Okay folks, here’s the reality for anyone who needs to hear this:
Website accessibility has to be an important part of your website design strategy if it isn’t already.
For one, it’s a requirement for businesses that work with government agencies.
But even if you aren’t required to make your site more accessible, it’s a good thing to do on multiple levels—starting with the humanitarian level. It also happens to be good business since you could be losing out on potential revenue by failing to take the right steps to make your website more accessible.
Why is website accessibility important?
What is website accessibility and why does it matter?
Well according to Google:
Broadly speaking, when we say a site is accessible, we mean that the site’s content is available, and its functionality can be operated, by literally anyone. As developers, it’s easy to assume that all users can see and use a keyboard, mouse, or touch screen, and can interact with your page content the same way you do. This can lead to an experience that works well for some people, but creates issues that range from simple annoyances to show-stoppers for others.
They go on to say:
Accessibility, then, refers to the experience of users who might be outside the narrow range of the “typical” user, who might access or interact with things differently than you expect. Specifically, it concerns users who are experiencing some type of impairment or disability — and bear in mind that that experience might be non-physical or temporary.
Considering that Google values website accessibility so highly, it may surprise you to learn that Google has not yet made accessibility a primary ranking factor. However, it’s entirely possible that it might be in the future.
In the meantime, there are some clear advantages to investing in website accessibility now.
If the business and marketing benefits of website accessibility aren’t enough to sway you, consider the humanitarian advantages. As the Internet plays an increasingly vital role in our lives, it’s worthwhile to help make the Web widely accessible to everyone—equal opportunity and equal access for all, including those with disabilities.
These are all great reasons to invest in your site’s accessibility, but as a leading search engine optimization company we want to discuss another major benefit of website accessibility: SEO.
While it’s true that a website with bad accessibility can temporarily appear high on search engine results pages (SERPs), but eventually their site will suffer as visitors quickly leave (or “bounce”) their website in search of a more user-friendly page. This bounce rate and other negative signals may drive down traffic and ultimately rankings.
Website accessibility checklist
W3C—the World Wide Web Consortium—has a comprehensive list of accessibility guidelines that you should certainly take the time to review eventually. But for now, let’s take a look at 6 basic (but impactful) ways to improve your website’s accessibility right now.
1. Keep color in mind
The most common form of color deficiency is red and green, and it’s estimated to affect roughly 8 percent of the population. That doesn’t mean you can never use these colors at all, but you might want to steer clear of using either one exclusively.
Furthermore, you certainly don’t want to use these colors when communicating something important like the required fields in a form. Unfortunately, red and green are popular colors to use to communicate an important message on a form—hence the terms “red-flag” or “green-lit.” But if a sizable segment of your audience won’t see them, the design ultimately isn’t serving its intended purpose.
2. Factor in form usability
When constructing a form that you want visitors to fill out, there’s more than color to consider. One easy step to take is to ensure that the Tab button can be used to navigate one’s way through each field on the form.
You’ll also want to be sure that Tab goes through the fields in a way that makes sequential sense. To pick an obvious example, “Last Name” should follow “First Name.” The address fields should move in a way the visitor intuitively understands.
Additionally, while you might hate getting spam, think long and hard before using the CAPTCHA tool as a way of making sure you’ve got a human being entering filling out the form. CAPTCHA is not considered an accessible tool.
3. Write descriptive ALT image tags
When you upload an image into your content management system (CMS), there is usually a box where you can describe the image. Don’t skip it! Commonly referred to as the “ALT” tag—for “alternate”—this tag is a great tool for the visually impaired. Use the ALT tag to describe the image—not just with a word, but with a descriptive sentence.
For example, if the image shows a person walking on the beach, make the ALT description something specific like “Person walking on the beach with their spouse as the sun sets on a beautiful day.” Not only does this tell the visitor exactly what your image contains, but search engine algorithms can also crawl the ALT tags. Search engines love specificity.
4. Be mindful with header design and format
The size of your page headers is an easy way to communicate with visitors and gives them an intuitive sense of how the website is organized. Use your headers in an appropriate place and give them a sequential logic.
If you use an H1 as the headline on a page, then use H2 for the main sub-headers within the content. If you jump from H1 to H3, a visitor who has trouble comprehending the content might wonder if they’ve missed something. And of course, keeping the headers as large as possible is ideal for someone who is visually impaired.
5. Consider keyboard navigation
People with physical disabilities may not be able to use a traditional mouse or keyboard to navigate their way around a website, but they often have access to specialty equipment to do so. It’s up to your developer to make sure that certain keys help take a user through your site in a natural and sequential way.
You’ll also want to be sure that everything on your site’s main menu—including where it drops down—can be accessed with the keyboard, and that items like the ALT images description do not require hovering with a mouse to make it appear.
6. Have multiple platforms
It goes without saying that disabilities come in many forms. Some individuals may have trouble reading small text, whereas others have hearing difficulties. To make sure your website meets the broad spectrum needs of everyone, make content available on multiple platforms.
For example, take the particularly important pages of your website and offer an audio version of them. You can embed the audio right underneath the first paragraph, above the fold, so the visually-impaired visitor can quickly see they have an audio option.
The reverse also applies.
If you have video content on your site, make sure that captioning is included. For anything that’s either audio or video, have a transcript put together and post that on the same page.
Producing content through a variety of platforms has benefits that reach well beyond simple accessibility. All website visitors, even if they don’t have a disability, have different preferences for how they consume content. Generating multi-platform media ensures that you’ll appeal to all preferences.
As a bonus, search engine algorithms love content that appears in multiple formats because it’s more likely that a searcher will find what they’re looking for.
Future proof your website with smart usability design
The website accessibility guidelines of the W3C are not legally binding (at least as of now). However, they do set the tone for the entire international community and it’s entirely plausible that a good portion of those guidelines will become law in the future.
Why not get ahead of the curve on website accessibility now?
It’s good for business, for SEO and, most importantly, your website visitors and users.