According to an analysis from Brightedge Research (PDF), 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine.
If your business has a strong search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, that’s great news — people who reach your website organically are highly motivated to engage with your business.
But if you’re struggling to reach the front page of Google, you may need to consider how your site’s user experience (UX) factors into the ranking algorithms. Search engines want to deliver the best possible content to their users. If a website sends the wrong signals, it’s less likely to rank.
As we’ve discussed in other articles, the best practices of SEO are closely aligned with the best practices of accessibility. Creators who consider the needs and expectations of people with disabilities tend to build better content that works for every user — including search engine spiders — which often translates to better search engine ranking performance (SERP).
Accessibility optimization is user experience optimization
In May 2020, Google introduced Core Web Vitals, a set of signals intended to measure “how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure information value.” Essentially, Google began treating certain UX metrics as ranking factors.
Some of those signals weren’t directly applicable to web accessibility — for example, serving a page over HTTPS improves security, but doesn’t meaningfully change the experience of the user when they load the page.
However, Google also warned webmasters not to use interstitials and dialogs in a way that could obstruct the users' view of content, noting that these elements may make content less accessible. And the Core Web Vitals update encouraged webmasters to deliver mobile-friendly pages, with large enough touch targets to accommodate different screens — in other words, websites should be robust enough to provide a good experience to different user agents.
Accessible websites benefited from these changes. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is widely considered the international standards for accessibility, requires responsive design and predictable navigation that doesn’t initiate a change of context (for example, pop-up interstitials and dialogs).
Website accessibility improves SEO content signals
Over time, search engine algorithms may put more emphasis on UX signals. For now, content is king. As Google Search Central notes:
While page experience is important, Google still seeks to rank pages with the best information overall, even if the page experience is subpar. Great page experience doesn't override having great page content.
Fortunately, accessible websites send strong content signals. Numerous WCAG success criteria are virtually identical to the recommendations in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines:
- WCAG requires web pages to have descriptive titles, which enable users to navigate to the content they want to read. Google also requires “descriptive and concise" titles, and title tags are arguably the single-most important SEO signal.
- WCAG requires websites to use headings in sequential order, which improves site organization. Well-structured web pages are also easier for search engines to crawl and analyze.
- WCAG requires alternative text (also called alt text or alt tags) for images. Without alt text, search engines can’t accurately determine the contents of images.
High-quality, relevant content performs better in search rankings. Accessible websites tend to have high-quality, relevant content, which is delivered in a way that sends strong signals to Google and other search engines.
Great SEO strategies focus on users, not search engines
While WCAG may not address every aspect of SEO, it provides webmasters with a headstart on the most important ranking factors — and future-proofs websites against long-term changes in search algorithms.
That’s because the goal of accessibility is to provide a better internet for real-life users, including those who use screen readers and other assistive technology. The principles of accessible designs encourage decisions that make content more predictable, understandable, usable, and robust, which ensures a more consistent experience for all users.
Simply put, user-focused SEO strategies are more effective and sustainable. And since web accessibility also improves customer retention, brand recognition, and legal compliance, it’s a strong investment in your business’s future.