Breaking barriers to accessibility and SEO

To mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day on 21 May, DigitalFWD partners Siteimprove talk us through the top five areas that make your website more searchable and at the same time accessible for more users. They have also created a free on-demand webinar.

Did you know that guidelines and best practices for SEO and web accessibility have many overlaps, and that with a little consideration you can kill two birds with one stone?

Accessibility aims at making web content accessible for as many users as possible, including those who are limited by a handicap. Search engines have a lot in common with the visually impaired; for instance they cannot "see" images, video content and JavaScript. The ability to have web page content interpreted and rendered mechanically is therefore of great importance to both search engines and users of assistive technologies.

Here are the top 5 most important overlaps:

1) Page titles

The page title is the most important on-page SEO element. Therefore the page title should describe the page content accurately, include important keywords, and be unique for every page. If you insist on including your company name, it should be placed after the keywords. At the same time the page title is the first thing a screen reader renders to the user. For this reason it is important that the page title provides a good description of what is expected from the page content.

2) Headings

Headings must be "real" headings (<H>), and not just styled to look like one, in order for search engines to recognize them as headings. Every page must have one H1 heading (the most important heading) where important keywords should be included. To make the page more readable you can divide it into subsections with H2 subheadings - ideally also including important keywords. For instance, if you have a visual impairment and are unable to get an overview of a web page visually, you need to have an overview in another way. This can be done by pulling out a list of headings on a page, which is why it is important that headings on the page are also headings in the code and that they are used to divide content into logical sections.

3) Alt texts

Alternative texts, or "alt text", were originally created to provide a text alternative to users who are unable to see an image. Search engines likewise cannot "see" an image. Instead they use the alternative text (contained in the HTML code) to understand what the image is showing and what its function is. Therefore, an alt text must describe the contents of an image. Make sure to include important keywords - but only if it makes sense in the context of the image. If a visually impaired user is not able to see an image, it is often of vital importance that an image be supplied with alt text that reflects the purpose of the image.

4) Link texts (anchor texts)

A link text should describe the page that it's linking to. Generic texts such as "click here" and "read more" do not provide any information to the search engine about the destination page. The same applies to users of screen readers when they try to get an overview of a web page. Often they may pull out a list of links on a page or tab between links, so it's important that the link text makes sense when read out of its context.

5) Sensory Instructions

If you are referring the user to a certain area/element on the web page, make sure that you do it in a way that enables all users to find it. A screen reader renders content to the user in one long sequence. For this reason there is no design or any columns when a user of screen reader receives content. Avoid, for example, saying: "You can find more information in the box on the right". Instead combine it with some text saying: "You can find more information in the box on the right with the heading 'Information about…'" Search engines also do not understand sensory characteristics, so you aren't gaining anything by saying "in the box on the right". Instead use sensible (search) terms explaining what you are referring to.


Click to access Siteimprove's free webinar on how accessibility and SEO