An accessible website starts with clean, concise, and well-written content. Whether you’re writing an 800-word article — like this one — or a brief product description, you can make your message much stronger by following the best practices of accessibility.
Here are a few quick ways to build those best practices into your work. For more guidance, send us a message to connect with a subject matter expert.
1. Avoid jargon.
Jargon refers to unusual words that are specific to a profession or interest. Generally, it’s best to keep your sentences simple and to the point — and avoid words that may be unfamiliar to your readers.
Even if you’re a talented writer, there’s a practical reason to use a simple approach: Most people scan through content rather than reading word-by-word. Clear, concise writing will help these readers understand your message.
Of course, jargon isn’t always avoidable. When this is the case, provide a quick in-line definition for the term or link to an on-site glossary.
2. Break up your content with lists, images, and subheadings.
Internet users appreciate scannable content, so it’s in your best interest to deliver that experience. Lists, subheadings, and images can help you break up long paragraphs into more digestible “chunks.”
Some quick tips to keep in mind (presented as a bulleted list — we’re following our own advice):
- Try to keep lists short. If you’re writing more than two sentences per bullet point, consider using a subheading tag instead.
- Use appropriate semantic HTML for lists. Don’t rely on visual presentation alone.
- Use subheadings in sequential order (H3 tags only appear under H2 tags, H4 tags only appear under H3 tags, and so on).
- Only use one H1 tag per webpage.
- When incorporating images, write descriptive alternative text (also called alt text). Review the best practices for writing alt text.
3. Write for readers, not search engines.
The best practices of web accessibility are closely aligned with the best practices of search engine optimization (SEO). However, some common SEO tactics can negatively affect the user experience — and generally, those tactics aren’t great for SEO, either.
For example, if you’re trying to rank for a certain keyword, you might try to stuff that keyword into your title tag. That can lead to awkward page tiles that read something like this:
Mike’s Used Car Lot - The Best Cars in St. Louis - St. Louis Cars For Sale - Buy Used Cars
Page titles are important for accessibility. Many people with vision disabilities use screen readers (software that converts text to audio) to read titles when navigating websites. If the title is too long or repetitive, these users may feel frustrated.
Likewise, you should avoid stuffing keywords into subheadings, image descriptions, or the body of your content. Awkward text can irritate all users, but it can be especially problematic for individuals with dyslexia, attention deficit disorders, and other neurocognitive differences.
4. Write descriptive hyperlink text.
If you’re writing a long article, there’s a good chance that you’re including a few hyperlinks.
Screen reader users often scan content for important text, and hyperlinks are certainly important. If your link text simply reads “click here" or “more info,” these users won’t understand where the link goes — or why they should click it.
Choose link text that is readable, distinct, and descriptive. When in doubt, use the page’s title as the link text. For example, here’s a link to our quick guide to accessible hyperlinks.
5. Don’t use text appearance alone to convey meaning
Screen readers may not identify font styles. For example, if your text uses bold or italics to emphasize the importance of certain words, screen reader users might miss that emphasis.
However, you can use the HTML <em> element to provide that context, then style the text’s appearance with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Screen readers will announce the emphasis, so use <em> carefully — if you’re emphasizing text in every single paragraph, you probably need to change your approach.
Related: How CSS Benefits Accessibility
Think about accessibility when writing your content
If you’re new to the concepts of digital accessibility, here’s some good news: If you treat inclusivity as a priority, you’ll learn to make better decisions when writing.
By thinking about the experiences of all users — including those with vision, hearing, neurocognitive, and mobility disabilities — you can avoid common barriers while delivering a clear, consistent message to your readers. When you approach your content with an accessible mindset, you’ve taken an important first step.