WCAG Accessibility and SEO

WCAG compliance and SEO – Do Both Now to Benefit Later

There is a standard that is almost ignored by the small site and blogging community; Web Accessibility. Having a site deemed Accessible means it follows WCAG standards and allows those with disabilities the ability to utilize websites and services. The WCAG 2.1 standard was developed by an international body that has established most of the Internet conventions called the World Wide Web Consortium, W3C. The interesting twist is that WCAG and SEO conventions and standards are intertwined in many key areas. Thus blogs and small website owners can be compliant and benefit from having both WCAG Compliance and SEO.

As a small website owner and author, I’ve become quite aware of the industry push for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). There seems to be an entire self-feeding (and aggrandizing), Internet gig economy striving for the holy grail of the perfect SEO score in order to drive more eyeballs to their sites for ad impressions and sales.

What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?

The Web Accessibility and SEO Overlap

SEO and WCAG Overlap

Using proper alternative “alt” text for images

It goes without saying that this is the #1 item that can have a huge positive impact on your WCAG compliance and SEO. By including descriptive Alt descriptions for each image you can satisfy both requirements. It can also assist in search indexing of images and social media sites like Pinterest bring in Alt tag descriptions

Provide clear and proper headings and use the right order

Proper use and order of the H2 and H3 heading tags serve to break up long text and encourage readers to continue being engaged with the site. For screen readers, it gives users a glimpse of what next in the article or post. The headings also serve to give indications to search engines of keyword phases

Providing descriptive link text (avoid “click here” or “link” )

Like descriptive headers, a descriptive URL link is equally helpful. It serves a dual purpose by helping logical backlink development and offers readers a strong descriptive indicator of the URL content that they will be jumping to.

Ensuring page titles are descriptive, yet succinct

Well crafted page titles are critical to users with visual difficulties using screen readers because the titles are literally the element read by screen-reading software. Search engines use page titles in the search result snippet for the site. Therefore it’s critical to use well-defined page titles.

Providing transcripts and captions for video

Captions are required to be considered WCAG compliant for accessibility. However, they also increase the reach and usability as for users who:

  • Are learning another language or those whose native language is not the same as the audio.
  • Have cognitive impairments or learning disabilities
  • Utilize the Internet in quiet environments where a sound is unacceptable
  • Located in noisy environments where audio unable to be heard or understood
  • Do not have a speaker or headphones available
  • Depend on information contained in the transcript or metadata of a video

Identifying the language of pages and page content

Always use a language attribute on the HTML tag to indicate the default language of the text on the page. When the page contains content in another language, add a language attribute to that web part enclosing that content.

Allowing multiple ways of finding content

Methods include offering site search, a site map, table of contents, navigation headers or subject landing pages, etc.)

Using text instead of images when possible

From the w3C they advise “With the current CSS capabilities in most web browsers, it is good design practice to use actual text that is styled with CSS rather than image-based text presentation. Genuine text is much more flexible than images: It can be resized without losing clarity, and background and text colors can be modified to suit the reading preferences of users.”

Providing useful links to related and relevant resources

Ensuring URLs are human-readable and logical – Try to avoid long numeric or abbreviated strings in the URL stubs. Try to utilize keywords or phrases to ensure WCAG compliance and SEO

Increased use of Video

Increased Use Of Video WCAG

According to Cisco’s’ visual networking index report, IP video traffic will be 82% of all consumer internet traffic by 2020, driving more demand for SEO-friendly, accessible content through professional (not auto-generated) closed captions and transcripts. The trend is clearly steering toward video combined with textual subtitles that are planned as part of the video production.

More Time Spent with Video Content

High-quality closed captions and transcripts improve watch time. According to a recent digiday.com study, 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound. Conclusion – this trend creates opportunities to improve a brand’s rankings with relevant and contextual content supporting both WCAG & ADA compliance and Google’s expectations.

Tools Available for a Quick Compliance Check

WCAG Tools

There are several tools site owners can use to check WCAG compliance. Many of these tools are online and free. Google’s Lighthouse now powers the audits panel of chrome development tools. To run a report to give an indication of WCAG compliance:

  • Open Google Chrome for desktop.
  • Go to the URL you want to audit. You can audit any URL on the web.
  • Open Chrome dev tools.
  • Click the audits tab. Select accessibility

Scores approaching above the high 80s are considered approaching true compliance. Only professional auditors can offer WCAG 2.x certification of a site using automated tools and manual review.

What’s Next for SEO and WCAG


“It’s becoming clear that major search engines, such as Google, are promoting the Search Engine Optimization benefits of web accessibility techniques.” – Lisa McMichael

Senior User Researcher – Perficient digital

Search engines will likely make accessibility a ranking factor for websites within the next 12 to 24 months. Thus WCAG compliance and SEO will likely be linked together as a ranking factor.

Google just released the first iteration of its voice-search guidelines. It is predicted that voice search will soon be a component of search engine optimization (SEO). Comscore, an American media measurement and analytics company predicted 50% of all searches will be by voice in 2020. Gartner predicts 30% of web browsing will be done by voice the same year.

Conclusion On Accessibility And SEO

Clearly, if small site s and blogs are going to invest in SEO they might as well take the extra couple of steps and endeavor to check off WCAG accessibility requirements. Not only does it potentially expands the reach and capability of your site but search engines look to reward those who do so.

Related Reading on WCAG compliance and SEO

Get Up to Speed on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Website Accessibility Advances at Thumbwind

3 Accessibility Testing Tools Small Websites Should Be Using

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