Search Engine Optimization for Everyone

Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires federal agencies to ensure that all electronic and information technology used is accessible for people with disabilities. This includes Web sites. Though the public sector has no such requirement, a site designed for accessibility will broaden your audience and improve your market share, because accessibility is not only beneficial to disabled users but also to the growing number of users with electronic devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs), cell phones, and Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) devices.

The more accessible your Web site, the wider your potential audience. Think about it: Can you afford to lose the 28.2 million potential prospects who are color blind (predominantly men) because you haven’t considered the effect of color on their ability to use your site? Can you afford to inconvenience people who access the Web from different browsers, diverse environments, various devices or platforms, or low connection speeds? An accessible site is user friendly because of emphasis on content, structure, and ease of navigation — a big plus for users. Few things annoy Internet users more than not being able to accomplish their objectives effortlessly when visiting Web sites — be it the ability to find information or the ease of processing that information. Reaching a wider audience and accommodating customer needs are good reasons to consider accessibility.

Enhance Accessibility and Improve Usability

Search engine optimization (SEO) of your site for search engines enhances accessibility and improves usability, but benefits go further than that. It’s smart to ensure that your site is viewable and navigable from a wide variety of Web clients and for people accessing the Web from a variety of different environments. Here’s why:

  • One out of every 12 men are color blind, thus your choice of colors affects their ability to use your site.
  • Baby boomers surf the Web in large numbers. This demographic is the fastest growing group of new Internet users. These people find it hard to read the small fixed fonts frequently used by designers. They also are users of cell phones and PDAs.
  • Not everyone has a mouse and keyboard — or the ability to use these tools. Increasingly, more people are using speech browsers while accessing the Internet in their cars. Others have difficulty using a mouse due to carpal tunnel syndrome or because of visual impairment.
  • Not everyone can view graphics. Beyond the needs of visually impaired users, many people access the Web with slow connections, disabling graphics and scripting capabilities. Some may use a text-only screen or a small PDA screen. Some people still use older browsers and computers.
  • Environments can influence accessibility. Some people work where lighting makes it difficult to read the screen. Others may be in situations where eyes, ears, or hands are occupied, interfering with certain tasks (e.g., people driving or working in a loud environment).
  • The popularity of mobile devices is an accessibility challenge as more and more people use wireless devices to access the Web.

Add it up. Inaccessibility takes a toll in lost opportunities for prospects and sales. It’s important to plan ahead, taking the time to identify your site goals, intended audience, content, design, and SEO services. This will save money in the long run and makes the updating and maintenance of your site easier.

If your site is already up, have it audited (Bobby is a free service to help identify and repair accessibility barriers), then prioritize improvements by level of impact to meet the basic accessibility standards.

SEO Content Optimization and Accessibility

Content optimization and accessibility are complementary processes. When optimizing a site for search engines, a good SEO provider will analyze the site’s code, structure, and page layout, looking for any elements that might prevent a robot from indexing the site. Content optimization resulting in search engine friendliness also helps accessibility.

For example, a Flash site can benefit from creating a static mini-site of a few pages with good text, providing links to the Flash site on each page. The mini-site is accessed as a static page from the main site. It may not be as visually engaging, but the text is readable without Flash. Compensating for “bells and whistles” makes the site crawlable by search engine robots and gives users who can’t view Flash the ability to access a low-bandwidth alternative.

Accessibility Guidelines

The W3 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines’ Table of Contents tells you how to make your site accessible. Each issue is described in detail, and examples are provided. The guideline headings are:

  1. Provide equivalent alternatives for auditory and visual content.
  2. Do not rely on color alone.
  3. Use proper markup and style sheets and do so properly.
  4. Clarify natural language usage.
  5. Create tables that transform gracefully.
  6. Ensure that pages featuring new technologies transform gracefully.
  7. Ensure user control of time-sensitive content changes.
  8. Ensure direct accessibility of embedded user interfaces.
  9. Design for device-independence.
  10. Use interim solutions.
  11. Use W3C technologies and guidelines.
  12. Provide context and orientation information.
  13. Provide clear navigation mechanisms.
  14. Ensure that documents are clear and simple.

It’s advantageous to make your site accessible to broaden your audience. Enhancing accessibility with SEO services makes sense because good positioning helps improve market share and branding.

More Accessibility Resources

  • IBM Accessibility Center — Checklist and references for Web accessibility.
  • The Alliance for Technology Access — A network community providing information and support services to people with disabilities.
  • WebABLE — Provider of Web accessibility technology, consulting, and training. The library includes press releases, white papers, articles, and references on accessibility and adaptive technology.
  • AWARE Center (Accessible Web Authoring Resources and Education) — HTML Writers Guild central resource for educating Web authors on accessibility.

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