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SEO and Web Accessibility: How They Relate

February 29, 2016

Web accessibility and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) both raise the visibility of your website. SEO does this by using a search engine’s search algorithm to funnel traffic to your site. Web accessibility does so by limiting the number of barriers to information for all users once they’ve gotten to the site, in particular the disabled. Both affect the structure of a web page in different ways—can these two principles work in tandem, or do webmasters have to focus on one or the other to improve website traffic?

Search Engines as “Disabled Users”

SEO is an integral part of nearly all Internet marketing strategies—if people can’t find your site, how can they become customers or supporters? Webmasters spend countless hours trying to configure their websites to improve their search engine ranking through clever presentation and design. SEO strategizing broadly falls into two categories: white hat SEO and black hat SEO. White hat SEO refers to good design and following guidelines to improve search ranking. Black hat SEO focuses on what many refer to as “unethical” strategizing: manipulating a search engine’s algorithm instead of focusing on a human audience. These can include keyword stuffing (overloading keywords on a webpage so search engines will read them as relevant in a web search), invisible text, or page swapping (changing a web page after it has been ranked).

SEO focuses on the perception of relevance. Many argue that webmasters should view search engines as “users with disabilities,” in the sense that it can’t view your images, Javascript based navigations, or flash animation. As such, it is necessary to ensure that your content is properly categorized and structured. This is a mutual win for both SEO and web accessibility.

According to Michael Wahlgren, CEO and founder of search engine marketing and web development company Pineberry, SEO and web accessibility are “very much linked together.” Examples of tools that overlap web accessibility and SEO include:

  • Using proper alternative text for images
  • Providing clear and proper heading structure
  • Avoiding mouse dependent interaction
  • Allowing multiple ways of finding content
  • Presenting a clear and consistent navigation and page structure
  • Using anchor texts on links to describe what the page you link to is about

Bottom Line

Web accessibility and SEO are not at odds with each other. On the contrary, they are complementary; an accessible website can improve SEO. Coding for SEO or web accessibility share many of the same characteristics. Good SEO structuring and web accessibility planning are beneficial to both webmasters and end users.

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