The Importance of Website Accessibility for SEO

Stephen McCance June 15, 2021

The aim of making a website accessible is to offer an equal opportunity for every user to understand your content. Google’s objective is to promote the best possible user experience in all areas, and so some elements of SEO place a particular emphasis on accessibility for all users. If you fail to meet Google’s expectations in this area, you completely negate what they’re trying to do as one of their primary purposes, so are likely to suffer the consequences when it comes to where you rank in SERPs. However, when you put the effort in to make sure your website is as accessible as possible, you are likely to be rewarded in terms of rankings and, consequently, organic traffic. For this reason, SEO and website accessibility understandably go hand in hand.

We will be looking at how you can make your website more accessible and, as a result, reap the benefits from an SEO point of view. Your primary concern should always be user experience, so finding a balance between optimising the website from a user experience and SEO point of view is important. If you’re unsure of the impact changes to your website might have, seek professional advice.

How To Make Your Website More Accessible

Have Descriptive Link Texts

For visually impaired users, having descriptive link texts is essential. This is also known as  “anchor text”, which refers to the clickable text in a hyperlink. Making sure that this piece of text is descriptive will provide users with the context they need to establish whether it will be useful for them to click through, therefore improving overall navigation. 

Avoiding common phrases such as “click here” and “see more” is important, as it can be disorientating when read by a screen reader. This is because screen readers often pull out a list of all the links on a page, helping visually impaired users to find the most relevant links should they want to find out more information. As you can probably tell, having a non-descriptive link text like “see more” is extremely unhelpful and uninformative in this situation. So, making the link text as contextual as possible is important from an accessibility perspective. 

In terms of SEO benefits, search engines like to see descriptive link texts. Making sure that the link text is relevant to the page it is linking to will help search engines to understand what the page is about, also helping them to rank the page for relevant keywords. When link building, using your target keywords in the anchor text will indicate to search engines that your page should rank for that keyword. However, the 2021 Penguin Algorithm Update enforced a new focus on anchor text diversity, meaning that too many exact match keywords will indicate spam and could negatively impact rankings. So, a combination of exact match keywords and partial match keywords (e.g. ‘SEO Birmingham,’ as an exact match keyword and ‘SEO agency in Birmingham’ as a partial match keyword) will help with the diversity that Google pushes for.

Take time to write meaningful text links and you will be assisting users as well as contributing to your SEO efforts. 

Alt Tags

Alt tags are another component that can help to optimise your website from both an SEO and accessibility point of view. An alt tag is an HTML attribute that can be applied to images to offer a text description of what that image shows. The original purpose of alt tags was for visually impaired users, as screen readers can access a description of the image so it can be easily understood within the context of the piece of content. 

This can also be beneficial for users with slow loading internet, as images can be turned off if necessary and the alt tags will help to convey the relevant information that is missing without the image itself, helping the page to load quicker. Transcribing videos is also worth mentioning here, as they offer hard of hearing viewers the same viewing experience as other users.

In terms of SEO, having properly formatted alt tags and offering a clear description of the image, can help your page to rank well. It is important for the alt tags to provide context of what the image is displaying, so this is an opportunity to implement additional relevant keywords on the page. The tags you use should be a clear description of the product or service you offer in order to help attract qualified users. Similarly, video transcriptions also serve as an opportunity to add more written text to a page, which will likely have naturally occurring keywords within it that are relevant to the website and terms that you are looking to rank for.

Semantic Markup

Semantic markup is a method of structuring HTML to help reinforce the meaning behind the content. This is an important factor when it comes to accessibility, as the HTML structure of a page is essential when it comes to screen readers scanning a page. Assistive technologies rely largely on this to navigate and understand the web page, especially in establishing headings, sections and subsections to enable easy navigation. Rather than simply seeing the content, semantic markup helps search engines to understand the meaning behind it, thus improving user experience. 

From an SEO perspective, semantic markup allows you to add context to your web page, offering search engines another indication of exactly what the webpage is about and how it is useful for the user. A clearly structured website is fantastic for user experience, which Google values greatly. So, making sure that semantic markup is used will enable easier interpretation of information, which will contribute to improved rankings. 

Implement A Proper Heading Structure 

A proper heading structure will enable assistive technologies to easily identify where the headings are, helping users to find relevant content in the correct order and format. This is one of the best methods of organising the content on a page as well as helping people with disabilities to access the information they need. 

In order to do this, firstly you need to make sure that the headings are descriptive. This will ensure users can make an informed decision about the sections they are going to read and those they don’t need. Descriptive headings also help to enhance a web page in the eyes of Google, clearly indicating what a page is about. 

Additionally, the order of your headings on the page will influence how people are able to navigate the website. For example, if you had a H1 followed by a H3 and then a H2, failing to follow the logical sequence could cause confusion in relation to how assistive technologies understand the content. Again, skipping heading levels makes it difficult for people to navigate efficiently and avoid the information that will not be valuable to them. As this makes navigation more challenging, Google will see it as a flaw in terms of accessibility. So, maintaining a logical order is key. 

In summary, a better heading structure is better for all users and, therefore, better for SEO. 

Clarity and Readability of Text

Finally, clarity and readability of text is another important element when it comes to SEO and accessibility. If a website has very small text, it can be ineligible for particular users with visual impairments. The Website Content Accessibility Guidelines recommend that text can be zoomed to 200% without completely distorting the layout, which can be achieved through a liquid layout. This means that regardless of the needs of the user, the page can be easily adjusted and will ensure that horizontal scrolling isn’t required, a massive benefit when it comes to accessibility.

Again, having an easily adjustable and accessible website is recognised by Google when it comes to accessibility, and also has a positive impact on mobile optimisation. Both of these are ranking criteria that Google place a strong emphasis on, and so ensuring that text is of a viable, clear size on all devices will make you more likely to be rewarded in SERPs.

Final Thoughts

As with many of these components, when you prioritise improving the experience for every user on your website as much as possible, it will be recognised by Google and will ultimately lead to your website being rewarded when it comes to ranking position. The accessibility points above are just a starting point, however they have the potential to offer users accessible and relevant content and should form part of your overall SEO strategy. The more relevant and accessible your website is, the better the impact on your SEO.

Although accessibility had previously not been prioritised in many SEO strategies, the two are now closely aligned and, as such, your overall results will be found wanting if your SEO plan doesn’t take user accessibility into consideration. When implementing SEO tactics, putting accessibility and overall user experience generally at the forefront of your website’s design is one of the best ways you can get your website a better place for all users whilst also indicating to search engines that you’re worthy of ranking well.

If you’re unsure about how to implement any of these components, or you have any questions about how to make your website more accessible to all users, contact us for more information.

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