The term accessibility can sometimes be treated as a buzzword that companies slap on to look empathetic. But accessibility for people with disabilities makes a massive difference in the user experience for everyone. 

Not only does it offer opportunities to consume content that might not otherwise be available but also it can enhance search engine optimization (SEO), bringing that content to larger audiences. 

While most businesses now recognize the importance of both accessibility and SEO, many still treat them as separate concerns, failing to recognize the significant underlying relationship between the two. They are two sides of the same coin.

What Is Web Accessibility and Why Is It Vital?

Accessibility is making sure everyone can use the products, services, and digital technologies provided. Some examples of this include wheelchair-accessible ramps, Braille on signs, pavement markers, auditory signals on crosswalks in a physical setting, and automatic slide doors at retailers

In terms of web accessibility, this relates to removing barriers to understanding, accessing, and  interacting with websites and digital products. So, you want to make it possible for people with auditory, visual, speech, cognitive, and mobility disabilities to achieve their goals with your website or product. This also often extends to the user experience. 

With the pandemic driving more people online than ever before and the internet constantly expanding its reach, web accessibility is reaching new heights. To help you capture more of your target audiences, here are eight ways to boost accessibility that will also help SEO, and correlate with WCAG success criteria.

8 Ways to Boost Accessibility and SEO

1. Use Title Tags for Page Titles

Page titles tell the reader about the page they're reading. They give context about the web page. When someone has multiple tabs open, they’re able to identify what each tab contains thanks to the page titles. They are also instrumental in helping people who use screen readers know what page they’re on.

The title tag appears in the HTML to identify the name of the page title. These show on the browser’s tab and on search engine results pages. The page title tells the user what the page is about to help them decide whether to visit the page. It also helps everyone including screen readers quickly differentiate between tabs. The page title is usually the first thing announced when a screen reader navigates to a webpage. Also, page titles may be used when sharing on social media and when exporting an HTML document.

Because of this influence on screen readers and tab names, the page title needs to match the subject of the page. Some websites use the same page title for all their pages to try to optimize the keywords for search engines. For example, a website about apple pies may create a page title of “apple pies” for all their pages. If someone has five tabs open for this website, they will see “Apple Pie” on all five tabs. They won’t know which one is the about, blog, news, services, or careers pages. An example of this would be if you have a page titled “about us” the tab it correlates with should also say “about us”.

2. Use Headings

Assistive technologies and search engine crawlers work similarly. For example, the main content of the page is marked up as H1, which is the top level heading. Subheaders will be marked up as H2 to H6 to structure the page. This format helps to match the page to the author's intent and make it clearer for users.

Screen readers and other assistive technologies rely on this structure to quickly navigate a page. This aid is essential for making it easier for users with cognitive or reading disabilities to find relevant information. 

In most cases, a web page should only have one H1. Then you’ll want to use headings in order without skipping one. For example, avoid making one heading H2 and the next one H4 or even H1. The next one should either be H2 or H3. 

On this page, “8 Ways to Boost Accessibility and SEO” is H2. Each of the eight headings are H3. Then the last item “Accessibility Boosts SEO While Being Easy to Implement” is H2.

3. Publish a Site Map

Site maps provide users with an outline of the entire site to help them get the lay of the land and figure out where they want to go. This feature is especially useful for websites with a lot of content. Search engine crawlers use site maps to find more pages to scan. The more pages reviewed by crawlers, the better your website will rank.

These site maps also display all parts of the site, which is helpful for users who may be overwhelmed with too much content. They can find what they need right away without the frustration of searching.

Make sure your site map is clear. Use structure and design elements to make it easy to read and follow. 

4. Provide Clear Navigation

Global navigation, usually in the header, allows users to move from page to page on your site. When the navigation is consistent and follows best practices, it allows users and search engine crawlers to easily find the most important pages on the website.

People using the keyboard or screen reader to navigate can effortlessly do that when a website contains clear, predictable navigation. It’s important to limit navigation to the most important pages. A website that adds every page to navigation will end up frustrating people and crawlers. This is where the site map comes in handy.

5. Ensure the Content Is Readable

Taking readability into account increases user experience while making searching easier for crawlers, which helps with ranking. Using plain language and limiting jargon allows users with reading and cognitive disabilities to understand the content. Besides, many people without disabilities prefer plain language, which is also great for machine translation.

Also important in readability is contrast and legibility. You want to avoid using gray text on a white background because it’s like reading in a fog and strains the eyes. Use a plain sans serif font to ensure the widest number of people can read your content without friction. Avoid using all caps and full justification. And check the line and paragraph spacing. 

6. Descriptive Link Text

When inserting a link into a page, anchor text describes the content you will find on the same page the link takes you to. While this helps crawlers find more pages to index, it also provides the context of what they will be crawling. Crawlers record this context and can lead to a higher ranking.

In a similar regard, this is helpful to screen readers. In selecting the text to link, it’s important the linked text gives readers an idea of what they’re going to find when they follow the link. For example, a lot of places link the words “click here,” which has no meaning. People do not know where it will take them. And a page filled with “click here” will confuse screen readers because they will all announce “link: click here” over and over.

A better and more powerful way is to add links to meaningful words. In doing so, you get the benefit of SEO on those words. Let’s say you’re writing an article and want to share it. Instead of linking “click here” to read the article, use words that describe the article’s topic or title such as “How do blind people use the internet?” Now, screen readers will announce: “Link how do blind people use the internet,” which tells people exactly what they will find when they follow the link.

By making anchor text relevant to the content on the page, you can make your text accessible and SEO friendly.

7. Add Alternative Text on Images

Pictures on websites are handy for providing context and breaking up text for a more reader-friendly experience. However, search engine crawlers cannot see photos. Alternative text — also known as alt text — provides context about the image to crawlers, allowing the keywords present in the image to be included in search page results.

These keywords also help those using screen readers hear the description of the image as described in alt text. The description lets them know the meaning of the image related to the content and not miss out on important information.

Make sure alt text is accurate and relevant. Keyword stuffing and nonsensical combinations of keywords can hurt accessibility and rankings.

8. Add Captions and Transcripts to Video and Audio

Much like alt text, search engines can read and crawl captions and transcripts . Search engine crawlers don’t listen to videos and audio like podcasts. Therefore, if there’s important information or even keywords in the videos or audio, the captions and transcripts can help them rank for those words.

Captioning videos for the deaf and hard of hearing lets them catch the important messages in your video and audio. They may be looking for information that only appears in the video or audio. If they’re not captioned or don't have a transcript available, then they will leave your website. According to Verizon Media research, 80% of the people who use captions are not deaf or hard of hearing. Hence, you’ll reach more people with captions and transcripts.

Accessibility Is Easy to Implement and Maximizes SEO

The best part about SEO and accessibility is that it requires minimal extra effort on your part to implement these techniques. Most of these things are things that SEO experts are already doing. 

By integrating these eight ways to improve the readability and organization of content, you can create a more search engine and user-friendly website for everyone. What's more, doing these things won't hurt your site. It's all gain, no pain.