According to a report from Borrell Associates, U.S. businesses spent about $73.38 billion on search engine optimization (SEO) in 2019 alone. That made up about 9.5% of all digital marketing spending — and the SEO market is expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
Put simply, SEO is big business. It offers profound benefits to organizations of every size: If you can increase your organic traffic, you can get more creative with other marketing efforts and build a stronger brand.
But not all SEO tactics are equal. Cramming keywords into your page titles and subheadings won’t send you to the top of Google rankings: For long-term results, you need to focus on real users, not search engine algorithms.
That’s where digital accessibility comes into play. Following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can help your business attract search traffic while improving the experiences of real users. Here’s how.
If assistive technologies can read your website, search engines can, too
Many people with disabilities use assistive technologies (AT) such as screen readers (software that converts text to audio). AT software relies on accurate markup to present your website to users — and that’s also true for search engine spiders, which analyze markup to identify the content on your page.
If your content has barriers for AT users, there’s a good chance that those same barriers will limit search engine spiders from accurately crawling your website. For example:
If your images don’t contain alternative text (also called alt text), they’re invisible to screen reader users. Likewise, search engines can’t understand the purpose and function of the images — so those images are much less likely to appear in search results.
If your subheadings aren’t identified through HTML markup, users with disabilities may have trouble scanning your content for important info. You’re also missing an opportunity to incorporate keywords and show search engines that your content is well-organized.
If your page title tags aren’t descriptive and accurate, some users may have difficulty navigating between pages. Title tags also appear in search engine listings — they’re the first thing people see, so they’re essential for SEO.
Technical SEO is closely linked with accessible design. However, to understand the potential SEO benefits of an accessibility initiative, we’ll need to go a bit further.
Related: Five Ways to Improve Your SEO with Web Accessibility
Search engine ranking systems look for consistent, high-quality content
One of the most important concepts of digital accessibility is consistency. Users expect web pages to maintain consistent structures and controls. Consistent web design helps every user, but it’s especially important for some people with disabilities: When a website doesn’t change radically from page to page, people can navigate easily and find the information they need.
Search engines also prioritize consistency, both in terms of content signals (such as keyword usage) and user experience signals (such as page load speeds). Digital accessibility promotes a holistic approach that compels developers to look at the entire website, not just the performance of a single webpage.
As you prioritize accessible web design, you’ll start to send stronger signals to Google, Bing, and other search engines. For example:
Accessible websites often have clean, lightweight code. That can mean faster load times and better user experience metrics.
Accessible websites are responsive. They present an equivalent experience to every user, regardless of the technology they’re using to access the internet. Search engines are less likely to miss important content on responsive sites.
Clean, consistent content can reduce bounce rates, which some engines track as a potential ranking factor.
When users have a great experience on your website, they’ll want to spread the word. Most search engines use the number and quality of backlinks (hyperlinks pointing to a certain website) as a ranking factor.
Related: Why Consistency is Important to Accessible Design
Create a stronger SEO strategy with an accessibility-first mindset
To boost your presence in relevant search results, you need to provide people with a pleasant experience. Your content must be clear, consistent, and predictable.
WCAG provides a foundation for building that content, but an accessible mindset can help you enjoy the full benefits of inclusive design. When you think about users with disabilities when planning your content — and when optimizing for SEO — everyone wins.
You can take the first step by testing your content against WCAG guidelines with our free automated analysis. For more guidance, download our free eBook: Developing the Accessibility Mindset.