Accessibility Drives Web Traffic

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If you have an accessible website, more persons with disabilities will frequent it.  By word of mouth, its good reputation will start to permeate the community of users with disabilities.  They might spread the word that all active elements are keyboard accessible, all images have proper text equivalents, and content has sufficient color contrast.  Since there are about one billion users with disabilities worldwide, accessible sites have the potential of getting a lot more hits than inaccessible ones. Yet, having an accessible website, one that complies with Section 508 standards and WCAG 2.0 standards, also draws traffic from non-disabled users and it enhances search engine optimization (SEO).  Compliance is a win for accessibility and a win for marketing.

You might ask what accessibility could possibly have to do with SEO.  Think of search engine bots that troll the internet as deaf and blind.  They consume content in much the same way as a person with disabilities who uses assistive technology does.  They can’t see visual content and they can’t hear audio content.  Here are a few accessibility techniques that help SEO.

Add text alternatives for images using the alt attribute. They allow screen reader users to identify the function or purpose of an image.  Search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, capture words in these attributes.  So if people are trying to find your company website and the logo has a descriptive text alternative, they will find the site faster.  Your company name appears at least twice in the web search results and at least once in the image results. 

That does not mean you should put a descriptive text alternative on every image on the site.  Decorative images that do not convey any information, such as the photos of the guy with the laptop and the magnifying glass on the Interactive Accessibility homepage, should be background CSS images or have empty alt attributes so they will be ignored by screen readers.  Descriptive alt attributes for decorative images also may seem like spam to search bots. For instance, if a website has a hundred images of people just for section decorations with the repetitive alt alternatives of “man” and “woman”, a search bot may consider the word repetition spam and may not index the site.

Webpages with a video or audio presentations should have transcripts.  Persons with hearing impairments reply on transcripts as alternatives to access spoken content and sounds.  Additionally, search bots can grab a lot of pertinent keywords from them. To illustrate, suppose A&Z Landscapers posted a video about gardening techniques on their site.  Imagine how many times the words “garden”, “landscape”, “grass”, and “flowers” are spoken in the video.  Now imagine how many times those words would appear in search engine results if a transcript accompanied the video.

Having an accurate page title facilitates accessibility and SEO.  Without informative page titles, screen reader users and users with cognitive impairments do not know the purpose of each page.  Lack of page titles also prevents search engines from indexing websites properly.  Imagine a spa named LaLook that has a website without page titles.  When users google the word “spa”, LaLook may not appear in the top search results because the search engine didn’t capture “spa” as part of its page titles.

Even heading elements, which allow screen reader users to navigate to specific sections of the page, can help websites get more hits.  Search engines also use these elements (<h1> to <h6>) to identify webpage titles and subtitles, which should contain keywords. For example, even though the Home Page has headings identified visually by a bold, large font, they are not structured with <h1> to <h6> elements. The headings of “Come In” and “Available Services” also are not indicative of keywords for the page content.  More descriptive, structured headings like “Come in to LaLook” and “Available Spa Services” would bring more visitors to the website.

Making your website accessible does not just mean accommodating persons with disabilities; it also means a broader exposure on search engines.  Incorporating accessible techniques within the content and structure of your site can increase traffic like a crowded New York street.

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