Google uses computer vision algorithms, in addition to the alt text you provide, Google will be able to detect if you are keyword stuffing in your alt text. Don’t do it.
Of course, image alt text is also helpful to user experience. Screen readers read the alt text aloud for users to understand the content of an image — So, it’s Important that the alt text is clear, and not key-word stuffed. Screen reader users just want to know what’s in the image, not what you’re trying to rank for.
The anchor text — or link text — is the text used to anchor one web page to another. The best anchor text describes where a link goes clearly and concisely.
Search engines use anchor text to understand what your web page is about. Website owners can’t always control how other sites link to theirs but, you can make sure that anchor text you use within your own site is useful, relevant, and descriptive.
Anchor text (link text) should make sense without the surrounding sentences or content. The anchor text should convey the function and purpose of the link, without any need for further context.
It’s also important that link text is unique and easy to speak out loud. Repeat link text could confuse a screen reader user — especially if the links lead to different destination pages — and the more concise and accurate an anchor text, the better.
Audio transcriptions and video transcriptions are exactly as they sound — a text version of audio content. Audio and video transcriptions benefit both accessibility and SEO.
Video transcriptions benefit search engine optimization because search engines can easily crawl and index video content when it has been converted into an HTML text element enabling you to organically rank for more keywords.
The best transcription pages become unique article content with SEO best practices implemented — title tags, header structure, etc. That way, not only is the same content available to a wider audience, but the content has the potential to rank in organic search results and bring in additional traffic to your website or drive more views to the video (or listens to the audio).
For example, if you run a podcast, it’s a great idea to have well-structured show notes pages that include a full transcription of each episode.
Tip: To make the content more skimmable, include some key takeaways and a summary of the episode before the full transcript.
Video captions and audio transcripts are necessary for those that have a hearing impairment. Also, for some content, video transcriptions can help individuals that are sensitive to flickering or intermittent light stimulation and visual patterns — a condition called Photosensitive Epilepsy (PSE).
A best practice for accessibility is to have video content available both with captions and in a full-transcript format. For podcasts, ensure that there is a show notes page available for each episode and if it’s possible to include a full transcript within a podcast platform include the transcript there to make it more readily accessible.
Structured data — also known as schema markup — is a language used to help search engines and assistive technologies understand web pages more efficiently which makes it good for both SEO and accessibility.
Structured data enables Google and other search engines to clearly understand the content on your site — meaning search engine bots will be able to index your content to rank on relevant search results pages more accurately. Structured data also qualifies your site content for voice search and to be featured in rich results — also known as rich snippets.
(visual of structured data)
Structured data powers voice search. Voice search is an extremely useful tool in finding the appropriate search results page with less friction.
Structured data also helps people using various assistive devices, which use different browsers to better understand information on a page and navigate through content.
How to Conduct a Website Accessibility Audit
In order to conduct an Accessibility Audit for your website, we recommend using Google Lighthouse.