Accessibility Is the Key to Increasing Organic Traffic

October 26, 2020

There may be no real estate more valuable than the first page of search engine results. So how do you get your content to show up there? Search engine optimization (SEO) advice is pretty plentiful on the web, but most experts fail to stress the importance of accessibility as the key differentiator in demanding organic web traffic.

If you've tried to find the secret sauce or obsess over word count but just can't seem to rank, consider making these adjustments immediately:

  1. Add alt text to all relevant images and multimedia.
  2. Add unique page titles to every page.
  3. Create descriptive headings that include important — and specific — words.
  4. Nest headings properly.
  5. Use lists to streamline information.
  6. Bonus: place most important information near the top of the page.

1. Add alt text to all relevant images and multimedia

Text can be considered the foundation of accessibility and the foundation of SEO. Including text alternatives to content that isn't already digital text — images, videos, infographics, etc. — allows assistive technologies like screen readers as well as search engines to access the content.

Without alt text, transcripts, captions, or whatever is appropriate for that kind of content, the information will not be found by many individuals or by search engines. Many times, non-text content is the most important information on the page, so it's critical it can be found and used.

To clarify, text in this case refers to actual text, not images of text, which present barriers to accessibility and search.

2. Add unique page titles to every page

Page titles are important ranking factors in searches and they're important for accessibility, too.

The page title is not the same as the title of an article or the main heading of a page. Instead, the page title is metadata that doesn't appear in the main content frame at all, but it does appear:

  • In web browser tabs
  • In search engine results pages

To create accessible page titles, make sure they are descriptive and unique. This will help search engines and individuals who use assistive technologies like screen readers understand what a page is about and distinguish it from all other pages.

Paying attention to and updating page titles is one of the easiest ways to quickly improve SEO and accessibility.

3. Create descriptive headings that include important — and specific — words

Headings help people understand what a section of content is about. They also help search engines figure out the same. To improve SEO and accessibility, be sure to:

  • Use properly-coded headings to help organize content (not bold or large paragraph text).
  • Make headings descriptive and clear.

Headings carry more search engine weight than normal paragraph text, so using them thoughtfully can help provide an SEO boost. A best practice to help further is to be specific. Consider the difference between a heading like "Helpful steps" and "Steps for making content more accessible." Both might be accurate, but the latter is clearer to search engines and could be more accessible, depending on the context.

4. Nest headings properly

"A good site structure is at the very core of good SEO — optimizing for the crawlers," according to Neil Patel.

A good site structure is one that is intuitive and logical, and one of the main ways of achieving that is by nesting headings properly.

In a web page's code, headings are built at different levels. There should be one heading-level one, followed by a heading-level two. Within that heading-level two should be any appropriate heading-level three elements, and so on. Keep headings logical and sequential, i.e., don't skip levels or jump around.

Search engines are placing more importance on well-structured content, which is also critical for accessibility.

5. Use lists to streamline information

When a collection of information or the answer to a question can be placed in a properly-coded list, this wraps up as a nice package for search engines.

It is common to see lists demand the highest placements on results page. Giving it some thought, it isn't hard to understand why. If search engines are trying to find the most relevant answer to a question or most helpful solution to a problem, and someone demonstrates they can convey that information in an easy-to-read list, it lends itself to a happy reader who can quickly find what they want.

6. Bonus: place most important information near the top of the page

In today's age, people make decisions about whether a web page has what they want almost immediately. And, considering that within a second or two, search engines can present users with thousands (or more) results, it's safe to say that they also judge a page's purpose quickly.

To satisfy both, put the most important information near the top whenever possible. There's an inherent assumption by a reader or a search engine that you're already doing this, even though of course you may not be.

This is listed as a bonus because it might not always be possible, but usually the main point or at least the question your content seeks to answer can be introduced sooner than later. This gives people and site crawlers a reason to continue.

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