Designing for Accessibility Can Help Search Engine Rankings, Too
One of the added bonuses to designing with accessibility issues in mind is that doing so can also help your search engine rankings. Why is that? Well, search engines love text and accessility guidelines encourage text readability and easy navigation. Section 508 guidelines, for example, require U.S. federal agency sites to be widely accessible to the disabled. These guidelines emphasize content, structure, and the ease of navigation. Even if you’re not designing a federal agency site, being familiar with those requirements can help your own site anyway. If your site is easier to access, not only can more visitors access your site, the search engines will also access the content easier.
Maybe you wonder how you can possibly design a site that’s visually appealing that follows the guidelines. Won’t it be really dull, boring, and plain? Afterall, if it has to follow Section 508 guidelines or at least be more accessibility friendly, that means sacrificing nice graphics and layouts, right? Not at all. This is a common misconception. Brainstorms and Raves is one of the many examples on the Internet that’s designed to be widely accessible and search engine friendly (and hopefully you’ll also find it visually appealing!). There’s more information about this site’s philosophy and design in the Colophon. My last post also discusses the journey of redesigning my business site, which is based on the same philosophy, one that I’ve tagged a transitional bridge approach.
So how can you do this? It’s really not that tough to do. If you learned HTML one way that didn’t necessarily include good accessibility issues, you can learn some new habits that will become second nature, too. It’s just a matter of learning about what’s needed, such as including
ALT attributes in your images, closing your tags, not relying on color alone for visual cues, using style sheets and good markup, making sure your pages degrade gracefully for older browsers and voice browsers, screen readers, and other devices, and some other details. The Style Guide for The Branch Libraries of the New York Public Library is a terrific help for this. Also check out the W3C’s WAI guidelines, as they provide further information on all this, too.
In addition to the accessibility guidelines, to help improve your search engine rankings also consider the important keyword phrases that visitors may type in at search engines to find your site. Make sure to use those keyword-rich phrases well within your content (the higher on the page the better), your meta tags, your title tags, that the
ALT attributes use them well, and other optimizing details. See my tutorial at Digital Web on designing for search engines for more details, Designing for Search Engines and Stars.
I’d also suggest downloading the Lynx text only browser, if you haven’t already, and view sites regularly with this plain text browser. It will give you some great insight on how your pages will read with such a simple tool. The Opera browser also has convenient buttons to quickly and easily turn off images, style sheets, and more. And if you have a PDA, you can view regular Web sites using Avantgo or other browser tools for handhelds. I’ve learned a tremendous amount checking my sites and browsing the Web with these three tools, especially with
ALT attribute text, navigation, and layouts. See below for more tips and info for other tools.
Search Engine Optimization for Everyone, new article November 21, 2001 by Paul J. Bruemmer for ClickZ.
WebsiteTips.com’s Accessibility section has quite a few annotated links to helpful sites on accessibility, including links to the 508 guidelines, W3C information, tutorials and tips, and more.
WebsiteTips.com’s Search Engine Info section has quite a few annotated links to helpful sites for search engine optimization, how to improve your rankings, and more, too.