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What Do SEO’s Need to Know About Accessibility?

Understanding accessibility and applying WCAG guidelines provides a competitive layer to your existing search engine optimization strategies and the effort pays off for voice search and answer engines too.

And yet, if you’re an SEO, in all likelihood you’re not trained in accessibility, or asked to include it for your marketing clients. Like usability or conversions design, learning accessibility may not be factored in because it requires a new set of skills,  a different perspective and a new way at looking at web page marketing. Even if you work with an accessibility specialist, it will help to better understand what accessibility is and how it helps your clients.

Photo of Alexa

Accessibility is Assistive

We add specific code to HTML5 designed for the sole purpose of assisting computer devices that assist humans.

For example, your cell phone has assistive technology built into it. Apple and Android operating systems developed different approaches, but for humans, they just need to know what their mobile device provides to them for voice browsing or settings that make the device easier for them to use.

The increase in use of videos and podcasts created a demand for transcription. Years ago transcription text helped people who had no mobile device and wanted to read what was said during a video or it was read to them through software designed for text to speech users. Accessibility means providing alternatives for operability.  SEO’s can optimize video and podcast text to make the content searchable and accessible by everyone.

Assistance, and the need for it, is growing because of smart technology.  The idea that accessibility is only for unsighted people is outdated.  We rely on assistance for directions rather than unfolding a paper map. We ask Google questions at the dinner table as if the search engine has joined us for spaghetti and meatballs. Our appliances are programmed to assist us, and we can talk to our toasters if we have a smart one.

We compete with each other with assistive wearable apps that count our steps. We ask Alexa questions with voice commands and expect that the most accurate answer will be provided to us.  An SEO optimizes for those answers. They can’t do that if they have little information about the people asking the questions. Content  must be readable, understandable and interpreted by a variety of user agents such as screen readers.

Accessibility is Inclusion

Who needs accessibility? This is the most commonly asked question.  As an SEO, you can educate your clients and influence site designers and app developers by embracing inclusion for everyone.

Everyone includes:

  • Blind, sight impaired, color blind, partially blind, reading glasses, “I forgot my reading glasses” temporary frustration blind
  • Voice assistant users; Alexa, Google, proprietary, smart home devices
  • Physical disability that makes using a keyboard or mouse difficult or impossible
  • Hearing loss; relies on other senses
  • Diseases like Parkinson’s and MS that cause hand tremors, making it difficult to use a keyboard, mouse or cell phone
  • Age; memory loss or cognitive recall changes; dementia
  • Experience with computers devices
  • Mental state
  • Emotional state
  • Autistic, Downs Syndrome, Special Needs, Gifted with various limitations that just need a workaround
  • Temporary injury
  • Intoxicated/Medicated
  • Temporary physical change, such as diabetic sugar spike or drop that changes the ability to perform tasks
  • Environment/Noise/Poor lighting

Environments change too. How we use a computer device can change depending on what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and where we’re using it.

Downs Syndrome Man with Older Couple

Considerations for Accessibility

Software developers and website owners haven’t considered assistive and inclusive accessibility because they are not encouraged to research how, where, when, and why people use their product.

The development cycle typically does not include a pow wow at the early requirements gathering stages that has seats for both the SEO and the accessibility specialist. We’re lucky if they remember to include a usability compliance specialist, conversions designer, human factors behavior researcher or mobile designer trained in conversions, accessibility and usability.

What seems to scare stakeholders into submission is the threat of a lawsuit. There are accessibility legal regulations in both the US for government digital properties and in the UK for public sector properties. Both do not legally enforce every other type of website or app, but they do strongly recommend implementing accessibility because each country is in the process of developing enforceable guidelines that include providing an accessibility statement and full adherence to WCAG 2.1 guidelines.

Judges are leaning in favor of special needs customers who are denied access online to the same products and services as someone who doesn’t require additional assistance.

What Can You Do?

First, hire an accessibility specialist to test and evaluate an existing website or online form, for example. The testing is rigorous and detailed, but it provides all the information needed to make improvements.

It’s more difficult to add back in the precise lines of code afterwards, which makes it more logical to obtain an accessibility specialist for new development.  Getting into the code also requires someone who understands HTML5 and how to implement the code adjustments needed to meet WCAG or Section 508 guidelines.

For marketing, create user personas that need assistance. Think about how and where they ask questions or the kinds of content they seek, and where they look for it. Study user-generated content (UGC) for clues on terms and semantics. Optimize for schools that use assistive technology. Watch people. Ask questions.

They will help you figure out how to provide the best answers intended to target them.

Here’s a SEMrush session Kim recently participated in for some more info:


Voice Search Test

Gov.UK – Make your public sector website or app accessible – For US gov sites but loaded with useful information on accessibility






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