Optimising your website to meet basic accessibility standards creates a positive experience for all your users which will help improve your search engine ranking. Here are 10 ways to improve accessibility.
What does accessibility really mean?
Accessibility is about creating an environment that is friendly to all of its users, customers and visitors.
Web accessibility ensures that all users are able to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with a website and encompasses all disabilities which may affect how a user experiences your website. This includes auditory, cognitive, physical, neurological, and visual disabilities. For example, some people cannot use a mouse, or they need to use a screen reader or other assistive technology to help them understand the content.
On a website, this means that all content can be read, all visuals can be seen, and all media can be viewed by everyone.
Can you safely say that’s the case with your website?
How accessibility helps boost SEO
“There’s a considerable overlap between features that enhance accessibility and SEO performance.”
By making your web pages accessible to everyone, you’re also boosting your chances of being found in search results.
Google are shifting their focus towards rewarding sites that provide a good user experience with their tool Google Lighthouse which measures accessibility as one of the metrics alongside performance, best practices and SEO.
Accessibility is related to user experience, usability, and user-centered design. So anything which helps improve this will, in turn, mean that your website will have more visitors who will spend longer on your site and will be more likely to return. This is the very basis of SEO.
1. Text size
While there is no official minimum font size for the web, it is generally agreed that 16px for body text is a good starting point. Headings should be larger.
Visitors must be able to resize all text on a page up to 200% of its original size. This can be achieved through a user’s browser settings but will only work if your website has a responsive design.
Google will flag pages that are ‘hard to use’. That is, if a page is difficult to use on a small screen due to the text being too small or links being too close together.
2. Alternative text (Alt text)
For users having a hard time seeing images on your website, the alt text and caption fields are really important.
This text helps assistive technology, like screen readers, describe images to visually impaired users. It also allows search engines to better crawl and rank your website.
Read our article on How to make images accessible for everyone.
Videos, podcasts and any other interactive media content (this includes media such as slideshows and infographics) should have alternative formats for people who can’t hear the audio information, see the visual information or process the information in the provided time.
Providing captions and transcripts for these users are a must.
Video transcripts increase search traffic because search engines can’t watch a video or listen to audio, but they do index text. A transcript enables search engines to understand your multimedia content and index it accordingly.
4. Meaningful link text
Link text should inform users of what they should expect to find when they click on a page. They are also used by search engines to help them to understand the context of the page.
Using vague words like “Click Here” or “Read More” gives the user no clue about what information is there. The user has to scan the surrounding text to understand the context.
Link text should be descriptive and meaningful.
Read our article on Why you shouldn’t use “click here”
5. Text organisation
Use large and clear titles on top of every page. This will help in the readability of the page as well as navigation.
Within the body of text on each page use obvious headings, section breaks, and abundant white space so that visitors have a clear visual field to read from.
Use Appropriate Mark-up for Lists. When screen readers come to a properly marked up list, they will notify the user that there is a list and how many items are in it.
6. Link colour and styling
4.5% of us are colour blind so it is not a good idea to rely on colour alone to signify a link. You should use another visual clue such as underlining.
Underlining should only be used for links, if you use it for headings, that are not links, it will be confusing to the user.
Colour contrast between text and background is important on web pages and for text to be readable. For other elements to be distinguishable they also need to have sufficient contrast with the background.
Don’t use a colour just by itself. Anything that is indicated by colour needs to have a secondary way for it to be distinguished. For example it is not sufficient to say “use the green button if you agree or the red button if you don’t” without an additional visual clue such as button text.
8. Internal search
Providing an internal search bar that’s ever present at the top of the site is important for many websites, particular on large and ecommerce sites.
Ideally, the search bar should come with voice search capabilities as well.
Internal search can actually help your keyword research because Google Analytics provides you with all the keywords people have used in the internal search option on your website. This can help you improve the structure and content of your site.
9. Form directions
Forms can be confusing and challenging to use. Forms which provide clear instructions and field labels make it much easier for users to complete them correctly.
10. Simple messaging
User experience studies show that users only read about 20-28% of content on a web page (Source: Nielsen Norman Group). People tend to scan the page, picking out keywords as shortcuts to the information they are seeking.
You should therefore avoid too much content and industry-specific jargon or slang. Simple messaging helps improve your conversion rate, and therefore SEO, because your users can understand what action they need to take.
How to test Accessibility
There are several tools which can be used for testing accessibility, including many Chrome extensions which can be run in the browser to evaluate specific web pages. Here are some I have found the most useful:
WAVE Evaluation Tool
The WAVE Evaluation tool is developed by webAIM.org and provides visual feedback about the accessibility of content by adding icons and indicators onto the page.
Siteimprove Accessibility Checker
The Siteimprove Accessibility Checker provides a clear overview of a page’s accessibility issues with clear explanations of how they affect users.
This tool also displays recommendations for fixing the identified issues.
Google’s Lighthouse tool also performs an accessibility audit and provides a score similar to the one used for performance.
However, unlike with the performance audits, each accessibility test is either a pass or fail and the page will not get any points for partially passing.
In this post, we’ve seen that accessibility and SEO go hand in hand. By working on one, we enhance the other.
Most of these measures are easy to implement and create a more pleasant experience for all website users. Accessibility is an investment of time and energy worth making.