Can Website Accessibility Impact Search Rankings?

Published April 27, 2021

Making a website or mobile app accessible allows your organization to reach and interact with more people, including those with disabilities. Search engine optimization (SEO) — the practice of increasing the traffic to a site from a search engine — has some interesting overlaps with web accessibility. Some accessibility measures can improve your ranking in search engines so that web users will see your webpage sooner on Google or similar sites.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand the connection between web accessibility measures and SEO strategies is to consider that both approaches aim to make it easier to access and understand online content, either for human users or for the search bots that feed content to search engines. Providing clear and well-organized content can allow both people and bots to better find and navigate a site.

"There are solid business reasons for why accessibility should be a top consideration. Accessibility can have a positive effect on sales and SEO," according to Roger Montti, veteran search engine marketer and Head Judge of the 2020 U.S. Search Awards.

How web accessibility can affect search rankings

Many SEO experts have recognized and analyzed the intersections between web accessibility and SEO success, including Montti of the U.S. Search Awards and Ruth Everett, a technical SEO analyst with the SEO platform DeepCrawl. Here are a few of the ways accessibility and search rankings overlap.

Video and audio content are increasingly popular, and efforts to make them more accessible provide a clear example of how accessibility and SEO are linked. Adding closed captions and transcripts to video content can make content accessible to users with vision or hearing disabilities, among others. And, both transcripts and closed captions have both been found to increase search rankings. According to the transcription business Rev, video captions can improve both search engine visibility and audience engagement.

Clear page titles and content headings, and simple, easy-to-use menus also aid both people and bots in comprehending a website’s purpose and structure. Using plain, straight-forward language in the title supports understanding for everyone and helps search engines properly index your site.

"Page titles should be descriptive and concise. Avoid vague descriptors like 'Home' for your homepage, or 'Profile' for a specific person's profile. Also avoid unnecessarily long or verbose titles, which are likely to get truncated when they show up in the search results," Google recommends in its SEO guidelines for titles. Headings, lists, and breadcrumb menus can all help people to understand the content and organization of a website, and are analyzed by search engines, as well.

The "alt text" or "alt attributes" components of websites represent another confluence of access and search rankings. Text equivalents for pictures, animations or security CAPTCHAs describe a visual experience in words. Using brief, accurate explanations of imagery helps users with screen readers, and also provides more information to search engines, which pick up on the alt text.

Hyperlinked text is also important for accessibility and rankings. "Click here" is not very helpful in either case. "Whenever possible, provide link text that identifies the purpose of the link without needing additional context," states W3C's Understanding Success Criterion 2.4.4: Link Purpose. Google Lighthouse, a tool that audits webpages for usability and performance, including accessibility, evaluates the quality of link text. According to Adam Smartschan, head of strategic marketing and branding at Altitude Marketing, an error message of "Links Do Not Have Descriptive Text" means Google found "an issue with your user experience. And since Google is all about user experience, that could affect your SEO."

There are multiple programs on the W3C's Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List that may be able to help organizations evaluate their web accessibility. There are also many consultancies that specialize in this area. For more information, you can download a Free Digital Accessibility Buyer's Guide.

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