Accessibility and Optimization: Focusing on Content

  |  March 30, 2001   |  Comments

What does accessibility have to do with optimization? According to Sharon, a heck of a lot more than we think.

Accessibility is becoming a hot topic these days with the recent adoption of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and increasingly improved technologies that convert text to voice. Soon everyone -- not just visually impaired users -- will be able to hear Web content. Although these new rules currently apply to U.S. government Web sites only, a recent Wired news article, "Fed Opens Web to Disabled," speculates that these guidelines "will soon be extended to include all private commercial sites."

Interesting, you say, but what does this have to do with optimization? Well... a lot. Revising a site so that it will meet the new accessibility guidelines actually goes a long way to naturally optimizing it. Search engine optimization (SEO) and accessibility are mutually supportive activities when utilizing a traditional, on-the-page, content-driven approach.

That said, let's look at these activities a bit more closely.

More Than Just ALT Tags

Ensuring that visually meaningful content has an alternative way of being understood is the backbone of accessibility guidelines. But the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) go much further -- and actually ensure that all users will benefit from accessibility improvements made on sites. Bobby, a well-known accessibility evaluation tool, uses these guidelines to determine compliance. And Bobby demands that a site (among other things) "organize content logically and clearly, such as with headings, list elements, meaningful links, and navigation bars."

Imagine that. Meaningful content.

De-emphasizing the "Bells and Whistles"

When analyzing a site's code, structure, and page layout at the beginning of an optimization, I look for the elements that might trip up a robot. Submitting a site for approval to Bobby provides a quick-and-dirty way to get at the same issues. Where Bobby's purpose is to point out the need to provide alternative content for features (e.g., applets or plug-ins), the optimizer questions the need for any of these features at all.

How mission-critical is optimization, and is it worth having to maintain content in two separate formats? Right now, advising a client to replace his or her cool Flash navigation system with something, well, less flashy, often simply fails. But the accessibility argument could prove to be an effective tool for optimization.

Are Search Engines Getting on Board?

Google's recent announcement about its "venturing into the invisible Web" and its ability to index PDF files is a positive step toward increasing access to content that previously was invisible to robots. But much more work needs to done by all the major search engines to make available content worthy of being found -- the biggest challenge currently being content that is dynamically generated.

If engines could incorporate the WAI's guidelines into their algorithms, it might be more appropriate to penalize sites with accessibility issues and, similarly, reward sites that meet or exceed requirements. Perhaps this could be another tool to determine the quality of content.

Reframing SEO

Jakob Nielsen's "Disabled Accessibility: The Pragmatic Approach" shows his interest in accessibility. He implicitly links this concept to usability. As optimizers, we need to start linking accessibility to our area of expertise or,- for lack of a better word, to "findability." This continuum -- findability to accessibility to usability -- defines the user's Web experience. Driving targeted traffic to a site by using an arsenal of SEO tactics is one thing, but if a user has a negative experience after arriving at a site, our clients are still not going to achieve ROI.

Is It the Death of Doorways?

Sorry, but it's impossible not to comment on doorway pages in an article that focuses on site content -- not false content. If corporations are going to have to revisit site content to meet accessibility requirements, and they understand that the simple action of doing so helps optimize their site, why wouldn't they explore a more content-oriented approach? The allure of the doorway will fade. Already, in my own SEO business, I am approached more and more by jaded doorway-page users, tired of the overblown guarantees that never materialized.

High rankings are only one part of the mix. This is a good time to try to place SEO in a new context and learn how to better sell what we do by discovering our true value to the client. In our analyses of the optimization challenges within Web sites, we can also give valuable feedback on a site's accessibility and even usability. We have a contribution to make to the bigger picture.

ClickZ Live Toronto On the heels of a fantastic event in New York City, ClickZ Live is taking the fun and learning to Toronto, June 23-25. With over 15 years' experience delivering industry-leading events, ClickZ Live offers an action-packed, educationally-focused agenda covering all aspects of digital marketing. Register today!

ClickZ Live San Francisco Want to learn more? Join us at ClickZ Live San Francisco, Aug 10-12!
Educating marketers for over 15 years, ClickZ Live brings together industry thought leaders from the largest brands and agencies to deliver the most advanced, educational digital marketing agenda. Register today and save $500!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sharon Virtue

Sharon Virtue is the President of Virsha.com, a search engine optimization (SEO) firm that uses long-term, content-driven tactics to assist clients in increasing their Web visibility. Virsha.com can also provide custom training for companies who wish to manage their own optimization efforts.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Search newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

Featured White Papers

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce
This Magic Quadrant examines leading digital commerce platforms that enable organizations to build digital commerce sites. These commerce platforms facilitate purchasing transactions over the Web, and support the creation and continuing development of an online relationship with a consumer.

Paid Search in the Mobile Era

Paid Search in the Mobile Era
Google reports that paid search ads are currently driving 40+ million calls per month. Cost per click is increasing, paid search budgets are growing, and mobile continues to dominate. It's time to revamp old search strategies, reimagine stale best practices, and add new layers data to your analytics.

WEBINARS

Resources

Jobs

    • GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator
      GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator (British Consulate-General, New York) - New YorkThe GREAT Britain Campaign is seeking an energetic and creative...
    • Paid Search Senior Account Manager
      Paid Search Senior Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring a strategic Paid Search Senior Account Manager...
    • Paid Search Account Manager
      Paid Search Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring an experienced Paid Search Account Manager to...