SEO 101: What is accessibility for ecommerce SEO?

In running an ecommerce business, you want anyone and everyone to be able to shop with your store. One way to ensure this is the case is by improving your site’s approach to accessibility.

This means no matter if someone has an impairment or disability, they can still browse and shop the same as any other customer. It also has a positive effect on your store’s SEO!

Today, we’re going to look at what accessibility means, its relationship to SEO, and some of the key principles and tips to help you make your site usable for everyone. 

What does accessibility mean in SEO?

Essentially, accessibility is about how easy it is for anyone to navigate, understand, and use your site. That interactivity is especially important if you’re running an ecommerce store - you want any and every customer to be able to perform the tasks necessary to purchase. For example, adding to cart or engaging with your product pages.

What we mean by “anyone” is that no matter if someone has an impairment or disability, they can just as easily use your site. For example, someone being hard of sight and requiring the use of a screen reader. That includes any situational, environmental, or temporary impairments like poor internet connection, inability to play audio, or if they’re only able to use one hand.

Accessibility simply means to give everyone a good experience as they browse your store.

Why is accessibility important?

There are a few reasons, but let’s focus on two big ones - user experience, and legality. 

The benefits to user experience are fairly obvious - the more people who can use your site, the higher the number of potential customers. Improving user experience has an all round positive impact on your store. 65% of consumers with a disability say they’ve abandoned a purchase due to poor accessibility. So really, you’re losing customers if your accessibility is lacking.

The second issue is legality. In many regions around the world, accessibility is a legal requirement for websites. Despite this, some data suggests that ecommerce businesses account for as much as 74% of federal lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s in your business’ best legal interests to bolster your approach to accessibility.

Both of these reasons are vital, and they both will tie into SEO. Search engines are concerned with providing a great user experience, so they’ll only want to rank and recommend sites that do so also. And if that site is also complying with legal requirements? Even better!

Is accessibility a ranking factor?

The short answer - not directly. Accessibility isn’t itself a ranking factor yet, but the key word is “yet”. The regulations and laws around accessibility are changing and becoming more robust. This may mean it does become a ranking factor in the future. At the moment, however, it does act as an indirect ranking factor. This is because, according to Google themselves, accessibility is quite difficult to measure. 

That being said, it is included within a set of important signals that can be used to determine the user experience of a page. This is alongside things like security and mobile friendliness. An improvement to accessibility will send better signals to Google that your site has a great page experience for a wider number of people.

What are the key principles for an accessible website?

According to the Web Accessibility Initiative, there are four key principles in web accessibility. These reflect the requirements expected of any web page to promote accessibility. Those principles are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust - often abbreviated to POUR.

Perceivable - Presenting your site’s content in a way anyone can perceive easily. This involves removing any barriers that might exist; all users should be able to access the information on a page. If they can’t perceive it, that content is essentially invisible to them, so the page is inaccessible. For example, providing alt text for a product image will ensure that someone using a screen reader can perceive that content. 

Operable - The user interface (UI) and navigation should be able to be used by anyone. There shouldn’t be an action on a page that a user can’t perform. With ecommerce, this is especially important - you want any customer to be able to navigate and use your site. They should be able to use different devices and technologies to use elements on your site. 

Understandable - As well as being able to use a page, users should be able to clearly understand a page. That can refer to the content of the page as well as things like navigation and UI. With content, things like big blocks of text can be inaccessible to people with cognitive difficulties. As for navigation, if the navigational structure changes in any way between pages this can become confusing.

Robust - Your content should be able to be interpreted by a variety of devices, technologies, and platforms. And as these technologies change or are updated, your content should adapt to keep up. 

Assessing your store against these principles can help to highlight any areas where you could improve accessibility.

How can I improve my store’s accessibility?

There are a number of simple changes you can make to your store to ensure you’re adhering to these POUR principles. It starts by evaluating your store’s content against these principles, highlighting any areas where maybe you’re falling short. For example, do images all have descriptive alt text. Once you’ve assessed existing content, you need to add POUR into your process for adding new content and making any changes to your store. It’s really just an extra checklist item - when you add new images, make a layout or aesthetic change, and so on, consider how it fares against POUR principles. 

As for some specific tips, here are a few things to pay attention to when you want to improve accessibility for your ecommerce site:

  • Header tags
    These tell customers and search engines how content is organized on a page, but they can also be very helpful for technologies like screen readers for the same reason. Using these properly and frequently will help improve the accessibility of your content.

  • Sitemaps
    The sitemap displayed at the bottom of your site follows users as they browse different pages, giving them helpful links to more content. Especially if the links here are different to your primary navigation menu, it can help make this content more easily accessible and navigable.

  • Link anchor text
    When you link to something on your site or add a button, be sure that it has descriptive anchor text. The simplest example is that your add to cart button should be something easily recognizable like “Add to cart”. If you link to another page on your site, the anchor text should be clear in what that’s linking to, for example if you link to an FAQ article it might read “Click here to view this topic in our FAQ”.

  • Image alt text
    Image alt text provides useful context to images when the visual itself isn’t available - whether that’s due to a poor internet connection, or disabilities related to sight. Adding it to images ensures all visual content is accessible. And it has the bonus of being great for image related SEO.
  • Breadcrumb menus
    Breadcrumbs provide a visual aid with links that shows the hierarchy of pages that lead to the one a user is currently browsing. For example if you’re on a product page it might show “ Homepage > Shop > T-shirts > Product”. These provide an additional navigational tool that makes your site more accessible.

  • Readability
    Keep any written content easily digestible. This means no big blocks of text, and avoiding any jargon without further definition. Try to keep things to a simple reading level - this will also help people for whom English isn’t a first language.

By taking a proactive approach to accessibility, you’ll improve your store’s discoverability through stronger SEO signals. You’ll also bring in more customers, and keep them on your site when they realize it’s easy to navigate and understand no matter what. And as if all that wasn’t enough, you’ll be ahead of the competition when it comes to compliance with legal requirements.