Since day 1, we’ve always believed that website accessibility should be one of the top priorities for school websites. An ADA compliant website ensures you avoid Title III lawsuits (which hit record highs last year!) but, perhaps even more importantly, it ensures you provide an inclusive, enjoyable, and engaging experience for all people that visit your website, regardless of ability.
But in the last couple of years we’ve seen an interesting new trend emerging. By prioritizing accessible web content, sites can achieve search engine optimization (SEO) benefits.
Why is that important? Well, to put it simply, if you’re not on the front page of Google, you basically don’t exist. This graph shows the percentages of link click throughs based on how content is ranked on the first page of Google search results:
If the fact that nearly a third of all traffic is captured by the top ranked result isn’t eye-opening enough, if you add all the front page traffic together you’ll find that a whopping 88% of engagement happens on the first page! Second page? Your message is out of sight. Third page on? Might have better luck finding a 4 leaf clover…
Since both of these web design principles are clearly important to your success in reaching the people you want to communicate with, let’s dive into how they’re related and three tactical things you can start doing right now to help.
The Connection Between Web Accessibility and Search Rankings
Most people wouldn’t immediately think that accessibility plays that big of a role in SEO, but it does. While Google’s top search advocate - John Mueller - has stated that accessibility compliance does not currently have a direct effect on positive SEO, he’s often alluded to two things that show a mutually beneficial connection:
Accessibility is a vital component of positive user experience and,
As Google’s search algorithms evolve, they’re increasingly prioritizing the same standards found in ADA compliance.
Mueller shows how accessibility and SEO go hand in hand when it comes to the importance of creating a great user experience for all:
"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,” Mueller wrote in April 2020.
Put simply, inclusive design is good web design.
Accessibility will only continue to progress as an important factor for search, navigation, and experience and any brand wanting to stay on the forefront of a positive user experience should make sure to see the two as mutually inclusive.
3 Practical Website Optimization Tactics to Improve both Accessibility and SEO
To understand how the best practices of SEO and Accessibility are related, we must look at Google’s own SEO starter guide and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The common theme of both is prioritizing how a website can benefit its users.
Here are a few technical concepts that both WCAG and Google’s list as best practices:
1 Title Tags
These HTML elements are what specify the title of a web page. They are what will appear in search engine results, social media posts, and browser tabs.
Why title tags are important for SEO: Simply put, they are the first place search engines will ‘look’ to understand what your content is about. This is why having strategic keywords in the title tag will make it easier for search engines and people alike to find your content.
Why title tags are important for accessibility: These tags accommodate screen readers and other assistive technologies.
2 Accurate Subheadings
If a title tag is the name of a book, you can imagine headers as its chapters. They help organize your content, making them particularly important in longer articles. For example, in this section of our blog post, we’ve classified “Technical SEO Practices that Also Promote Accessibility” as an <h2> or Header 2 section and “2 Accurate Subheadings” as an <h3> or header 3 section.
Why subheadings are important for SEO: In a world where Internet users rarely read content from beginning to end, headers are important because they help them find what they need.
Why subheadings are important for accessibility: When a person is using an assistive reader, header tags move from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have.’ In fact, WCAG requires them to break up and organize the content.
3 Alternate Text
Alternative Text (or alt text) are embedded image descriptions. They are used to describe the look and the purpose of the image.
Why alt text is important for SEO: Since at least 2019, Google has been employing their Rankbrain system to better understand the context behind the content. Alt tags provide context to what an image is displaying, informing search engine crawlers and allowing them to index an image correctly.
Why alt text is important for accessibility: Alt text plays a crucial role in making web content more accessible for users with visual impairments. Without any descriptive text embedded in an image, one such user would be missing out on all the value of what that media brings to the story!
We’ve seen that alt text can be an element that is easy to miss - especially with new website managers or even experienced ones in a hurry! That’s why we’ve built a failsafe in the Foxbright CMS which will actually prevent users from publishing images without relevant alt tags (or marking the content as purely decorative.)
While the best practice standards of SEO and ADA compliance aren’t fully united yet, it would be very fair to say they’ve gone on a couple of dates… We predict this relationship will only continue to grow closer in the coming years as search engines become more and more accommodating to a diverse community of users.
So what can you do to be a leader - both in ADA advocacy and search results?
Here are a couple of resources we can provide to help:
Here’s a nicely condensed article on the ADA website compliance checklist
Want to see how accessible your website is right now? Use this tool to check your domain and/or take this 9 question survey.
We’ve been committed to building accessible, inclusive websites since day 1. That’s why we offer free ADA audits for any school that’s interested (even if you’re not a client!) It’s a 30 minute meeting to understand your site and then we send you a report listing any ADA violations afterward. You can book yours here.