Best practices for search engine optimization and web accessibility have many overlaps, and with a little consideration you can actually make your website both more searchable and accessible at the same time. By prioritizing the five following areas of overlap, you can work more efficiently with your website management.

Watch The On-Demand Webinar: Web Accessibility Can Boost Your SEO and learn how accessibility impacts search engines.

Accessibility aims at making web content available and usable for as many visitors as possible, including those who are limited in their digital activities by a disability. Search engines are, in a sense, blind, for 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. Fix accessibility issues and boost your SEO by ensuring the following:

1. Pages that clearly communicate their topic

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. 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. Content that is structured in a reader-friendly way

Headings must be 'real' headings (with <H> tags) 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 sub sections with H2 sub headings - ideally also including important keywords. 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 these are actually coded as headings, and that they are used to divide content into logical sections.

3. Informative images

Alternative texts, or alt texts, were originally created to provide a text alternative to users that are unable to see an image. Search engines too cannot 'see' an image. Instead, they use the alternative text 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 an alt text that reflects the purpose of the image, for example: "View of Manhattan and the Empire State Building". Check out our Global Accessibility Awareness Day video to hear what a screen reader sounds like when there is not alt text.


View of Manhattan and the Empire State Building

4. Meaningful links

A link text, or anchor 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 also when read out of its context.

“Click here” or “Read more” = Bad Link Text

“Read more about SEO and Web Accessibility in this blog post.” = Good Link Text

5. Sensible navigation

If you are referring the user to a certain area or element on a 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. In other words, there are no design or columns when a user of screen reader receives content, which is why you should avoid that so-called 'sensory instructions' stand alone. For example, avoid saying: "You can find more information in the box to your right". Instead, combine it with some text saying: "You can find more information in the box to your 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 to your right." Instead use sensible (search) terms explaining what you are referring to.

Extra things you can do:

1. Transcribe video content

Search engines and visually impaired users are unable to 'see' video. Therefore, it is a good idea to make a transcript of the content so that screen readers and search engines can read the text and thereby make it available for search engines.

2. Avoid images of text

Text in an image is still just an image. To make search engines and read-aloud tools capable of reading the text it must be actual text and not an image of text, for example a jpeg-banner with a slogan not providing any actual text information. Furthermore, text in images cannot be adapted to fit users' needs such as changing text size, font or colours.

3. Be careful with JavaScript in menus

Search engines are not always able to understand JavaScript which makes it a bad idea to use JavaScript in menus. Worst case scenario is that the search engines are only accessing the front page while all other pages are not found in search results. Always use ordinary text links in menus. Another issue is that menus and other content made with JavaScript can often only be activated by mouseOver and not via keyboard focus. This makes the web page work poorly, or not at all, if you are navigating by keyboard alone (and cannot use a computer mouse).

4. Provide the most important information first

Search engines, and sometimes users too, read a page from top to bottom (sequentially). Therefore, make sure that important content is given initially.

To dig deeper into the subject you can watch Siteimprove's on-demand webinar "Web Accessibility Can Boost Your SEO".


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