For too many companies, the accessibility of their website has not yet been an area of concern. Yet it can even have a positive effect on your organic rankings. We will show you what SEO can learn from accessibility - and how you can easily remove barriers on your own website.
Accessibility is a term that most of us probably first associate with public areas. Whether street crossings, pedestrian zones or train platforms – it should be just as easy for people with disabilities to reach a destination as it is for people without disabilities. The same idea can be applied to the internet. After all, there are countless websites that exclude certain groups of people from using them. In Germany alone, there are around 7.8 million people with a registered severe disability.
Figure 1: Proportion of people in Germany with a recognized severe disability.
However, according to a study conducted this year by the non-profit organization WebAIM, 98 percent of the most visited websites are not barrier-free. This means that there are impassable barriers on a large number of websites, making it impossible for people with a severe disability to use them. However, this also affects groups of people with a minor impairment, such as learning difficulties or color vision deficiencies. And – at least temporarily – every single one of us can be affected.
Ryte can help you to check and optimize the accessibility of your website
It is clear to see that if you run a website that is not accessible, you exclude many people from using it. But have you ever considered that this automatically reduces your potential target groups? Years ago, the German social organization “Aktion Mensch” conducted a study and found that people with disabilities are particularly eager users of the internet. The reason is simple: The world wide web is an indispensable – and sometimes even the only – way to get in touch with the outside world. So it makes perfect sense to include these groups of people in the composition of your website.
But not only they will benefit from an accessible website, but truly everyone. Remember, you should not only think about lifelong disabilities, but also about temporary impairments such as bright sunlight, a broken mouse hand or lost reading glasses. At some point, everyone faces a barrier that makes it difficult to access a website.
Figure 2: Different types of disabilities.
Moreover, there are other interesting target groups that are still far too often neglected. For instance, think of the German population pyramid – which has long since ceased to be a pyramid, but rather resembles an urn: more than 18 million people are now 60 years and older. That’s around 20 percent, and by 2050 their share is expected to grow to as much as 38 percent. So-called “silversurfers” like to use the internet as an information channel, but also to keep their independence, for example by shopping online. If your website takes into account the fact that eyesight, motor skills, etc. decline with age, your chances of attracting this target group are pretty high.
Accessibility has another advantage that should make SEOs take notice: Google also thinks accessibility is important. In March 2022, Google employee John Mueller commented on this topic: Although accessibility is not yet a direct ranking factor, it is extremely important for websites. If an inaccessible website drives away potential visitors, they will not be able to recommend the website in question to others. In addition, it is quite possible that accessibility will become a direct ranking factor in the future.
Well-structured content, easy-to-understand texts, and easy-to-use buttons not only contribute to accessibility, but also to the overall user-friendliness of the website – which Google considers to be of great importance. As the first principle of its corporate philosophy, the company states: “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”
Well, convinced? Here is a summary of the most important advantages of an accessible website:
You now know that accessibility matters and that it has many advantages. But what’s the best way to remove barriers on your website? In fact, there are numerous levers you can turn. We would like to introduce you to some measures that are easy to implement, yet have a great impact.
In this area, an accessible website assists with the following limitations, among others:
A clear structure and easily comprehensible content ensure that visitors to your website can easily find their way around. It all starts with the right internet address. The more meaningful it is, the faster users can recognize whether they have landed at the right destination. An address such as www.seo-agentur.berlin is a good example. It contains important information such as industry and location, but is still pleasantly short. In addition to .berlin, there are other endings that terminate in the name of a city or region. In Germany, these so far include .hamburg, .koeln, .bayern, .nrw, . ruhr and . saarland.
Figure 3: Criteria for a clear domain
The website itself should have a clear menu with as few menu items as possible. Subpages should be as consistent as possible and follow a logical structure. The same applies to the texts, which should be divided into headings, subheadings, paragraphs and bulleted lists to draw the eye. Images can be a useful addition. They loosen up especially longer blocks of text and keep the eye from getting tired. But be aware: For people who use reading software (screen readers), it is more helpful if coherent texts are not interrupted.
To ensure that all visitors understand the texts on your website, you should focus on easy-to-read and easy-to-digest texts.
The easier your texts are to understand, the more users you will reach. This includes, for example, that sentences are as short as possible and the structure of sentences is not unnecessarily complicated. If possible, you should avoid foreign terms. You should explain technical terms. If you would like to follow an official set of rules, “Easy Language” is the right place for you to start. It is a specially regulated simple language that aims to be particularly easy to understand.
In the area of vision, certain measures can help to reduce barriers for people with these impairments, among others:
There’s that beautifully curved font you’d love to use on your website? In terms of accessibility, you should first carefully consider whether it is easy to read. If in doubt: Keep it simple, and avoid bells and whistles. In addition, the selected font should be sufficiently large. The line spacing also plays an important role, and should be neither too narrow nor too high. Recommendations for accessible fonts can be found here.
Figure 4: Accessibility through color contrasts
Even a smaller font will be much easier to read if it contrasts well with the background. The highest contrast is black text on a white background; but there are many gradations below that which also work well. By the way, high contrasts also make it easier to visit the website with a smartphone – for example, in direct sunlight outdoors. So, please: no gray font on a red background!
Blind people depend on the images of your website being provided with so-called alternative texts (alt text for short). Since reading software cannot actually “see”, it needs the alt text to make visual content accessible to its users. At the same time, alt text is probably the best known gateway between accessibility and SEO. It is used to enable search engine crawlers to associate image content in order to rank well in Google image search.
Adding alt text to an image requires little effort. You can fill in the corresponding field in the image details in any content management system. By the way: If the images of your website cannot be loaded – for example because the internet connection is weak – the alt texts are displayed instead. This way the information is still available.
Improvements in the area of accessibility are helpful for the following limitations:
Videos on your website increase dwell time and as a result are often good for SEO. To improve accessibility, you should always offer a text version of the video content, so users with hearing problems can also benefit from it. A common solution are subtitles within the video, in which the said is simply displayed in written form. Platforms like YouTube can generate subtitles automatically.
Of course, you can also create them yourself. There are several tools on the internet that can help you do this, and many video editing programs have subtitle functionality built in. Your subtitles should include everything that can be heard in the video and has a meaning. That includes not only what people say, but also important sounds or background music, for example.
A complementary description of the video content can also be useful – users then don’t even have to play the video. This measure is very easy to implement: For example, you can simply put the description in an info box below the video. Not only users with disabilities will benefit from it, but also search engines, which will find it easier to classify the content thematically and display it appropriately.
Once you have implemented the various measures, you probably want to find out how accessible your website now actually is. A tool that gives you an overview is Google’s Lighthouse. The software automatically evaluates the quality of websites and points out areas for improvement. It aims to map the behavior of real users in order to get indications of how they perceive a website.
An even better way is to let your website be examined by those who depend on accessible options – “real” people. Their experiences are extremely valuable when it comes to discovering barriers that are not evident at first glance. This way, you’ll make sure that even the most hidden difficulties can be eliminated.
Evaluate and optimize your website accessibility with Ryte!
Published on 11/30/2022 by Ann-Kathrin Gräfe.
Ann-Kathrin Gräfe studied English and literature, then moved onto the internet. She is a team member at dotBERLIN, the operator of the domain extension .berlin, which has enriched the internet together with over 1,000 other top-level domains since 2014. She regularly writes technical articles on the topic of “domains and websites.“
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