Getting on the first page of Google results is the holy grail for SEO, but many web designers and marketers don’t realise that optimising their website for accessibility will help achieve their goal.
Search engines are central to the way we browse the web, which is why Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is vital for businesses across the world. For many of us the way Google produces the results is akin to magic, but for the SEO industry it is a moving target, always evolving and requiring constant attention on your website and in the network of online content that feed Google's robots or spiders, that constantly scour the web.
Like any search engine Google's 'magic' is built upon powerful algorithms that evaluate the data collected by the robots and decide which page provides the 'best' answer to any given question. The SEO industry is built on an understanding the rules that govern that algorithm - and those of other search engines - so that you can optimise what you present to the robots and reach the front page for those terms that relate to your business or service.
There are all sorts of ways of achieving this, and the SEO business has a chequered history. Although many agencies behave ethically and work hard at producing high quality content, each iteration of the search engine algorithms brings a fresh wave of tricks and dodgy practices designed to push specific results up the rankings.
Google's goal is to make sure that only the best, most relevant content is linked on its results page. That's why it each update seeks to weed out the worst examples of so called Black Hat SEO, such as building automated websites that generate spurious links to content, or stuffing alt-text and other meta-tags with endless streams of keywords.
Some of the most recent changes are more subtle, however, such as penalising the use of guest blogs. Although the use of guest blogs isn't, of itself, an unethical practice, it has become a common tactic employed by SEO professionals to circumvent previous Google iterations. Some sites that rely on links to connect within their network will lose rankings - innocent bystanders in the ongoing cat-and-mouse games that characterise SEO.
Optimising for SEO and accessibility
However things are now reaching a point where only the best practice in content creation are likely to succeed. In a recent AbilityNet webinar on the subject, Gerry White of digital agency Site Visibility explained that best practice for SEO now reflects best practice for accessibility.
As he said, "Making your web content accessible to all will make it available to the widest possible audience, as well as making it work harder for SEO purposes. Google's changes increasingly put the focus on what you can do on your own site, to make the content as transparent and accurately described as possible."
One of the key threads in the webinar was how Google’s algorithm changes are geared towards serving its users with the best content to answer their queries. Optimising for accessibility does this by allowing users with accessibility requirements to fully access content on your website, reducing the risk of them bouncing out of your site - negatively impacting your site in the eyes of Google - and increasing the chances of retaining them as a customer.
Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion, also used the webinar to explain in more detail some of the best practice for alt-text and other tagging.
"This is really about quality over quantity," he explains. "You don't need to stuff a site with keywords if you are clearly labeling your content. Thinking about the needs of someone using a screen-reader, for example, is a great way to describe the content and will also be lapped up by the Google robots who scour the web."
Find out more about how accessible design helps SEO by viewing the recording of our SEO and Accessibility webinar (60 mins) - or read the full transcript.
You can also view our recent webinar about accessible alt-text and read the blog by Senior Accessibility and Usability Consultant Stefan Sollinger outlining how to ensure your alt-text is correctly optimised.