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Benefits of accessible websites

Website accessibility means creating an online environment in which all users, not just those with disabilities, are able to easily navigate, interact with, and understand your website. Having a website that features intuitive, consistent navigation, properly labeled links and images, and user friendly design will result in users spending more time on your site, consuming your content.

Accessible web content that is designed to be accessible to people with disabilities also offers benefits to all users and improves website usability and SEO.

Many of Google’s search priorities favour universal design and a great user experience.  Below we highlight the main benefits of accessible content - universal design and search engine optimization (SEO).

Universal design

Universal design evolved from accessible design. Universal design goes further by recognizing that there is a wide spectrum of human abilities. Everyone, even the most able-bodied person, passes through childhood, periods of temporary illness, injury and old age. By designing for this diversity, we can create things that will be easier for all people to use.

Universal design benefits all ages and abilities. It recognizes the diversity and different requirements of users.

Video

  • Captions and transcripts added to video widen your audience segment. Captions make your video universally accessible.
  • View time -studies have shown that captions increase view times not only for persons with deafness or a hearing impediment or those for which English is a second language, but also for users who watch video in a sound sensitive environment (eg. a workplace or library).
  • The WCMS uses YouTube for video - YouTube’s auto-caption function is often riddled with mistakes, this can cause misrepresentation of your content, it is essential to edit auto-captions after they have been created. You should either edit the captions or add your own captions.

HTML web pages rather than documents

  • Most users are more comfortable with HTML (web pages) than with PDFs or other documents and experience less freezing and slow loading with HTML.
  • HTML pages are less dependent on software versions. PDF and other documents may require a downloadable plugin or stand alone app.
  • It’s easier to incorporate interactivity and social functionality into HTML pages.
  • People link to HTML pages and share them more frequently than PDFs or other documents.

Alternative text for images

  • Providing alternative text (ALT text) for images benefits anyone who doesn't have access to graphics.
    • While this group includes persons with blindness or visual impediment, it also includes those using text-based browsers such as Lynx. Text-based browsers have a loyal following because they provide quick and efficient access to web content.
    • Also, despite the increasing availability of high-bandwidth technologies, many users are still connecting using regular dial-up telephone lines due to lack of available alternatives (particularly in rural areas), income, or choice, and many have learned to disable the display of graphics.
    • There is also a growing market for voice web and web portal systems, which provide text-to-speech web access via telephone or car.

Breadcrumbs

  • Breadcrumbs are especially useful for those pages hidden deep within your website. Your users will appreciate a way out and you will appreciate increased user engagement.
  • Typical breadcrumbs look like this: Home page > Section page > Subsection page
  • If a user lands on an inside page deep in your site from search or an external link they will be able to identify other relevant information via the breadcrumbs and easily find their way around.
  • The Waterloo Content Management System (WCMS) auto-generates breadcrumbs - be sure to place all pages in the proper position in the site hierarchy.

Headings

  • Headings help organize and break down chunks of content and keep users informed of their location within a page.
  • Headings also allow users to easily tab through content and only read what they deem necessary.
     

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Google uses different elements to understand the subject and relevance of a webpage. In many cases it is the same elements as for technical web accessibility. For instance, page titles, headings (H1 etc.), anchor texts and alt-attributes are important for both aspects.

By improving your site’s accessibility you can also help improve your website’s search rankings!

Video

  • The WCMS uses YouTube for video - Google owns YouTube, a major benefit to uploading your videos to YouTube is immediate indexing by Google. There is no waiting for bots to crawl your site.
  • Video search results with captions and transcripts rank higher, since they allow access to information in multiple formats, depending on preference and need.
  • Auto-captions do not get indexed by Google and therefore do not help SEO.
  • View time of videos affect page ranking - studies have shown that captions increase view times.
  • Caption text is indexed by search engines, you should consider keywords when producing the spoken content in your videos.
  • Choosing the right video thumbnail image (high quality, high contrast) makes a big difference in click-through rate.

HTML web pages rather than documents

  • PDF pages and other documents often rank poorly because they are rarely properly optimized.
  • HTML (eg. web pages) should be used instead of documents (eg. PDF, Word, Excel) where possible.

Images

  • Search engine robots can’t “see” images, which necessitates the need for a text alternative for images (alternative text).
  • Writing effective alternative text is important to SEO.

Links

  • Anchor text is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. SEO-friendly anchor (link) text is succinct and relevant to the target page.
  • The anchor text of links should:
    • be brief and meaningful
    • provide information even when read out of context
    • explain what the link offers
    • not be a verb phrase (ie. don't use 'click here' as link text)

Breadcrumbs

  • Breadcrumbs are a great way for search engines to understand how your site is structured; they enhance the ability for search engines to crawl your site.

Page titles and headings

  • Search engines determine the overall gist of your webpage by its title tag. From there, page relevancy to a keyword stems from your content / title relationship. If a search engine deems your page relevant, your page’s title will display in the search result.
  • Descriptive headings provide context for search engine bots about the content beneath the heading. Creating a relevant relationship between title, heading, content and link text are all part of a successful content strategy for SEO.
     

Resources

Contact Liam Morland with any questions about creating accessible web content.