Making a website accessible can sound daunting, but the truth is that most accessibility best practices are best practices for creating an overall user-friendly website experience and improving SEO for your content. The following three steps outline accessibility best practices and the corresponding benefits that all website visitors will gain.
1. Start with an Outline
When writing content, it’s always a great idea to start out by creating a list of the main points that you want to convey. It’s funny that something many of us learned in elementary school still is often taken for granted. I took my own advice: When I started writing this blog, I wrote out the three topics and then added the main suggestions. I came back to each point to figure out what subpoints were relevant. From there, I wrote supporting information. By writing an outline, you are providing your web visitors a thoughtful way of jumping through your content. This will also provide visitors utilizing screen readers a way to more easily traverse your content. Screen readers allow users to navigate through content via the headings that you use.
When you put content on your website, you should use heading elements to structure those points. Then select other web elements based on the structure (unordered lists, ordered lists, paragraphs, blockquotes, etc). Do not change the style selected based on a desired display. If you don’t like the look of the element chosen, addressing these types of issues is important when updating the underlying stylesheets. Accessibility is the main priority over the look of an element.
Reserve heading 1 (h1) for the title of your content. This should be similar to the title entered for the page’s metadata. It doesn’t have to be an exact match, but it should have the same messaging. It’s suggested the heading 1 (h1) element is used only once on the page.
Make sure that you have used every heading level up from the one before it. Before using h4, you should use h2 and h3. Skipping a heading can cause a visitor utilizing a screen reader to misunderstand the order and hierarchy of your content. A properly designed website will also have put thought into the design behind the display of headings with the understanding that they should be used in order. Skipping headings will result in your content having an inconsistent look with the rest of the website. It could also result in a bad display and a lot more work when you proceed with a website redesign.
These same rules apply when creating accessible, well-structured PDFs.
Outlining your content will ensure that you are staying on topic and providing information in a readable format. Using headings to essentially outline your main points will improve your SEO around those words as well.
2. Plan Your Links
Whether you’re linking to internal pages on your website or external content outside of your website, planning your links and link text is important. Link clicks give actual validation that someone is trafficking your website and reading what you’re putting out on your website.
Links to external sources show that you’re providing relevant content and content that other resources support. Links to other pages within your site shows that visitors are finding information on your site worth sticking around for.
Write the provided link (anchor) text in a way that a user will know what the link is for without having to read anything else on the page. Stay away from using the following in your link text, “click here,” “learn more,” and “read more.” Web visitors know what links do so you don’t have to tell them how to use it or that it will lead to more content.
For instance, if I wanted to highlight the Higher Ed Live website as an additional source for information, I would not write, “Click here to gain more information from Higher Ed Live website.” I would write something like, “Higher Ed Live is a great resource for staying up-to-date on the latest news and conversations happening within the higher education community. ”
This is not only a best practice for visitors who are utilizing a screen reader, but also for people skimming your page for useful resources.
Accessibility best practices say that a link should be able to be easily distinguished as an actionable link from the rest of the content on the page. Content that you are linking will likely be naturally highlighted. There’s no reason to format the content in bold or treat the content with any additional styles.
In addition to those advantages, quality links and link text will provide for better SEO on that page. You will get SEO capital not only for the content of the link text but search engines will also take into account the search ranked terms of the linked page. It’s win-win-win!
3. Thoughtfully Embed Media
Consider this: If we were conversing and I said that you should choose to work with me because I am trustworthy, and then showed you a picture of two strangers shaking hands to demonstrate my trustworthiness, how would that come across?
Point being: Embed media if there is a real use for it in support of your content’s mission. It’s nice to add some pizazz here and there to a webpage, but first consider your mobile visitors. Embedding media increases page load time and requires additional bandwidth. People utilizing mobile devices pay for bandwidth. Depending on their data plan, loading media heavy pages could be costly. Statista estimated that mobile devices excluding tablets accounted for 47.96 percent of web page views worldwide. That number is only expected to increase. Research by Think With Google, formerly DoubleClick, shows that 53% of mobile users will leave a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. Mobile website visitors in particular are requiring a fast website experience. The priority is the information they seek.
It is fine to embed slideshows, images, and video where they actually support your content. With slideshows and videos, ensure the user can control all aspects of these, especially being able to pause and move forward or backward. Once again, this isn’t something that will only help users who are navigating via screen readers. This will help people who are slower readers, and people who are multi-tasking who may only catch a second of the frame and need to go back if something caught their eye.
In addition, videos should provide a transcript and captioning. If you’re embedding the video via an iframe, providing a title for the element is important. Again, this will benefit people utilizing screen readers. It also improves your SEO! Search engines don’t currently analyze video content when providing search ranking. If you provide a transcript, the content is indexed to help support your ranking.
Lastly, images should have appropriate alt text. Again, this is a best practice for supporting web visitors who utilize a screen reader but it is also a best practice for people with limited bandwidth where your webpage may load without images. No surprise here, it can help with improving your SEO ranking.
The accessibility best practices outlined above are not onerous. These steps will provide an improved experience for all of your web visitors by providing: better organized information, easier to browse resources, and faster page load times. In addition to those benefits, the improved SEO will allow more users to find your content.