UserWay Logo UserWay Logo Mobile
Feature image The Impact of Accessibility on SEO

Accessibility may seem like a highly technical subject, but it’s really about simplicity. Regardless of the abilities a website visitor may have, a site should be easy to navigate and understand. 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 is working to make the process painless for everyone, from web developers to content writers to end-users. One way we’re doing that is through an AI-powered accessibility widget that can make any site ADA & WCAG Compliant.

While our primary focus is accessibility, our clients are always quick to notice the widget provides a boost to their search rankings. Here’s why: Google doesn’t just crawl sites looking for keywords and measuring load times. It assesses how accessible a site is as well. So if you’re truly concerned about SEO, it means you can’t ignore the effect accessibility has on search rankings.

What Does an Accessible Website Look Like?

It was recently announced that a Google Page Experience update is coming sometime in 2021, with changes planned for its set of Core Web Vitals. These include metrics related to speed, responsiveness, and visual stability.

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

Screen readers and SEO best practices work hand in hand. Being inaccessible can lead to ranking penalties from Google as well as 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 also lead to more time spent on your site along with higher click-through rates.

What SEO elements are related to accessibility?

Basic technical SEO principles such as using headings, including keyboard controls in interactive elements, and adding alt text for images ensures that any visitor can navigate your site.

These fundamentals don’t just improve user experience, but search engines evaluate them when determining rankings. Failing to meet these basic accessibility standards can have consequences as extreme as your site being flagged as spam, but a more common outcome is to be listed pages away from the top search results.

The fundamentals of SEO and accessibility overlap

It doesn’t matter which discipline you start with, both require attention in the following areas:

  • Site and page structure
  • Video captions
  • Alt text for images
  • Readability of content

Your page structure makes it easy for search engines crawling your site to decipher what it’s about. Similarly, screen readers will crawl your site to allow people who are visually impaired to engage with your content. In both examples, it’s in your best interest to segment your pages into clear sections using meaningful header tags.

Poor page structure doesn’t just harm the readability of your site, but it can also make it impossible for people with disabilities to use. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for people who use screen readers to find themselves randomly jumping to different parts of a site because of poor structure. Additionally, now that Google’s ranking algorithm is based on human behavior, the proper structure has become essential if you want to have a successful SEO strategy.

SEO and 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 key areas, commonly known as POUR:

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

Looking at your website, which of these items do you think needs to be improved? Even small refinements will go a long way toward making your SEO health improve. 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 that relates to SEO is called 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 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 needing to rely on costly and time-consuming programmers and development resources. In just a few minutes, you can have an interface with options for adjusting your site’s contrast, its font sizes, and its color saturation—all with an accessible and compliant site structure that uses proper heading levels.

The AI-powered UserWay Accessibility Widget is your first step to a more accessible, and better-ranking, website. And when it’s used in conjunction with a comprehensive accessibility strategy, you can ensure both your SEO and accessibility standards are ADA-compliant.

The UserWay widget improves SEO results due to the way Google’s search crawlers scan its code. Since the widget was written according to the best practices for ARIA markup, the crawlers can easily identify the structure and purpose of each page. 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.

Other Ways to Make Your Site Accessible

ARIA markup is just the beginning when it comes to web accessibility. There are numerous other standards that 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 by only using a keyboard.
  2. Ensure all of your website content works while zoomed in and is responsive to mobile technologies.
  3. Remove or adapt content that is 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 an option to pause/stop any site elements that automatically move.

Once you have this list 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, but 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 of this is the use of non-descriptive alt text with rankable keywords as the main 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 what most people think. On the off chance that you think 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 higher search rankings and better user engagement.

Additional Reading:

https://developers.google.com/web/fundamentals/accessibility

https://www.w3.org/TR/wai-aria-practices/

https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/aria/

https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref/

https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/

https://www.valuewalk.com/2019/08/ada-lawsuit-web-accessibility/

https://blog.chromium.org/2020/05/introducing-web-vitals-essential-metrics.html

https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/experience/page-experience