The Internet has evolved precisely at the same time in history as an evolution in the treatment and integration of people with disabilities. In recent years, cognitive and physical handicaps have become better understood and diagnosed, and growing fields like occupational therapy and mental health have revolutionized the concept of what it means to be “disabled.”. Society is more educated and tolerant of handicaps than it was even twenty years ago, and the Internet has played a major role, even enabling disabled people to interact with others and find new comfort and purpose in their communities.
But as a Search Marketer, I can’t help but wonder: is SEO keeping up? All too often, websites with poor accessibility are given prominence in Google’s search results. Sites which misuse image alt tags, for example, or mislabel their title or headers to pack in keywords, can trick Google’s robotic crawlers into ranking a page highly — but also trip up people with visual impairment using text-to-speech readers.
Accessibility SEO is no new concept. As it turns out, what is best for Google’s robots is actually what’s best for all users: a simple, elegant and standards-compliant design. Web developers should recognize the particular needs of all their users, just like they already consider the experience of mobile users, or iPad users, or Internet Explorer users. And designers shouldn’t treat accessibility as an afterthought. A good architect incorporates a wheelchair ramp into the design of his building. He doesn’t drop it in carelessly at the last minute, and he doesn’t begrudge the necessity of ADA accessibility compliance. He makes that wheelchair ramp a beautiful, integral part of his design.
You can make simple but high-impact changes to your website to better accommodate users with disabilities. For example, design your websites with dyslexic people in mind, using an off-white background and sans-serif fonts. Make sure your HTML structure adheres to proper W3C specifications and has a hierarchical order of h elements, and uses li elements to separate line items — standards which are intended to help people using text-to-speech readers. Mark code with HTML5’s new structural elements, like header, nav or footer, which help screen readers identify content appropriately.
If your content is relevant, engaging and unique, you’re already on your way to winning the search engine battle. Good SEO tactics will then refine this content, emphasizing key points and actually encouraging correct machine reading. Screen readers, like Google’s robots, work best with W3C-valid websites that are beautifully coded. The SEO community should push Google and other search engines to reward websites that follow the guidelines of proper web development and accessibility SEO. And shame on any search engine that intentionally rewards noncompliant websites.
Encourage Google to apply more weight to W3C-valid websites, and do your part to make the web a more integrated and accessible place.