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SEO Best Practices: Is Your Website ADA Compliant?

posted by Michael Epps Utley Michael Epps Utley
an illustration of a person in a wheelchair using the computer with action bubbles around him, including chat, a website with gears, and a gear with interlocking graphics.

Ada Compliant Websites

The American Institutes for Research recently discovered that "the total disposable incomes (post-tax) for working-age individuals with disabilities is nearly $500 billion. Compared to other segments and markets in the United States, they hold impressive buying power". If your website isn't Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, you're risking not being fully open for business for at least 20% of the population: people with disabilities are America's largest minority group.

Along with being smart for business and a positive reflection on company culture and ethics, website accessibility means protection from liability. While there is still no clear consensus on which websites are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice and are therefore beholden to the ADA guidelines for websites, discrimination litigation is costly, and such suits are on the rise in recent years. It's a worthy goal to many any website ADA compliant, but particularly if you're in ecommerce, education, or an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOO) who posts jobs and accepts applications online.

Improve User Experience

In a broad sense, website accessibility best practices are also search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. With a strong user experience, everyone stays longer on your site, and your ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs) steadily improves. For example:

  • Clear, consistent navigation is helpful for everyone, and keeping navigation simple and decluttered makes it easier for people using screen readers to understand and interact with critical elements of your website.

  • Hotkey shortcuts and keyboard navigation streamline usability, and make site visits more effective for people with mobility or dexterity disabilities. Keep in mind, ADA requirements are more comprehensive and go beyond the standard list of keyboard shortcuts.

Make HTML Screen Reader Accessible

For site elements to be accessible for people using screen reading tools, they have to be coded into your HTML. This information will likely also give search bots and website crawlers greater insight into your content and site architecture, which is never a bad thing for indexing and optimization.

A great tip on this comes from Studio by UXPin, "With the separation of HTML and CSS. . .you can reorganize the code to suit screen readers without changing the screen layout at all. The navigation menu can stay at the top, best for sighted users, while the code for it stays at the bottom, [which is] best for screen readers."

This way, blind and visually-impaired site visitors won't have to sit through their screen readers' descriptions of every detail of site elements that are irrelevant to the actions they want to take.

Make Text Legible and Clear

Whether implementing a landing page content marketing strategy or making improvements to your homepage, your content marketing is only as effective as your text is clear and legible.

Letter clarity, readability, and ease of scannability are great for accessibility and will likely help increase your content marketing conversion rates.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which develops Internet-wide standards for usability, recommends a minimum contrast ratio between text and background as 4.5:1 for small/normal fonts. And 3:1 for bold/larger fonts, a minimum body text size of 16 pixels, and spacing size at least 25% the size of the body font. These are all things the website developer working with your performance marketing agency should be able to readily implement site-wide.

In general, checking your site interface using a black-and-white filter gives you some idea of how it shows up for the visually impaired people who visit your site.

Optimize Content with Text Descriptions

Text descriptions are a useful way to orient anyone using your site and particularly effective for screen reading software. This includes things like:

  • Brief Text Descriptions Above Content Blocks: Instead of just icons indicating important steps in a process you're trying to describe, add text to that block to explain it (i.e., Make an Appointment, Get an Estimate, Choose Your Services)

  • Alt Text and Image Captions: Image captions and alt text help people use screen readers, and give you the chance to use keywords strategically.

  • Video Captions and Transcripts: Both of these additions to your video marketing will make your content more accessible, and increase its visibility in search results.

  • Text Communication: Making yourself available and responsive by text communication and live chat can increase opportunities for people with hearing and speech difficulties to engage with your team in a way that feels more comfortable and natural for them.

Treat Accessibility as Availability

When people know you're available and willing to be flexible and adaptable, they're even more likely to reach out. Including any relevant accessibility information about your website, your products and services, or your office space will help build meaningful relationships with disabled clients, customers, and vendors.

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