Being accessible is a step towards better search engine optimisation (SEO)

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It's sometimes said that building an accessible website also helps with your organisation's search engine optimisation (SEO) campaign. But how does that work?

Web accessibility is all about building websites that can be used not just in a typical browser, using your eyes to look at what's presented on the screen. Screen-reading software, used by people with low vision, looks at the website's HTML code underneath the visual layout, and presenting it in a structured, logical format that can then be read aloud for users. Part of having an accessible website is having code that is more easily interpreted by screen-reading software, so that, for instance, it is easy to identify what is a heading, what is an image, what is a paragraph, and what is a link (and what does that link point to, in the absence of its surrounding content).

Search engines work along an unrelated but similar method. Search engine servers automatically scour web pages, looking for meaningful text they can understand. Understanding the structure of the page, such as what is a heading and what is a link, makes it much easier for search engines to correctly identify and rank your organisation's website.

This structure, and the need to present it correctly in HTML code, is shared by both accessible websites and websites that have been well optimised for search engines.

To look at a technical example, consider the following unoptimised and inaccessible HTML code:

<div><strong>Here is a header</strong><br>
And here is a paragraph of text</div>

This same code could be presented as follows in a much more accessible and optimised way:

<h1>Here is a header</h1>
<p>Here is a paragraph of text.</p>

In the first example, the only distinction between the two is visual – one line has bolded text, over the heading, the other does not. In the second example, the search engine spider and the screen-reading software both know that the first line is a level 1 heading, important to the structure of the page, and that the second line is a paragraph of text. This instantly gives the page structure in a way that makes it accessible both to search engines and to screen-reading software, meaning your website wins on both fronts.

Building a web page that is accessible goes a long way towards building a web page that is optimised for search engine spiders. In this way, by helping your website be available to all users, you're also increasing your own marketing reach.

Learn more about the interaction between accessibility and search engine optimisation. Contact Webdragon to arrange your free consultation today.

2 Comments

    • Bjarni Wark
    • Friday, 20 Aug 2010
    • 10:08am
    • Reply
    It would be pretty wild to think that your example of unoptimised and inaccessible HTML code is a possibility in today's web standards.

    Thanks for your article, very clear to understand with a straight forward example.
    • Liam McGee
    • Friday, 20 Aug 2010
    • 07:51pm
    • Reply
    We're the whitest of white hat SEOs, and we make accessibility one of the basic 'hygiene' requirements for sites we work on, not to mention commending the W3C WCAG guidelines to readers of our 'Google book' and articles. In other words, if you're not accessible to assistive tech with a human to do the thinking, what do you think the non-human-assisted googlebot is going to make of your site?

    Good article, I thoroughly approve.
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