Why Digital Accessibility Matters For SEO
Posted April 08, 2021
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Summary: Digital accessibility and SEO are essentially two sides of the same coin: by investing in accessibility, you can also expect to improve your search rankings. That’s because if search algorithms continue to do their job, they will give the highest rankings to those pages that are most universally accessible.
Google’s “page experience update”—due May 2021—will continue to “prioritize pages with the best information overall,” but “in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search.”
Companies optimizing page experience for SEO will therefore also be optimizing the accessibility of their websites. Read on to learn how AudioEye can help you boost your search rankings by building a more accessible website.
Five years ago, if you asked a marketing team whether they’d prefer to focus on search engine optimization (SEO) or digital accessibility, SEO would have won hands down.
While few marketers had a deep understanding of the technical implications of SEO, they knew it was important. It’s an easy concept to grasp: if your website is one of the first entries on a Google search page, you’ll probably get more visitors than your lower-ranked competitors. More visitors ought to mean more sales, more revenue, and a better return on your marketing budget.
Moreover, until recently, the case for investing in digital accessibility was not so clear-cut. There were good ethical reasons for ensuring that your website was equally accessible for users of all abilities, and authorities were ramping up the enforcement of accessibility laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act in the digital domain. But the commercial benefits of digital accessibility were less understood.
Today, organizations are much more aware of the commercial benefits of digital accessibility. For example, it’s now widely acknowledged that one in four Americans are living with a disability, and that globally, the disposable income of people with disabilities is $1.2 trillion—rising to $8 trillion when you include their families and friends. That’s a huge market that you’ll miss out on if people find it difficult to view, navigate or interact with your web and mobile apps.
Nevertheless, while most companies now understand that both accessibility and SEO are important, they still see them as two separate concerns, and fail to spot the deep underlying relationship between them. In fact, as we’ll see in this article, accessibility and SEO are really two sides of the same coin.
What links accessibility and SEO?
When experts talk about SEO, it’s easy for marketers to get the impression that it’s all about technology. All too often, SEO is presented as a way game the system, find the weak spots in a search engine’s page ranking algorithm, and make your site more prominent than it truly “deserves” to be.
That’s missing the big picture: search engines aren’t designed to prioritize the sites that are best optimized. Rather, they’re designed to help all users find sites that provide the best content. Google’s own mission statement is “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful”.
The words “universally accessible” are key here. While the implementation of site-ranking algorithms focuses on technical metrics, such as the relevance of the text and keywords to the user’s query, it’s not the purpose of the algorithm to optimize those metrics. The purpose is to make the right information accessible to as many people as possible.
Co-evolution of SEO and Accessibility
In fact, over the past decade, search engines have evolved to consider not only the content of a webpage, but how the user experiences that webpage.
In 2015, for example, Google rolled out an updated version of its algorithm for mobile browsers that gave higher rankings to websites that were optimized for viewing on mobile devices. This change was an acknowledgement that many people now use mobile devices as their primary way of accessing the internet. So, a website that works well on mobile is by definition more universally accessible than one that doesn’t.
Another refresh—which Google is calling the “page experience update”—is due in May 2021. With this new algorithm, Google will continue to “prioritize pages with the best information overall,” but “in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search.”
That’s interesting, because page experience and digital accessibility are essentially different ways of looking at the same thing. Companies optimizing page experience for SEO will also be optimizing the accessibility of their websites.
SEO and accessibility go hand-in-hand
Let’s take an example. Search engines like Google seek to promote pages whose content is clear and well-ordered, and this means you need to respect key Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) around topics such as headings. If you skip heading ranks—for example, placing a section with a fourth-level (<h4>) heading directly after a second-level (<h2>) heading—you’ll likely cause accessibility issues for people using assistive technology. You’ll also be marked down by search engines.
Likewise, if you fail to provide appropriate alternative text for images—or if you confuse captions with image alt text—you’ll not only create obstacles for users with disabilities, but you’ll also damage your own image SEO.
Investing in digital accessibility boosts SEO
We’ve seen how investing in modern SEO methods can boost digital accessibility, and the converse is also true. Looking at the big picture, any investments you make in digital accessibility should also ultimately be reflected in your search rankings.
That’s because if the search algorithms continue to do their job, they will give the highest rankings to the pages that are most universally accessible. Since universal accessibility is literally part of Google’s mission statement, we can expect the ongoing evolution of Google Search to align ever more closely with the principles of accessible design.
AudioEye can provide the digital accessibility tools, services, and expertise you need to build universally accessible web and mobile experiences. This will deliver immediate benefits by facilitating compliance, protecting your organization from legal risks, and ensuring that users of all abilities have equal access to your digital services.
And as search algorithms continue to evolve, the work you do to give your users a first-class online experience today will likely pay off by helping you achieve better page rankings in the future.
Reach out to AudioEye today to learn more about how to plan the next steps on your digital accessibility journey.
 Google’s 2015 search engine algorithm update was dubbed “Mobilegeddon” by many web developers, who feared that it would cause significant disruption to existing page rankings. See the Wikipedia article on Mobilegeddon for more information.
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