Accessibility & Inclusion

Does Web Accessibility Improve SEO?

December 12, 2022 7 minute read
Explore how embracing web accessibility can elevate your SEO efforts, leading to a more inclusive and discoverable website.

Anyone interested in having a successful and effective website will most likely already have an eye on both web accessibility and SEO. But how do the two interact, and does good web accessibility always equal improved SEO?

What is web accessibility?

First things first, what is web accessibility? Well, put simply, web accessibility refers to the design and development of websites, tools, and technologies so that they can be used by people with disabilities.

Most people will be able to empathize with the experience of a slow-loading website, for example, or trying to navigate a web page on your phone that has not been properly optimized for mobile use. While such occurrences are certainly irritating, they are nothing when compared to the obstacles regularly faced by disabled users online.   

In fact, for those with disabilities, the difference between an accessible experience and a non-accessible experience is not merely the difference between a smooth experience and a bumpy one. Instead, it can quite literally mean the difference between having access to an experience and having no access whatsoever.

But what does this have to do with SEO? Well, before we get into that, let’s first take a quick look at what SEO is and what it is used for.

What is SEO?

SEO, or search engine optimization, refers to the practice of orienting your website to rank higher in search engine results in the aim of receiving more traffic. Websites will typically aim to rank on the first page of Google results for search terms that mean the most to their target audience.   

SEO is a long established and necessary marketing technique for websites looking to attract organic, non-paid traffic by leveraging high quality, relevant content. However strong your SEO efforts are, you'll find that your search engine rankings and subsequent traffic will inevitably suffer if your website is not accessible.

With this in mind, let’s dive into how good website accessibility can improve SEO, and identify some key areas where the two subjects are deeply interconnected. 

How web accessibility impacts SEO

A number of recent studies have found that websites with more accessibility features have significantly better SEO rankings than those without them. But why is this the case? 

Well, there are a handful of ways that web accessibility directly affects SEO. In recent times search engines such as Google have explicitly stated that accessibility is taken into account when ranking websites. This means that websites will effectively be penalized if they are deemed to be inaccessible. 

Also, it is a simple fact that inaccessible websites are more likely to attract negative reviews and have higher bounce rates, both of which negatively impact SEO.  

How to improve your web accessibility and SEO

Readability

Ensuring that your content is not overly complex or jargon filled can immediately help improve accessibility, particularly for users with cognitive or learning disabilities. Many studies have found that using plain and simple language improves the user experience, which, in turn will have a positive impact on your SEO. 

Providing more readable content also benefits all users. Google boosts concise and easy to understand content. You can easily improve your readability by using web governance tools, and following readability tips.

Alt Text

Providing alternative (alt) text for images and graphics on your website makes it easier for visually impaired users and search engines to understand. If you were to remove the images from your website and just provide alt text, would you understand the context?

Providing alt text for images also opens you up to a source of organic traffic: Google images. Some users will go to a website purely based on choosing a hyperlinked image on the search engine results page (SERP).

Video transcripts and captions

Just as text equivalents of visual content are crucial to ensuring an accessible website experience, so too are captions and transcripts for audio and video content. By sharing video transcripts and properly applying captions, you allow users with hearing impairments, users in public places without headphones, and search engines to understand what the content of the video is about. These also help with indexing your videos which can increase your search traffic. On YouTube, Google uses the video description to rank videos and show featured snippets on the SERP.

Title tags

According to Moz.com, “Title tags are the second most important on-page factor for SEO, after content.” Page title tags are displayed as the ‘headline’ on SERP. Having a useful title tag helps all users find your content and particularly benefits those with a disability.

Page titles

Ensuring that your page titles are meaningful will positively impact both SEO and accessibility by making them fundamentally more understandable for both screen readers and search engines alike. 

Header structure

Well written, informative headings not only improve website accessibility, but can also improve SEO by allowing a greater number of people to navigate your content more easily. Properly structured heading tags help organize the structure of content to make it more navigable and understandable for users with a disability, users who use assistive technologies, those who need to use a keyboard to navigate sites, and search engines. Consider using your target keyword in subheadings and using a table of contents (which can appear as ‘jump to’ links on  the SERP) to increase visibility and click-through rates.

Site structure

Site structure is a key part of any SEO and web accessibility strategy. Being able to navigate through content easily and find the correct information quickly benefits everyone. Evaluating outdated content, organizing categories, creating clear navigation, using breadcrumb navigation, and providing a sitemap can help raise your web accessibility and improve SEO.

Lists

Properly marked up lists can benefit both accessibility and SEO by making them more visible to screen readers and giving the content more weight with search engine results. 

Descriptive links

Descriptive link text allows users, including those with certain disabilities, to understand a link's purpose before they follow it. Descriptive link text also has the added benefit of helping search engines to understand what your website is actually about. 

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs can be very helpful for users with disabilities, as they can allow visitors to determine where they are on a website. Breadcrumbs are also beneficial for search engines, as they provide them with valuable information about how your website content is structured. 

Text equivalents for images and other non-text content

Providing text equivalents for images and other non-text content is crucial for accessibility, as it gives visitors with low vision the ability to interact with it. As text equivalents are taken into account by search engines, they therefore also serve to add more context to the contents of your web pages. 

The above examples, while not comprehensive by any means, clearly show that SEO and web accessibility are not just related, but very often deeply interconnected.

Does accessibility actually improve SEO?

So, does web accessibility improve SEO? The answer is a definite and resounding yes!

The simple fact is that there is a considerable overlap between the things that improve website accessibility and SEO performance. This effectively means that taking care of one will often result in a positive impact upon the other.  

At the end of the day the lesson here is really quite straightforward — ensuring that your website is accessible for all potential visitors will increase your chances of being discovered in an online search. 

 

Want to see how your website stacks up? Book a demo to see how our Accessibility and SEO tools can help you achieve your goals and stay compliant.

Keep Reading

View More Resources