For e-commerce merchants focussed on their sales targets and website traffic, accessibility is easy to overlook. The direct benefits of SEO are easy to appreciate, whilst the advantages of accessibility may not feel as immediately apparent.

Disregarding accessibility is a wasted opportunity. There is little use in directing customers to a site they then struggle to navigate and leave without making a purchase. The Internet should be inclusive and available to all.

According to one survey 72% of disabled customers abandon websites that are not accessible. And considering the disabled population in the UK alone is worth around £249 billion a year, this is not something you want to ignore.

What’s more, certain aspects of accessibility can have a positive impact on your SEO ranking.

Is accessibility a ranking factor?

Will accessibility ever be an explicit ranking factor in its own right? John Mueller of Google says it is not an immediate plans, although he wouldn’t rule it out in the future. He also argued many of the components of accessibility lead to better websites, making them more popular in their own right, SEO aside.

Search engine algorithms are constantly evolving. Keeping up with them can be somewhat of a guessing game. Ultimately though, updates to the algorithms are typically to improve user experience and penalise spam or malicious tactics.

The techniques used to improve accessibility tend to encourage clearer, more informative alt text, and to avoid the unnatural repetitions and keyword stuffing typical of SEO cheat tactics. So as algorithms increasingly outlaw these low quality tactics, websites that are clear and accessible will benefit highly. Arguably accessibility improves SEO, making it more user friendly.

Accessibility vs. SEO

Web accessibility and SEO essentially function in a similar way. Screen readers, like search engine crawlers, read and interpret the code in a website to establish the framework and context of the content on the page. While crawlers use this information to rank the website in search engine results, screen readers enable visually impaired Internet users to access the site by reading aloud to the user.

Since each has a different end purpose, implementing strategies for one can unfortunately sometimes be to the detriment of the other. But the good news is that there are many areas of web accessibility which, if used correctly, will bring equal benefit to your SEO.

The overlap between Accessibility and SEO

Below are some of the areas of overlap - easy wins for improving the SEO and accessibility of your website in the same move.

Image alt text and captions

Alternative text for images is “the first principle of web accessibility” (WebAIM). Without it, screen readers are unable to describe the image and it will be invisible to the visually impaired user.

But alt text also has big implications for SEO, allowing crawlers to “read” the image. Well-worded, descriptive alt text for images can therefore serve both purposes equally.

Video captions and transcripts

Videos are increasingly popular as page loading speeds improve, resulting in a new barrier for hard of hearing users. But they are not the only ones to miss out on audio. In fact the majority of video content on social media is viewed on mute.

So clear, in-frame text is the only way to guarantee viewers hear the message you want them to. And since crawlers are unable to decipher the video content itself, they rely on a full transcript – another accessibility must-have – to determine the nature of the video in order to rank it.

Clear site structure

A sitemap and table of contents enable search engines and screen readers alike to intelligently crawl your site more efficiently. Clear, well labelled navigation and page structure make your site easier to interpret, with breadcrumb navigation further improving the "findability" of pages within the site.

Page titles should be descriptive but brief, and headings not left blank. Each page and heading title are important indicators to the context of the page.

Descriptive link text

If a button is simply labelled “click here”, crawlers or readers would be unable to determine purpose of the link. Especially as the URL alone is often not sufficient to explain the link destination.

Instead, link text should clearly describe what it is linking to. This removes ambiguity, and helps search engines understand and categorise links. Visually impaired users rely on this information to know whether to follow a link since they cannot depend on other visual indicators on the page.

Accessible sites are a win for all

Accessibility should always be a web developer’s aim. An inclusive, easy to navigate internet benefits everyone.

Using loopholes and cheats to improve SEO rankings are a short term win but, in the long term, building the structure of your site to make it clear an accessible will reduce bounce rate and likely boost conversions. And who doesn’t want that?