In the fight for traffic and conversions, brands may sometimes find themselves struggling against the Google algorithm and its updates. However, there’s an opportunity that many website owners might be missing out on in their attempt to improve their search engine rankings: accessible user experiences.
In Google’s search for the best web pages, page experience is essential and Google prioritizes how users interact with a site. In this article, we’ll explain the connection between accessibility and search engine optimization (SEO). We’ll also share strategies content marketing teams and developers can use to achieve favorable search rankings while creating inclusive digital experiences.
Better user experience = better SEO
Accessibility features ensure sites are usable for everyone, but they also make it easier for search engines to crawl and interpret websites. This is driven home further by Google’s December 2022 Helpful Content update. According to the update, the search engine wants to reward “people-first content”—things that are written by and for human users. To rank well, pages should provide a satisfying experience for all users.
Google’s Senior Search Analyst John Mueller has stated that quantifying ”accessibility” as one metric is difficult, beyond the reach of even what the search engine giant can do. However, he elaborated more on the subject of accessible websites and user experience on his Twitter account: “When sites are hard to use, people steer away from them anyway, so over time things like recommendations & other signals tend to drop away, resulting in the site being less visible in search too.”
A site being “hard to use” includes factors like being inaccessible to people using screen readers, poor contrast or readability of text, and not enabling people to use a keyboard alone to access every function and utility. Messy, difficult-to-navigate designs and interfaces will also render a webpage much less user-friendly.
In short: optimizing your site for accessibility will, in turn, improve user experience, which then rolls back over to SEO success.
SEO strategies that benefit accessibility
Here are four tools and strategies that ensure an accessible user experience for everyone, including people with disabilities, that can also be leveraged by website owners to improve SEO. While these are just a few of the ways brands can build accessible websites, they’re important foundational improvements to make.
Alternative text, also called alt text or alt attributes, describes an image or visual element on a page. On accessible websites, alt text enables people who are using screen readers to access and understand the information contained in visual content on a page.
Images that are not decorative—like maps, infographics, or photographs that add context or information—should be given alt text. This is not only an accessibility must-have, but alt text also helps Google crawl the page and learn the purpose of that content, and how to rank it. So, ensuring accurate alt text also provides a boost for SEO.
Metadata, as found either inside a digital publication or in an external record, refers to a set of data that describes other data. Think of it as the card catalog in a library; the cards have information about the books, like the author and title, but they don’t include the text of the books themselves.
Metadata is important for accessibility because it can contain important information that will help users find accessible websites, pages, and publications. For example, metadata could denote if a page has transcripts, large print, or closed captions for videos.
From an SEO perspective, metadata also helps a search engine to further understand the purpose of a page, allowing it to be placed correctly in search rankings as a result—another example of how SEO and accessibility often go hand in hand.
While video is a popular format for adding interest to a webpage, it needs to be accessible for everyone. Many people may rely on a transcript to understand what information is being portrayed in the audio and visuals of the video.
A transcript provides people who are deaf or hard of hearing with an alternative means of accessing the information provided by a video, and it can be especially helpful when used as the basis for closed captions. Video transcripts also help viewers who speak English as a second language fully comprehend your content and can be useful for people who learn better by reading.
But beyond these crucial accessibility benefits, providing a video transcript also helps search engine algorithms pick up on the point of a page, and use it to rank accordingly, since search engines can’t crawl video.
Accurate link anchor text
Anchor text, the clickable text in a hyperlink, should be relevant and specific, rather than generic text. The anchor text on a hyperlink should describe what the user is going to be taken to. A page with five links that all read “click here” or “read more” is especially unhelpful for someone using a screen reader, who doesn’t have the visual context around the hyperlink. Further, screen reader users often use a link list to navigate to a page they’re looking for, so if the anchor text links are all the same, or non-descriptive, these users will need to go through the entire body of text for context.
For those without a screen reader, vague links do not allow users to make an informed decision about whether to click a link. Google uses anchor text to understand the context and relevance of a page that’s being linked—a benefit for both SEO and accessibility. For example, when anchor text on a landing page reads “learn about ebike maintenance,” the search engine understands what the page being linked to is about, allowing it to index and rank the page accordingly.
To make progress on SEO, rely on WCAG
Marketers concerned about improving SEO and accessibility should understand the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG. Working toward meeting the WCAG standards will help a site meet what Google refers to as “readable content,” thus meeting the expectations of a positive user experience that will help the page rank better in search results.
When optimizing a website for user experience and setting accessibility goals, it’s best to keep in mind the guiding principles of accessibility on which WCAG was built. These four principles are referred to as POUR:
- Perceivable – Users can identify the interface elements of a site.
- Operable – Users can successfully use a website’s buttons and other interactive parts.
- Understandable – Users can comprehend and remember how to use the interface.
- Robust – The website content can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of users and types of assistive technologies.
A website that is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust is better for everyone. In tune with the Helpful Content Update and its emphasis on “people first” content, accessible websites that fit this rubric will drive the kind of site traffic and engagement that Google’s algorithm picks up on and identifies as helpful.
Is your website accessible?
User-friendliness, SEO, and accessibility go hand in hand. Ensuring that a brand’s website is accessible to everyone through the use of alt text, transcripts, accurate link anchor text, and more, will have the added benefit of a more thorough search engine crawl and a more accurate page rank.
But, how do you know if your website, app, or product is user-friendly and accessible? Let us help. With more than 20 years’ experience as a leader in digital accessibility, we can empower your organization with the tools and understanding you need to get started. Reach out to us for a free risk assessment and let us help you get on the path to accessibility and compliance.
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