What You Need to Know About Accessibility and SEO
When designing your ecommerce experience, you think about all the different ways in which users might interact with your store. Are they browsing on mobile, or desktop? What payment methods could you offer to make their shopping experience easier? The goal is of course to make your customer experience easy for as many people as possible to boost conversions and retention. However there’s another aspect that’s not just important for your customer experience but also your store’s SEO - accessibility.
Why accessibility is important
It’s easy to get lost in technical and content SEO, constantly finding ways to optimize for search engine bots and climb up rankings. However at the heart of it, it isn’t the bots that will be viewing and engaging with your site - it will be real life people. We’ve written previously about how customer experience plays into SEO, and it is a huge factor both for search engines and for users. Accessibility is part of the customer experience - if someone finds it difficult to use your site for any reason, that’s a bad experience. It’s ultimately about ensuring that your store is going to be easy for every single visitor to use regardless of any impairments they may have.
These impairments are typically disabilities - for example blindness or physical disabilities - which according to World Bank, 15% of the global population live with. When we’re talking about web accessibility, this is usually what’s prioritized. However it can also include environmental or situational impairments such as the user being somewhere where they can’t play audio, or perhaps they’ve broken their arm and can’t use their dominant hand. Whatever the case may be, accessibility is key to ensuring that anyone who is interested in your products has the opportunity to learn about and purchase them.
Moreover, when you’re testing your site using Google Lighthouse, accessibility is one of the key things that it looks at. If Google includes it as a factor in their tools, then that goes a long way in showing its perceived importance.
The four principles of web accessibility
To meet accessibility standards, there are four principal best practices a site should aim to meet - POUR. This stands for Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. These are separate to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), but they are extremely useful when auditing your store’s content for accessibility.
What this essentially means is that your site content should be easy for people to access. For example using headers to separate out content as this will help people to read your store’s content better. Another example would be if you have media content such as product photos, providing a text alternative for users with visual impairments.
This refers to how easy it is for people to actually use your site. Your store should be easy to navigate and interact with including any calls-to-action, main menu, sitemap etc. regardless of the device or browser. This includes how descriptive those points of interaction are, for example if you have a call-to-action it should be clear what that will lead to e.g. “View your cart” versus simply “Cart”.
This applies to the language you use and having a consistent and predictable navigational structure. The content on your store should be able to be understood by a wide audience of different levels of knowledge. This is especially important if you sell a specialist product, or if your product requires a bit of education. For example, if you sell a specific type of supplement you should write a product description that will help anyone understand what it does and not just people who are already familiar with it.
If your site can be accessed easily by different devices and browsers, then you’ve got a robust store. This includes mobile friendliness, responsive design, and consideration for adaptive technologies for those with more complex requirements. It ensures that your store can be viewed and interacted with on all different platforms, making it easy for everyone.
5 easy ways to improve your store’s accessibility
A positive that you’ll notice in the improvements you can make to your store’s accessibility, is that they’re also best practice for SEO in general. Giving extra attention to your store’s navigation and header structure will ultimately benefit your store’s user experience and SEO. Casting that more critical eye to ensure these aspects are accessible may lead you to discover issues with your store that you might not otherwise have noticed that could have been hindering your search engine optimization efforts.
#1 - Navigation
Being able to use your store’s navigation is the first step in them becoming a customer. In order to discover your products and learn more about your brand, they need to be able to easily navigate their way around your site. Create a clear, understandable and simple site architecture and navigation to ensure that any user can navigate through your store easily. Make it so that it takes as little effort as possible to reach your most important pages such as your catalog and checkout.
#2 - Header structure
Header tags make it easy for search engines to understand the structure of a page - H1 to provide an overview of that page, with H2-H6 helping to further define the rest of the content. These aren’t just useful to bots, but more so to those using assistive technologies to navigate through a page’s content. Follow a simple header hierarchy to structure your content, particularly on blogs, as this will help those with additional accessibility needs to perceive and understand your store’s content.
#3 - Alt text
Providing alt text for images and other visual content on your store is a major boost for accessibility. It helps users to understand what visual content is on the page, thus helping them to better perceive the page’s overall content. Particularly if you’re thinking about ecommerce, then your product pages and catalog will have a lot of images and other visual content. Alt text also helps search engine crawlers to understand the context of the image, which helps when displaying results for image searches.
#4 - Anchor text
Descriptive anchor text is crucial in accessibility. Avoid using vague language when creating a call-to-action, and provide either descriptive actions or context surrounding the CTA. For example instead of “Click here” in a blog you should write “To learn more about how our t-shirts are made, click here”. The user then fully understands exactly where that link will lead them to and the action they’re being asked to take.
#5 - Sitemaps
On-page sitemaps are additional tools that visitors to your store can use to navigate through your site, and are particularly important if your site has more complex navigation. When it comes to accessibility, they provide a way for users to navigate to important content that may otherwise take multiple clicks when using your main navigation menu. Include content that users might need to access such as a “Contact Us” page. These on-page sitemaps have the added benefit of helping search engine crawlers to find links to important pages on your site.
If the goal in optimizing your store is to make it a great experience for as many people as possible, then it’s without question that accessibility should be on your to-do list. It shows search engines that you take into consideration the user experience for those with impairments or disabilities, and therefore are more appealing to a broader audience. Moreover you’ll gain new customers who may not otherwise have discovered your brand, and make your store a more inclusive and accommodating experience for everyone and anyone who wants to learn more.