Did you know that most websites are inaccessible or difficult to access for millions of people? And this is not due to financial means, technical equipment, or the internet provider.
It's about people with mild to severe disabilities for whom it’s not so easy to use websites and the information they contain. This is often because the font size is too small, the texts are too difficult to understand, or the contrast of the website cannot be adjusted.
All these functions can be added to a website with simple means and thus make the experience better for everyone, reaching far more people.
But what role does accessibility play in SEO, and how can accessibility help you rank your website? That's exactly what we'll answer in this article.
What Is Accessibility in Terms of SEO?
Accessibility for SEO and on the internet refers to the extent to which a website can be used by people with disabilities.
The focus is on:
- Processing information
An estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide live with significant disabilities, which represents 16% of the global population. This number does not even include people with a slight visual impairment, a concentration disorder, or a color vision deficiency.
It therefore stands to reason that accessibility plays an important role in the user experience on websites and SEO. This is because, since Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013, search engines have started to pay more attention to the user experience when ranking websites.
The focus is no longer on the pure number of keywords to classify a website as relevant, but on the content and how users interact with it.
How Does Accessibility Differ from the Terms “Barrier-Free” or “Disabled-Friendly”?
Accessibility in SEO and on the web describes the means of access to websites and the information on them.
Words such as "barrier-free" or "disabled-friendly", which are frequently used not only in connection with websites but also with accommodations and venues of all kinds, rather refer to marketing terms.
They are used to describe that the regulations on accessibility have usually been implemented in small parts. In the end, this often has little to do with accessibility on websites and refers to rather meaningless things, such as the fact that a website has a night mode.
What Is the Difference between Accessibility and Usability?
Usability and accessibility for SEO are often used interchangeably. However, this is not correct, as two different things are meant.
Accessibility aims to make it easier for users who have a physical or mental disability to access web content. This can be achieved with a clean website structure where everything is well-visible and easy to follow and by using specialized tools that optimize the experience for a variety of conditions.
Usability refers to how user-friendly a website is for the general public. It is mostly about intuitive use and navigation. This includes everything that contributes to a pleasant website experience, ranging from page loading times to small details such as using social media icons to link your profiles or a basket icon for a shopping cart.
Usability is therefore geared towards the average user, no matter if they have disabilities or not. The scope is to make processes simpler, more intuitive, and faster for them to reach what they desire. It's also closely linked to user satisfaction but is to be clearly distinguished from accessibility in SEO.
The goal of accessibility is to give people access to web content that they did not have before due to their limitations.
What Are the Advantages of Accessible Websites?
Since any website should be easy to use, making it highly accessible also has a positive effect on the general user experience. And because the user experience is becoming increasingly important for Google's ranking algorithm, it also provides a clear advantage for SEO.
Think about it.
- A website with high contrasts is easier to read, especially in bright sunlight
- Using simple wording makes text easier to comprehend
- Large enough fonts make content more readable
These seemingly small things can go a long way.
If we just take simple wording as an example, then non-native speakers and people with poor concentration will also have a better experience, thereby resulting in lower bounce rates and longer time spent on the website (which are big ranking factors nowadays).
Moreover, it can avoid pogo-sticking (searchers quickly navigating back and forth between pages in search results), as it is easier for users to recognize what they are looking for.
To top it up, simple texts also help Google's crawlers decode website content and thus categorize it more accurately. And this was only one advantage that can be attributed to accessibility.
Now comes the biggest advantage of an accessible website.
You may have already guessed it, if you enable more people to access your website, you have the opportunity to generate a greater reach. This is not a small number. As we’ve mentioned earlier, that’s more than 1.6 billion people who would have a better experience on your website compared to the vast majority of other websites. A sensible switch to an accessible website therefore makes perfect sense, as this is a considerable proportion of the population.
And let's not forget people with mild visual impairments and concentration problems, because this number is even higher and can also be addressed with website adjustments.
6 Ways to Make a Website More Accessible
Making your website accessible doesn't have to be complicated. It is enough if you concentrate on the following points to utilize 80% of what is possible overall. If you want to go 100% or if your target audience is people with disabilities, then take a close look at number 6.
1. Clear Structure and Navigation
A clearly structured website offers advantages for accessibility and SEO. It also makes it easier for everyone to find their way around the site.
As a basic rule, a user should be able to reach a desired page in a maximum of 2-3 clicks. The most common practice to achieve this is to build a straightforward hierarchy.
The idea behind the hierarchical model is that if people land on your homepage, they can follow an intuitive flow of pages to get to their desired page.
Example: Homepage -> Men’s Clothing -> Tops, Pants, Shoes -> Shoes
Your goal should be to keep paths to any page as short as possible.
Make sure your main categories are well-visible in your website header and footer, and if you notice any long paths on your website, try to break them up by building more categories or subcategories.
A well-designed structure that is intuitive to use not only makes your website more accessible but also results in better conversion rates and lower bounce rates.
2. Increase Font Sizes
Make sure that the body text (the primary text that people read) on every page is never smaller than 16 pixels. This applies to both desktop and mobile devices.
Not only people with visual impairments will thank you, but also perfectly healthy users and Google will perceive a good font size positively.
3. Provide Images with Alt Attributes
People with visual impairments often depend on screen readers, who reproduce the text of websites as audio.
But what happens when there is an image in between?
This is exactly where the "alt attribute" or "alternative text" comes into play and is then read out. It is therefore important that you, as a website owner, always fill in the "alt," or often "alternative text," field descriptively. Note that this is only meant for a short, keyword-like description of what is visible in the image, not a super long explanation.
While AI and image decoders can distinguish cats from dogs in images without any problems, we are still a long way from recognizing complex scenarios. The main problem is that the algorithms and AI are not yet able to determine the exact context.
So if a woman wearing a yellow sweater is sitting on a chair, the probability that an AI screen reader would accurately describe the situation is low. If the sweater is to be advertised in the image, it is almost impossible to do this without an alternative image text because you have to deliver the context (that it’s about the woman wearing the sweater).
This means that for some time, you will still have to determine what is read to the user when a screen reader reads the alt text.
However, the alt attributes are not only important for screen readers. If an image is not loaded, cannot be loaded, or is blocked, an alt attribute not only displays an empty space but also the alt text, giving the user an idea about what would be visible here.
That wasn’t it, because search engines use the alt attribute to understand your image and classify your page content. On top of that, they also use it for their image search, giving you an additional opportunity to rank your images if your alt text has a high relevancy for a user’s search request.
Alt Attributes for Videos
The fact that the world's largest video platform, YouTube, belongs to Google should not be ignored when it comes to accessibility for SEO and its impact on rankings.
Videos with a link description have the same advantage as labeled images. They can be read and assigned by screen readers and crawlers. Plus, subtitled videos also allow people with hearing impairments to read the full content of the video.
4. Simple Wording
To increase rankings through accessibility for SEO, easy wording is essential on any website.
Your sentences should be short and written in simple language.
Depending on your target audience, foreign words and technical terms should be avoided as much as possible. The simpler the text is written, the more users will be able to understand it, and the faster web crawlers can classify your content.
5. Don’t Forget Your Mobile Version
While you edit your website on a desktop computer, remember that today most websites are viewed on smartphones.
Accordingly, accessibility for SEO should not end at the PC.
Make sure that your layout, text, navigation, and buttons are just as recognizable, clickable, and readable on mobile devices.
If that’s not enough information yet, here it comes:
Google has adopted a mobile-first approach for indexing and ranking websites. This means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of a website's content for indexing and ranking. Historically, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page's content, but as the majority of users now access Google Search with a mobile device, the mobile-first index better serves their needs. Websites optimized for mobile devices, with responsive design and fast mobile loading times, are therefore favored in Google's search rankings.
6. Use Accessibility Software
It is very difficult if not impossible to achieve complete accessibility just by making code changes to your website.
Since there are many different disabilities with individual requirements and we still want to deliver great usability for the average user, it requires an individual customization option for users to provide optimal accessibility for everyone.
Luckily, there are several tools in the form of software widgets that solve this problem. Especially for larger enterprises, authorities, and companies with a special focus on people with disabilities, this is usually the fastest, most professional, and cheapest solution, as you don't have to develop anything yourself.
Based on our tests, the best software to make your website instantly accessible is accessiBe.
All it requires to make it work is adding a small code snippet to your website. From here their AI starts analyzing your website and adds a fully functional widget to your site. Their AI also re-checks your pages every day for any changes on your website. Most other software solutions don't have such reliable AI or rely on a manual setup.
Still worthy of mention are these providers:
To see what these accessibility tools can do and look like, simply open the websites of the providers and click on the small icons in the bottom corners of their websites. You will see that a menu opens with all the functions that users can select to personalize their experience:
Since all of these widgets differ only slightly, we recommend choosing the provider whose widget layout you like best, as long as their pricing matches your budget.
The global proportion of people with disabilities is huge. And even if accessibility is not always clearly recognizable as a direct ranking factor in search engines, there are many correlations.
Based on the number of people affected and the many indirect factors for SEO, it can be said that accessibility is important for SEO if we look at it from a usability perspective.
With our tips for optimizing your website, you can attract a large number of people who will prefer to visit your website rather than your competitors whose websites are not optimized, and you will also benefit from positive engagement signals from Google which improve your rankings substantially.
It is therefore essential that you use the basics discussed and possibly one of the recommended software tools to deliver an even better experience for people with disabilities.