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Accessibility: The Next Big Thing in SEO

Accessibility: The Next Big Thing in SEO

Marcus Grimm

illustration of smart phone with key inserted in center

Those who embrace accessibility will earn customer trust and reap rewards over the competition

Marketers, particularly those on the digital side, tend to think that the world moves swiftly—in many cases, that’s true. At the same time, we’re often aware of trends long before they reach their tipping points. Google, for instance, warned us about avoiding annoying popups well before they officially started penalizing sites for them in 2017.

Likewise, they encouraged mobile-first development years before we started to see those efforts rewarded with more organic traffic. In short, Google tends to let us know where the web is going in advance. And those who are listening are talking about accessibility more and more.

Conquer Search

Accessibility came to the forefront of the marketing conversation last year when the Supreme Court, by not dismissing a case against Dominos, sent a subtle signal that, from a legal perspective, accessibility matters. But long before this, SEO-hawks were already figuring out that regardless of what your attorney says, accessibility, or lack thereof, might be the newest factor affecting your ranking signals.

SEO Tactics That Align with Accessibility

There are many fundamental elements of accessibility design that inherently overlap with SEO recommendations. In most cases, good SEO also happens to be accessibility-friendly. Here are just a few examples of best practices tactics you’ll find across both disciplines:

  1. Clear and distinct page title tags: SEO experts know these tags help the user lock on to the intent of a page. This is doubly true for visitors using screen readers, as those frequently will read this information first to discover relevant pages.
  2. Proper header structures: It’s always easy to spot lazy SEO headers—they’re the ones set up like a middle schooler’s first book report outline. Google has long stated that header structures should be “logical,” and the same structure easily enables screen reader users to quickly move through content within pages.
  3. Alt-text for images: It probably won’t surprise you that visually impaired readers rely heavily on alt-text to comprehend images. But you might not be aware that Google, despite cutting-edge vision recognition algorithms, also does so as a way to understand not just an image, but how it contributes to the content on the page. Moreover, alt-text is a high ranking signal specifically for image searches.

The list goes on, but the general idea is simple: Good accessibility practices commonly align with SEO best practices. If the past is any guide, it stands to reason that within a period of time, those who embrace accessibility over their competition will reap the rewards.

Those of us in hyper-competitive verticals will spend hours obsessing over the button or color of a landing page, trying to eke out an extra half-point in conversion. As marketers, those battles are hard-fought and help us to get an edge up on the competition. We shouldn’t view accessibility as a burden in our efforts—we risk alienating potential customers. Instead, focus on accessibility, and you’ll ultimately improve your website performance.


Illustration by Bill Murphy.

Marcus Grimm is the chief growth officer for Web Talent Marketing, a full service digital marketing agency in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. With over two decades in digital marketing split evenly between client-side and agency-side, he was an early adopter of content marketing and marketing automation and still counts them among his favorite weapons in the war for attention. Marcus is a frequent speaker on the use of technology to bridge the often-inherent gaps between marketing and sales.