Business owners are the new targets of opportunistic lawyers filing suits against their businesses for violations of American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. As public accommodations, those that are in the restaurants and lodging industry are particularly incentivized to provide access or remove obstacles for disabled persons and, for the most part, attention to that access has primarily focused on the physical infrastructure in their facilities. As the state codes and laws around ADA compliance are updated, website and digital accessibility issues are now a hot target for these suits because accessing websites can be accomplished with relative ease from anywhere on the Internet. Hotels and restaurants – many of which are independently owned facilities – are forced into making a difficult decision to either settle the claims which can exceed $10,000 or face a lawsuit.
Many of these businesses may be hit with multiple similar lawsuits simultaneously. Ultimately, they still must address the compliance issues on their digital property. However, if the business has a compliant site and a written plan in place to address accessibility, they can shield themselves from these expensive and stressful lawsuits.
In addition to the ongoing legal attacks businesses experience, businesses are in a constant race to be found on the Internet and maintain fresh website designs and content. Websites and digital presence on the Internet must support the primary revenue-producing activities of the company by driving new customers to the company. Many individual businesses don’t have the resources to hire and manage professional staff who can continuously develop their websites to be on the cutting edge of consumer or search engine technology.
Virtual Personal Assistants such as Siri, Google Home, Cortana, and Alexa are rapidly gaining consumer engagement, and Gartner Research estimates that by the year 2020, up to 30% of interactions with technology will be via conversation. Businesses will need to update their websites to be indexed and found by search engines as well as have their site ready to be accessible in the emerging “voice age.”
When a site is accessible to the disabled, it is also accessible to search engines and the connected devices that will be enabling consumers to engage with content in new ways that leverage the new devices.
Search Engine and Website Accessibility Optimization Overlap
The overlapping relationship between SEO and web accessibility can be seen in the structure of a web page when web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) are implemented by web designers, developers, and content writers.
With both search engines and accessibility compliance, the primary objective is to provide content that is relevant and easily digestible to all users.
How Accessibility helps boost SEO
Optimizing a web page for accessibility is a technically intricate process, as WCAG 2.0 currently has 38 different provisions to apply. While not all requirements for web accessibility overlap with SEO optimization, those that do help to improve organic or non-paid search engine rankings.
- When a business enhances its website accessibility for disabled users, it is also making its web pages easier to be accessed by search engine *crawlers/spiders.
*Web crawlers or “spiders” are specialized software robots that search engines, such as Google, use to find information and Index or build lists of existing web pages. The ranking of these lists is then calculated using a search engine defined algorithm, that takes into consideration keywords, the quality and type of content on each page, and links.
It stands to reason, that when the content in a website (text, images, videos, etc.) is easily understandable to all users, then search engine crawlers/spiders should have no problem browsing and indexing that content.
- In utilizing the available tools, such as accessibility scanners, to analyze website accessibility, businesses will also pinpoint problem areas relating to SEO on their websites.
- Applying accessibility standards helps put an end to tricky SEO issues.
For example, headings, which are an essential focus when it comes to SEO. Headings are indicators about the main topics (H1 tags) and subtopics (H2-H6 tags) of a webpage. Often web page creators will use H1 headings to emphasize keywords, content or even footer text; this can confuse those using a screen reader, as they depend on headings to understand the layout or structure of a web page. Web crawlers also After implementing accessibility standards, disabled/impaired users can quickly navigate through a web page.
Additional overlapping provisions and recommendations for SEO and accessibility include:
- Alternative (Alt) Text for non-text content- Generally, any element on a web page that is not text should have descriptive text to explain what that element is. For example: If there is an image of a kitten, the alt text may read image, young fluffy kitten.
Note: Alt text has a limit of 125 characters, so descriptions should be short
- Video Transcripts For audio-only and video with no audio, there should be a transcript of the content, so that users know what to expect.
- Images of Text- If possible, do not use images of text, screen readers will only see the image and not the content of the image.
- Link PurposeThe link purpose can be determined solely from the text of the link and is the most obvious accessibility provision the overlaps with SEO. For example, instead of saying “click here for more information” your link might say “information on accessibility guidelines” and direct the user to the guidelines page
The relationship between technology and legality is ever-changing, as technology is rapidly evolving. With the current penalties for non-compliance with ADA guidelines exceeding $10,000, businesses must now choose between litigation and compliance.
Complying with ADA standards is not only beneficial for the end-user but also for commerce, as it provides ease of use for search engines as well as virtual personal assistants, which within the next two (2) years will account for close to half of digital interactions. This ease of use translates into increased search engine optimization and subsequently increased revenue.
Businesses can ensure that they are compliant, by following current industry guidelines (WCAG 2.0), which when implemented, will provide access to all information and services to any user as well as enhancing SEO and subsequently future-proofing the website.
To quote sports commentator Sean Plot, “Accessibility drives traffic and growth in technology. That's a proven trend in technology.”
For additional information on increasing your web traffic by ensuring that your business is accessible, contact CommonAccess today.