Improving SEO Using Accessibility Techniques

by Jason J

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There are several ways to improve upon your Search Engine Optimization, using link building, usability techniques, and analyzing your site in order to see where you are in comparison with competitors, there is one technique however that can not only make your site easier to find, but is an important part of making sure that a broader range of the population is able to view and interact with your site. According to the 2010 census, 19% of people within the US have some type of physical, mental, or communicative disability ( Making sure a website is accessible for those with disabilities isn’t only important for making sure those 19% can use your website, it’s also a legal issue. In section 508, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, guidelines are laid out that require websites operated by the federal government, or receiving funds or payment from a federal agency to make their technology, including websites, available to those with disabilities (

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How does SEO work?

First you need to understand how SEO works, first crawlers which are “Automated programs in search engines that gather web site listings by automatically crawling the web. A search engine’s crawler (also called a spider or robot) “reads” page text contents and web page coding, and also follows links to other hyperlinked pages on the web pages it crawls.” ( The information that crawler collects is then stored in the search engines index, some crawlers can collect more than just information from pure text as well such as PDF content. The best methods for improving SEO easily are the title of your page, inbound links to your website, internal links to other parts of your website, and keywords. SEO is extremely important in your online business because most people find what they need online, and being the on the first page of results can give a huge boost to the traffic on your site. A study by study at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee looked at what has the most individual impact on SEO, ” Webpages with keywords in both title and full-text achieved better visibility performance than the webpages with keywords only in full-texts and the webpages with keywords only in titles in light of returned position in a search engine results list. Webpages with keywords only in full-texts achieved better performance than webpages with keywords only in titles” (Zhang&Dimitroff).

So, how can meeting these accessibility requirements improve your SEO?

While some accessibility techniques won’t be picked up by crawlers, others will, and using these can be very beneficial. For example, if you’re using images to show a message, also have that message in text. This could help in two ways, first, the crawler now picks up this text, and if somebody were to search for deals on the products you have sales, it will now show up which might not have happened if your message was conveyed purely through an image. Also, images seriously hamper the vision impaired, those with no or little vision who depend on screen readers that read back text on the page to them, and help users navigate without a mouse. For example, if somebody were and blind trying to buy something from your site, but your checkout button was only an image, without any selectable text, that person would have no way to buy a product from you because screen readers can’t read images. Another method that can be used is providing transcripts and closed captioning of videos so that the deaf can read what’s occurring during the video, and the blind can listen to the transcript of the video which could describe visual events in that video that they might otherwise miss such as describing how somebody looks. This also makes sure that when a crawler looks through your site, it will find contents that describe the video since you have text about it. Another important thing to do is to aid the colorblind, “Don’t rely on color alone. Pages must have enough contrast so that users with monochrome displays and people with color-viewing disabilities can view the information. For large amounts of readable content, use a white background with black text” (Elges).

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How can I improve accessibility on my site?

When creating a website, it’s best to have accessibility in mind when you create it. It’s a good idea to avoid Flash or Java objects, and displaying content through scripts not only because crawlers don’t pick them up, “Note that while Google can index the content of Flash files, other search engines may not be able to. Therefore, we recommend that you use rich-media technologies like Flash primarily for decorative purposes, and instead use HTML for content and navigation” (, but since they are not text based screen readers would also be unable to pick them up as well. By designing your pages around HTML and CSS, with scripts that enhance accessibility by offering different views or functions for the disabled, you can make your website far more optimized both for search engines, as well as the disabled, also the increased functions brought by HTML5 and CS3 help to avoid using Flash. As previously stated previously, include text alternative for images, as well as transcripts for any audio used on your website. Also provide the ability for users to navigate purely with a keyboard if they’re unable to use a mouse correctly due to a physical disability.

What can be done to improve accessibility standards across the internet?

The best way to improve accessibility is for website developers to be aware of it when designing their websites and account for the disabled. As of now, legal standards are not keeping up, even the federal government, who legally must make all their websites accessible is not complying with their own laws. ” E-government is intended to make government more available to citizens, businesses, and other government agencies. However, federal e-government Web sites, in spite of the requirements of Section 508, are often inaccessible to persons with disabilities (Jaeger).
If businesses are able to realize that by using accessibility techniques they can simultaneously improve their SEO, make their website more accessible to the disabled, and make more money by making their website usable to a broader range of people because of those techniques they will certainly see that there isn’t really any reason not to build your website to accessible to those with disabilities.

“Flash and Other Rich Media Files – Webmaster Tools Help.” Accessed May 15, 2013.
Jaeger, Paul T. “Pomona: User-Centered Policy Evaluations of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: Evaluating E-Government Web Sites for Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities.” Accessed May 15, 2013.
———. “User-Centered Policy Evaluations of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: Evaluating E-Government Web Sites for Accessibility for Persons With Disabilities.” Journal of Disability Policy Studies 19, no. 1 (June 2008): 24–33.
Mary, Elges. “Designing for Web Accessibility: More Benefits Than You May Imagine – ProQuest.” Accessed May 13, 2013.
Office, US Census Bureau Public Information. “Facts for Features: 20th Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act: July 26 – Facts for Features & Special Editions – Newsroom – U.S. Census Bureau.” Accessed May 13, 2013.
“Section 508.” Accessed May 13, 2013.
“SEM Glossary – SEMPO.” SEMPO. Accessed May 13, 2013.
Zhang, Jin, and Alexandra Dimitroff. “ – Information Processing & Management – The Impact of Webpage Content Characteristics on Webpage Visibility in Search Engine Results (Part I).” Accessed May 15, 2013.

3 thoughts on “Improving SEO Using Accessibility Techniques

  • May 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Excellent presentation and blog entry Jason! I didn’t realize SEOs utilized these ‘first crawlers’ to find and gather information. It’s a pretty nice visual on how these things work. On the topic of accessibility I believe there’s a website that can help determine whether or not a site is compliant with the disability regulations. I know this because I had to use it for CIS 231, but I forgot what the site was called. It was also funny how you noted that even the federal government were not complying with their own laws.

  • May 29, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Great blog post! Very few designers make their site Section 508 compliant. It is also interesting because site building programs such as dreamweaver offer validation tools which check for section 508 compliance amongst other things.

    It is definitely a good idea to get rid of flash and java objects too. Flash is archaic and becoming obsolete with the implementation of html5. Java also seems to cause a lot of problems in general and crashes which becomes frustrating for the user.

  • June 10, 2013 at 12:17 am

    I like how you break down SEO and how crawlers work. Also I was surprised to hear that many governement sites are not 508 compliant. Overall very informative and Good blog.

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