The Global Economics of Disability Annual Report of 2016—reports that the number of disabled people worldwide is 1.3 billion, a number that could climb much higher as Generation X ages.
Fortunately, there is a growing awareness that the digital world needs to make websites and other online applications more accessible to all users.
With more websites adjusting to become accessible and meet Website Accessibility Content Guidelines (WAGA), it's likely that search engines will take this into consideration and favor website that are within those guidelines.
Below, we explain more about what web content accessibility is and how it is likely to impact website owners in the near future.
Q. What is web content accessibility?
A. The term refers to making websites and online materials usable to the disabled, which includes those with visual, auditory, learning, cognitive, and neurological infirmities. Accessibility removes barriers to the way the disabled experience the Internet. The basic idea is to build your website to be compatible with screen readers and assistive scanning keyboards.
Technically, Web Content Accessibility is an international standard for making content more accessible to the handicapped. This overview of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 discusses the topic in more detail.
Q. What are the key benefits of Web Content Accessibility?
A. In addition to helping you expand your market reach, making your website more accessible:
- Creates positive public relations
- Boosts search engine optimization
- Improves site usability for all kinds of visitors
- Broadens your market penetration
- Avoids discrimination and legal entanglements
- Cuts costs, including upgrading for new technologies
Accessibility also improves your site’s technical performance. It reduces development and maintenance time, bandwidth use, and server load. It also increases cross-browser compatibility and enables content on a variety of configurations, including different operating systems and mobile devices.
Q. How does accessibility impact SEO?
A. Web content accessibility aligns itself nicely with search optimization. For the most part, it makes it easier and faster for crawlers to do their work. Also, both accessibility and SEO rely on content structure, semantics, and functionality to rank sites:
"Highly-optimized websites such as relevant, optimized header tags and ADA-compliant code and design are becoming more and more synonymous with the designs Google expects and promotes in search rankings," says Lance Hayden of WebAim, a non-profit organization based at Utah State University.
Put simply, the better a page’s content and user experience, the more likely Google and other search engines are to rank it high. Accessibility and good website design go hand in hand.
Q. What are some Web accessible techniques?
A. The most important technique in making your site accessible is to separate content from presentation clearly, which you can do with the help of cascading style sheets (CSS). Additional techniques include:
- Making sure all information images use Alt-Text
- Prompting text assigned to forms
- Supplying a sitemap and avoiding pop-ups
- Dividing content into small paragraphs
- Providing subtitles or a written transcript for audio content
- Offering a focus state for links
- Keeping technical language to a minimum
- Using strong, bold text to make it standout
See this W3C webpage for more on accessibility techniques. Incorporating web content accessible techniques in your site is cost-effective and easy to do.
Q. Is a web accessibility algorithm the next big update?
A. It’s entirely possible an accessibility algorithm will surface at some point in the future-—maybe within the next 12 to 24 months. It’s trending that way:
- The major search engines are already promoting the SEO benefits of web content accessibility techniques.
- Google already ranks sites with accessibility techniques included in metadata, content, and visual design, higher than sites without these things.
- Google recently launched Lighthouse, an open-source, automated accessibility tool aimed at web developers to help them improve the quality of web pages. Google included it in the company's Tools for Web Developers.
This type of tool isn’t unique to Google. Other search engines have it, too. So, it certainly seems like search engines are embracing accessibility.
The next step is for them to make it a major ranking factor. That would help open the door for someone to develop an accessibility algorithm.
What do you do in the meantime?
If you haven’t made your site accessible, you should. Complying with web content accessibility guidelines makes sense. And it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to do.
Accessibility improves your site’s design and customer experience, boosts visibility and search engine rankings, and brings you one step closer to tapping the $8 trillion of disposable income mentioned above.
More importantly, making your site web content accessible is the right thing to do.