How Web Accessibility and Ethical Design Can Boost Your SEO

Making your site more accessible will also make it more easily searchable.

The business-enhancing benefits of web accessibility are numerous. From an ethical design point of view, we believe all businesses should have a strategic, on-going web accessibility focus for one reason above all others: It’s the right thing to do. That said, we also know that for modern businesses the efforts put into designing and maintaining industry-leading user experiences need to have multiple benefits, each built with an eye to complement and optimize the others.

One of the core goals of customer experience in general, and of web accessibility in particular, is to broaden the reach of your business so more people can access and participate in what you offer online. A key outcome is not only your ability to engage users, but how easily you’re found by them in the first place. In a perfect partnership, web accessibility enhances SEO, making your site not only able to be used by more of your customers but more likely to answer their increasingly important search intent. 

There are interesting similarities between how Google crawls a website and how assistive technology does the same thing for users that need it. Presenting content in a simple, clear, organized way not only helps to meet some of the most common web accessibility guidelines, but it also increases chances for your site to be thoroughly indexed and surfaces your more relevant keywords. In some ways, Google doesn’t experience your site all that differently from how a user using assistive technology does. Some of the key markers to increase ranking – lower bounce rates, higher conversion, higher traffic, reduced negative feedback, and other positive responses – are improved for all of your users, whether they have a disability or not, through some of the simplest and most impactful web accessibility fixes. 

Here’s how to put the power of web accessibility for SEO to work for yourself.

Accessibility makes it easier for search engines to crawl your site

When it comes to SEO, a key fundamental is that well-organized and high-functioning websites have a better chance of being thoroughly inspected by search engines in the first place. You might have very high-quality content that you spent a lot of time and money on, but if it’s not properly developed in a well-maintained site it can be passed over by search engines. Many accessibility improvements are specifically focused on increasing simplicity, clarity, and organization of information on your site. So while boosting your accessibility, they simultaneously help clean up and optimize your site in a way that also makes it more easily read by search engines.

See our list of the most common accessibility and ethical design improvements you can make today (and start giving a jump to your SEO rankings).

Accessibility naturally improves SEO quality signals through user experience

Many accessibility improvements inherently improve the UX and design experience of your site. Though there are 200 total factors Google uses to rank sites, many are tied directly to user experience. 

Lowered bounce rate

You (and Google) want your users to stay on your site and engage with as much of it as possible. Messy architecture and confusing navigation is not just a turn-off for your users, it can make your site impossible to use at all for users with disabilities. 

Increased time spent on site

Search engines are a service unto themselves, and they want to surface the highest quality, most relevant content to their users. Time spent on site is a key determiner of quality and where your site will rank. The more accessible your content, the more likely all of your users (including those with disabilities) will spend more time and signal to search engines like Google that your high-quality site is worthy of top ranking. 

Increase backlinks

Another key search engine ranking factor comes not from the search engines themselves, but from all other internet users. Accessible websites are naturally more usable and so attract more traffic not only from individual customers, but from other businesses, agencies, and high-authority blogs who will link to their content. Search engines see quality backlinks from high-authority sites as one of the most important factors in determining your ranking. 

Accessibility supercharges video

Video consumption continues to rise, an IP video traffic is projected to account for 82% of all consumer internet traffic in 2020. The demand for SEO-friendly, accessible video content will make the use of professional, human-led (not auto-generated) closed captions, and transcripts more important than ever. 

  • High-quality closed captions not only benefit people with hearing or cognitive disabilities, but they also help users with a limited understanding or familiarity with spoken English.
  • More users than ever are watching videos without sound anyway. 92% watch without sound on mobile and 82% watch without sound on desktop. 
  • Well-timed, concise captions also increase overall video watch time. That means more users consuming more of your video content. 

As accessibility increases to become more naturally included in our overall web strategies, it’s possible that accessibility factors will become even more integral to how search engines will rank your site in the future. The improvements and processes you build today are very likely to make a difference now but to also set you up for greater success in the future.


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