The Ultimate Accessibility SEO Checklist

Accessibility SEO

For many, “accessibility” equates to screen readers and users with visual impairments. However, it’s far broader and impacts people with:

  • Hearing impairments (lack of captions on videos)
  • Cognitive differences (complex language or layouts)
  • Motor skill issues (poorly designed navigation)
  • Temporary situational changes (bright sunlight on device screens)

Why Marketers Must Care: The Big Picture

  • Inclusion as the Right Thing: Every person deserves access to information and engagement online. Inclusive design practices are ethically sound.
  • Larger Target Market: Studies show a significant portion of the population lives with disabilities. There are about 42.5 million Americans with disabilities, making up 13% of the civilian noninstitutionalized population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2021. Inclusive websites open up an often-underserved potential audience.
  • SEO Loves Accessibility: Clear code, captions, alt text – these things directly boost SEO with clearer content signals to search engines.
  • Legal Considerations: Depending on your business model, industry, and country of operation, there may be legal requirements for accessibility compliance. Don’t risk fines!

Important Note: It’s best to build these principles into your web development processes early on instead of retroactively patching issues. While this article focuses on ongoing improvements, a proactive approach offers the best return on effort.

Website Structure: The Strong Foundation

  • Semantic HTML: Utilize HTML tags (<h1>, <h2>, <p>, etc.) correctly. Screen readers interpret these for clearer hierarchy, ensuring the intended order and context of your content are grasped.
  • Skip Navigation: Provide a “Skip to Main Content” link, helping screen reader users bypass repetitive blocks like headers and extensive menus when necessary.
  • Logical Content Order: Even when relying on a visual design template, structure the underlying code, so content makes sense if navigation elements are removed– this helps assistive technologies.
  • Clean Forms: Labels, helpful instructions, and error messages that make sense both visually and out loud make interacting with your site’s forms less complex.

The Visual Side: Beyond Sight

  • Color Contrast: Use a tool like WebAIM’s Contrast Checker to ensure text color and backgrounds have sufficient contrast to be easy to read for someone with colorblindness or decreased vision.
  • More Than Color: Don’t rely on color alone to signify meaning (ex: green for “good” results and red for “bad”). Provide additional descriptions (like words or iconography) within interfaces or graphics.
  • Flexible Font Sizes: Avoid fixing font sizes absolutely. Instead, users should be able to adjust their browser text size, and your website should responsively scale without issues.
  • Focus States: Design a clear visual change around elements when they gain keyboard focus. Help keyboard-only users know what element is currently “selected” in your site’s navigation.

Images that Tell a Story, Even Without Sight

  • The Power of Alt Text: Alternative text (“alt text”) is read aloud by screen readers or displayed if an image can’t load. Make it concise and descriptive for all images with meaning. Examples:
    • Good: “Black Labrador puppy sitting in a field of daisies.”
    • Bad: “Image_2023-02-12”
    • Decorative Only? If an image adds no content meaning, use the null attribute (alt=""). This tells assistive technologies to skip it.
  • Infographics: Not So Accessible: If you incorporate complex infographics, provide a summary explaining the data visualized in text within your content. Avoid text that’s part of the graphic itself (screen readers can’t access that.)
  • Image Links: Ensure the alt text accurately describes where the image links when using clickable images. Avoid ambiguous “click here” phrases in your descriptions.

Audio & Video: Multi-Sensory Accessibility

  • Captions Are a Must: Use tools like YouTube’s automatic captioning (which should then be edited for accuracy) or Rev (rev.com) for professionally generated captions and include them for all videos. Ensure caption controls are easily found by your audience.
  • Transcripts When Possible: A full text transcript offers extra flexibility for those who may lack reliable internet for video streaming but wish to engage with your content.
  • Audio Descriptions: Consider adding detailed descriptions of what’s happening on-screen for videos without natural dialogue. This may not apply universally but is important in contexts where visual actions drive understanding.

Testing Tools: Get Inside User Experiences

Don’t assume your work is accessible just because you followed best practices. Utilize resources to simulate various user journeys:

  • Screen Readers: Explore free options like NVDA or WebAIM’s WAVE browser extensions which offer insights and reading simulations.
  • Colorblindness Simulators: Services like Coblis let you see your website through the eyes of someone with different types of color vision deficiencies.
  • Keyboard-Only Navigation: Try it yourself! Unplug your mouse and navigate through your website. You’ll quickly uncover pain points for users unable to easily move with a mouse.

Additional Reminders to Consider

  • Keep it Simple: Avoid overly flickering animations or busy backgrounds that cause distraction and can pose issues for individuals with attention or sensory sensitivities.
  • PDFs? Think Twice: These are notoriously difficult to make accessible. If it’s core content, provide a web-based HTML version alongside or in place of the PDF format.

Accessibility Is Worthwhile – Let’s Talk Practical Implementation

Feeling a bit overwhelmed with where to begin? Here’s a simple action plan:

  1. Audit: Choose one high-traffic page on your website to analyze. Take notes on how it performs across all these checklists; identify the easiest fixes first.
  2. Prioritize: Accessibility overhauls take time. Prioritize changes that impact the largest number of users or affect fundamental content clarity.
  3. Ongoing Education: Stay updated on emerging trends and technology via organizations like the W3C (w3.org). Accessibility considerations evolve over time!

Content Clarity: Accessibility Starts with Your Writing

Even with perfect code, content itself often becomes an accessibility barrier. Consider these guidelines:

  • Simple Language: Limit jargon and overly complex sentence structures. Tools like the Hemingway Editor (hemingwayapp.com) highlight overly complex prose for rewrites.
  • Headings for Structure: Headings (H1, H2, etc.) offer visual breaks and provide hierarchy for screen reader users. Utilize them appropriately to organize your content.
  • Link Text Matters: Avoid clickbait-style and vague link phrases like “Read More.” Describe where the link leads clearly (ex: “Read Our Full Guide to Image Alt Text”).
  • Explain Acronyms: If you must use acronyms, provide the full spelled-out meaning on first use within your content (Example: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)).

Embedding Accessibility into Your Workflow

Making accessibility second nature saves time and prevents retro-fitting headaches:

  • Content Team Training: Ensure everyone creating content (even social media posts!) understands these principles. Share this article as a primer and seek further resources relevant to your industry.
  • Design System Considerations: If building custom templates and web elements, bake accessibility into your component building blocks at the start.
  • Involve Your Community: Open channels for users to easily provide feedback on areas your website may lack accessibility. Respond quickly and with genuine appreciation for their insights.

Important: Your Accessibility Journey Does Not End

  • It’s Iterative: Technology, usage patterns, and understandings of disability shift with time. Revisit your website often with a fresh focus on accessibility maintenance.
  • Compliance Laws: Be aware of legal standards applicable to your industry or geography. Depending on your business, there may be minimum requirements beyond the ethical goals we’ve covered.
  • Competitive Advantage: Accessible websites perform better overall in SEO and user experience. Invest in it as a business asset in the long run.

Final Call to Action

While some tasks here may be technical, don’t let that overshadow the human heart of inclusion. Here’s how to stay accountable:

  • Personas with Disabilities: Create sample user personas that include a range of varying abilities. Utilize these during design and testing to put a face to these needs.
  • Seek Diverse Feedback: Actively engage with potential users who have disabilities for their honest critiques and feedback as much as your budget allows.
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jay kang

An entrepreneur and SEO expert, is the driving force behind innovative platforms like linkilo.co, productreview.tools and more. Committed to empowering marketers, Jay continues to make a positive impact in the digital marketing space.

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