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Search Engine Optimization and Accessibility

For many years, those who work on accessibility have been saying that Google (and other search engines) are "blind." As a result, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and accessibility work together to enable users to find information and access it successfully.

The idea is that a search engine looks at a web page in ways that are similar to a screen reader i.e. it looks for a page title, meaningful and consistent use of semantics, and a logical page structure. While these concepts remain true and can help make the case for accessibility, Over the years, Google, like screen readers, has become more sophisticated.

For example, both now assess the page as rendered with JavaScript, as discussed in this Official Google Webmaster Central Blog Updating our technical Webmaster Guidelines, released in October of 2014. As WebAIM notes in its Screen Reader User Survey #5 Results, 97.6% of those who use a screen reader have JavaScript enabled.

Progressive enhancement is Still Important

Nevertheless, it remains important always to consider Progressive enhancement when you are developing a Web site or application. Progressive enhancement helps everyone to at least be able to use the minimum functionality in what you build, regardless of device, available band width, etc.

Video and SEO

Making captions and transcripts available with your videos can help with SEO since there is text for search engines to examine. 3Play Media, a third-party vendor, has a number of blog posts related to Video SEO that present evidence to support these ideas.

Hitting the Highlights

For a more detailed overview of the partnership between SEO and accessibility, WebAIM's article Web Accessibility and SEO is one of the best places to start. Highlights about how SEO and accessibility align include:

  • Using proper alternative text for images
  • Providing a clear and proper heading structure and avoiding empty headings
  • Providing descriptive link text (i.e., avoiding "click here")
  • Ensuring page titles are descriptive, yet succinct
  • Not relying on JavaScript for things that don't need it
  • Avoiding mouse dependent interaction
  • Using standard web formats when possible
  • Providing transcripts and captions for video
  • Identifying the language of pages and page content
  • Allowing multiple ways of finding content (e.g., search, a site map, table of contents, clear navigation, etc.)
  • Using text instead of images when possible
  • Providing useful links to related and relevant resources
  • Ensuring URLs are human readable and logical
  • Presenting a clear and consistent navigation and page structure
  • Avoiding CSS and other stylistic markup to present content or meaning
  • Defining abbreviations and acronyms

Note the WebAIM article provides much more detail, so it is worth a closer look.

SEO, Accessibility, and Mobile

While, at the time of posting this page, Google had just begun Rolling out the Mobile-friendly update, it is safe to say that the information in the Webmaster's Mobile Guide is unlikely to harm accessibility. In fact, the expectation is that attention to and increased visibility of the mobile experience will benefit everyone.

Target Audience: 
Content Creator
Last modified: 
April 22, 2015