There is a strong business case for accessibility in web design.  In fact, it is becoming one of our favorite SEO strategies.

Our SEO team recently wrote an article on Google’s latest web development tool Lighthouse and its accessibility audit features. The main point of the article was that Google’s Lighthouse accessibility audit tool offered a boost for online accessibility.

Writing this article made us wonder if accessibility in web design could translate into more significant SEO benefits.  As a result, we discovered some SEO secrets we will share with you today.

The Accessibility & SEO Myth

Our first discovery was a post called The Accessibility & SEO Myths written by a well-known accessibility blogger named Karl Groves.  The blogger’s post argued that there is no business case for accessibility web design to be SEO friendly.   He explained that there is only a small number of areas where SEO and accessibility in web design overlap.  Our SEO experts recognize that he makes a valid point, but we disagree with his conclusion. The overlap may be small, but it is significant and a growing trend.  Hence accessibility in web development is becoming more and more compatible with basic SEO principals. Here is why.

Video captions have enormous SEO value and are critical for online accessibility.

According to a recent study by Facebook:

It is not surprising that people don’t disturb others and keep the sound off when watching videos.  The statistics above prove that videos have great potential for marketing online.  Furthermore, the captioning of a video is critical to get a users attention when it is needed most in the first three to ten seconds.   Hence, captioning is a big part of the online content experience for everyone, not just people with disabilities.

Captioning videos help everyone today, not just those with disabilities.

In summary, this is why captioning videos help both accessibilities in web design and SEO.

  • The popularity and effectiveness of using videos for online marketing are increasing.
  • Good quality videos keep people engaged, hanging out and coming back to your website and social media pages.
  • Captions are required to capture the attention of viewers in the critical first three seconds
  • Videos with captions are 85% more likely to be watched in full by people on Facebook and social media.
  • Captions improve an advertisers chances of getting the full message across in a positive way.

The economic benefit and business case for accessibility in video captioning is compelling. This argument is valid for both social media marketing and SEO.

Make sure you read and edit the results when using automated tools to create captions.

There are SEO benefits to captioning videos. However, the impact will not be the same if those keywords are messed up by the auto-caption tool.  Furthermore, individuals with disabilities are not the only ones using captions. Therefore issues with poorly captioned videos will impact the experience of a much broader audience.

Transcribe audio podcasts for accessibility in web design and SEO.

Creating audio content with text alternatives is an underutilized SEO strategy. It is time to reevaluate your approach if you are still building web pages with 100 words with a link to a 1-hour audio file. Why not transcribe the audio clip into a page that is rich with SEO friendly content.   This method will make your message SEO friendly and accessible to millions that cannot hear your podcast.

Online SEO tools encourage substantial word counts for content on a page.

One of the more popular SEO tools is Yoast SEO. This software is an SEO plugin for WordPress that scores the SEO value of a page or post. Millions use the plugin. The plugin analyzes your content and recommends no less than 300 words on a page.  Therefore transcribing audio and video is one way to boost your word count without a lot of extra work.

Image alt and title attributes are helpful for SEO and accessibility in web design.

Unlike text, pixels make up digital photos and graphics. Unfortunately, pixels are not readable using today’s standard web browsers and assistive software. For this reason, assistive technology can’t help disabled users to know whats in a picture.  Alt Image and title text attributes are an alternative description of an image. These tags make it possible for both search engines and accessibility software to see the picture. Therefore Image alt attributes facilitate both SEO and readability for those who have blindness or impaired vision. Having images can make your content more attractive.  SEO standards recommend having at least one on every page of your website.

Image captioning provides visual detail about images for SEO and accessibility.

Captions are typically displayed underneath a photo visible and used for everyone, not just the visually impaired.  Both web and graphic design use captions for pictures. Sometimes a photo requires more information for the reader. The most common is a group photo where the caption tells the reader who is in the picture.  We recommend image captioning for SEO and meeting WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines. Hence, having a picture with a descriptive caption not only looks good from a design perspective it has both SEO and accessibility benefits.

SEO and accessibility in web design both require header tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.)

The benefits of Header tags have documented going back to the beginning of the web design. Header tags organize the content of a page and need to have a logical order with H1 being the primary topic of a document. There can be only one H1 tag, and other headers follow in a nested hierarchy. It is important not to skip a header level. For example, going from H1 to H4 is confusing and undesirable.

In other words, header tags tell the reader what that topic is about like the name of a chapter in a book.   Sub-headers (h2, h3, h4, etc.) describe subtopics.

Link anchor text is critical for navigation and meaning in both accessibility and SEO.

For people to be able to navigate using a keyboard, a link anchor text is required. Disabled users navigate with the keyboard and do not use a mouse. For navigation to work screen readers need to read the link anchor text, so users know where the link will take them. The tab key allows users to go from link to link and the enter key performs the function of clicking on the link. Users with disabilities cannot navigate correctly without a precise and accurate link anchor text.

Anchor link text sends both page rank and a signal of meaning to search engines. The page that is linked to can get SEO benefits if the anchor link text includes essential keywords and phrases. Thus SEO and accessibility share the interests of good anchor link text. Where they differ is in the goal of their usage.

A good sitemap is an SEO and accessibility in web design benefit, especially for the large and complex website.

On-site sitemaps and breadcrumbs have SEO benefits by helping search engines index your content, while they assist visual and non-visual users with navigating. For sitemaps to be useful, they should be well organized and contain links to all content areas of your website.

The contrast, color, and size of text are essential for SEO and users who are visually impaired.

There are many levels of disability including those who have limited vision. When the text size, color, and contrast make it difficult to read these users with low vision can’t see or understand your website.

When it comes to SEO, search engines blacklist websites that use hidden text.   This black hat SEO technique what webmasters would use in the past to rank for keywords. Google states in its webmaster guidelines that the deceptive practices like hidden links and text will increase chances of your website getting delisted in a manual action.

Will accessibility in web design continue to improve SEO?

A better question is will Google Lighthouse make accessibility an integral part of SEO?   Lighthouse is Google’s latest dev tools for progressive application development that also contains a design audit test for accessibility.

Automated accessibility tools are not unique to the web.  However, Lighthouse is the only one included in Google’s new Flagship dev tool and Chrome.  It is where most developers are already testing there websites and applications. These same dev tools have testing audits for other well-known SEO ranking factors including mobile and page speed.

With all the benefits that SEO and accessibility in web design share, there is one thing holding back a complete match.

Google must make accessibility a ranking factor for accessibility in web design to succeed. Only then will SEO practitioners have a clear profit motive for making the web accessible to everyone. Google Lighthouse accessibility audit has the most potential to get us closer to this goal.

There may be a light, or Lighthouse, at the end of the tunnel for accessibility in web design.   For more on this topic read our article: Will the Lighthouse accessibility audit tool help make the web more accessible?

Contact one of our web design, SEO, and accessibility consultants if you need help making your website both SEO and WCAG 2.0 friendly.   Call 978-851-9077

Below are links to two WCAG 2.0 friendly websites that our team recently created:

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