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How Making a Website Accessible Benefits Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

William Soltz and Ishan Jha
Feb 6, 2022
8 minutes

Over the past couple years, websites have started to become more accessible in their design. It is easy to make the observation that a lot of websites that appear at the top of google's search bars are often designed with accessibility in mind. This blog aims to explore why this is the case, by examining and analysing the factors that apply to modern day search engine optimisation; and how a focus on accessibility will benefit a website in this regard.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of enhancing and altering your website in various ways in order to improve the quality and quantity of traffic from search engines such as Google. SEO has often been unclear in how it's accomplished as search engines lack transparency in this area, however over the years people have figured out strategies and tactics in order to benefit from SEO.

SEO and Accessibility are interlinked

On the other hand accessibility is the process of making your website more accessible to various kinds of people ranging anywhere from people with slow internet access to people with digital access needs. However unlike SEO, accessibility does not have a long history of research and catering from website designers and market researchers. Accessibility is a very modern aspect of web design to consider and hasn’t been explored as in depth as SEO has. This has led people to the misconception in previous years that in order to increase SEO, accessibility would have to be sacrificed. This may have been true in the past. In the current year, there are many ways that making your website accessible benefits SEO. 

The Direct Benefits

There are many ways that accessibility has a positive impact on SEO. An easy example is when you optimise a website for quick loading times, not only are you directly benefiting SEO criteria, but you are also making your website accessible to users from areas with poor service. 

This goes a lot deeper than just fast loading times. A majority of Visually Impaired People (VIP) often have digital access needs and require screen readers to get proper access to the content on the internet. In order to make your content accessible to them, your links, transcripts and code of the website should be clear and easy to interpret. This may seem complicated at first however there has never been a better time to work on technical aspects of your website, with plenty of resources available including a blog on VIP World Services. While this is a great thing to consider, utilising these assets effectively also directly benefits your SEO. Search engines check through websites in a similar way to screen readers; meaning your clear, concise and accessible code is also helping to communicate with search engines effectively. 

Here are further examples of where SEO and accessibility overlap: 

  • Video transcription
  • Image captioning
  • Image alt attributes
  • Title tags
  • Header tags (H1, H2, etc)
  • Link anchor text
  • On-site sitemaps, table of contents, and/or breadcrumbs
  • Content ordering
  • Size and colour contrast of text
  • Semantic HTML

The relation behind all these SEO factors revolves around making your website easy to navigate and just generally well designed. Google has begun to take the approach of factoring in website quality into SEO, as to avoid previously optimal yet underhanded SEO tactics such as misleading links and files. 

The Indirect Benefits

As of recently, there has been a far greater incentive for web designers to make their websites more accessible, and this isn’t just due to the ethical implications behind an inaccessible website, although that plays a part. In fact, SEO has had more to gain from accessibility than ever in the current year. This is because of google's recent prioritisation of “user experience” as a factor for measuring SEO. 

User experience is rated in 3 ways: 

  • Click-Through Rate (How often your site is clicked on)
  • Bounce Rate (How often people leave your website)
  • Dwell Time (How long people spend on your website)

This metric of measuring user experience makes an accessible website more desirable than ever. A large number of people have digital access needs, with at least 7 million people in the UK alone. If you’re not making your website accessible to them, it will be very bad for your SEO for a few reasons. As established before, making your links, transcripts and code concise and accessible to screen readers makes someone using a screen reader more likely to click onto your website, this in turn increases the click through rate which improves your SEO. 

However, getting people to click on your website is only a fraction of the battle when it comes to user experience. Having a high bounce rate is a bad sign for your website's user experience score and its SEO. There are many reasons someone could quickly leave your website, the most common reason being due to long loading times. This ties back into accessibility for people with digital access needs as well. If this large group of people are clicking on your website only to find out that the website itself is not constructed to accommodate them, they’ll have no choice but to click off the website and find a website that pays attention to their needs. Research from the “Click Away Pound Report”, which covers the accessibility of online shopping, suggests that £17.1 billion of revenue is lost in the UK each year because nearly 70% of shoppers with accessibility issues leave an e-commerce site due to poor accessibility. This is obviously a massive economic loss however the problems stem deeper than this. A Forbes article quotes a 2016 survey which suggests 71% of users with disabilities will leave a website that is not accessible. This doesn’t just increase your bounce rate, it also decreases your dwell time. While increasing dwell time is mostly a case of giving your website a lot of content such as blogs, its existence in this system makes user retention and the accessibility needed to achieve this double as important to the user experience and in turn SEO. 

SEO and the Future

It is evident that SEO is more than it used to be, and it is changing alongside accessibility. There’s evidence to suggest this won't change, so a good argument for making your website accessible is simply to future proof your website. Google has shown increasing interest in pushing for accessibility within the web with official guidelines explaining accessibility and how they help create a better user experience.

Google has also released Google Lighthouse, a browser extension with the aim of measuring website quality. One of the factors that’s measured by Lighthouse is in fact accessibility. If Google themselves are acknowledging the importance of accessibility, who’s to say we won't eventually be in a time where accessibility is a direct metric of SEO. SEO is very prone to change, user experience as the top defining factor for increasing SEO is a relatively modern addition for instance. Future proofing your website to be more accessible to people with digital access needs could deem very important for the future prospects of your website.

Lighthouse gives a detailed analysis of your website

The Importance of Accessibility

It’s obvious from everything previously discussed that we live in a time of change and that accessibility is on the rise as far as SEO is concerned. However, it’s important to remember that optimising for search engines isn’t the only good reason to make your website accessible. The fact of the matter is that accessibility and inclusivity are good practises because people with digital access needs deserve an internet that wants to include them. 

Google's willingness to take steps forward to make the web more accessible from an SEO standpoint is certainly an optimistic footnote for the future of web design. Accessibility has always been important, and many who value the various people who have digital access needs have strived to create inclusivity and accessibility since long before SEO; which is exactly why it’s great news that the business world is finally starting to catch up. Whether beneficial to your website's SEO or not, the importance of making everyone feel welcome on your website cannot be understated, and thankfully the future for accessibility on the web seems to be bright. 

As mentioned earlier, Google and various other search engines value well designed websites when it comes to SEO, at least far more than they did a decade ago. The truth is a well designed website should be accessible to all; accessibility is something to view as an essential for your website, and search engine providers seem to agree. This means that there’s no better time to make your website accessible than the present, as it will benefit your SEO and most importantly the people with digital access needs who will be able to browse the web with more freedom of choice. 

About VIP World

The VIP World platform plays a role in creating accessibility for people with access needs. We are a platform that connects you remotely to VIP, people with other disabilities and accessibility experts. We also provide services such as assistive tech configurations as well as mobile and desktop testing. You can find out more about how we help create a more accessible web by visiting our accessibility page.