Here’s How Accessible Web Design Helps Your Brand, SEO, and Marketing

Quick Summary: Accessible web design is the right thing to do. But it helps your digital marketing, too.

Website accessibility isn’t new – the W3C working group was founded in 1995 – but it’s gained new prominence in the past few years. It’s easy to think of this as a web design issue, but web developers are not the only ones considering accessibility in digital experience.

A person using a Braille display with their computer keyboard

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Marketing teams can use accessibility to improve their SEO performance and grow their audience. Corporate social responsibility teams support diversity and inclusion. Sales organizations can reach more potential customers. Really, everyone benefits.

In this post, we’ll explore how accessible web design can:

  • Improve brand reach
  • Improve SEO performance
  • Support your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts
  • Reduce your legal liability

Improve your brand reach

The numbers on this are simple. At least 15% of the world lives with some form of chronic disability (WHO fact sheet), and “almost everyone is likely to experience some form of disability – temporary or permanent – at some point in life.” The CDC data for the US is less encouraging still: 1 in 4 US adults live with a disability.

Even using the global WHO stat, 1 in 8 is a lot. Over 1 billion globally, and over 50 million in the United States alone. That’s a lot of people to turn away with a non-inclusive digital experience.

It’s obviously a myth that people with disabilities “don’t use computers.” But it’s also a myth that accessibility only helps them. It turns out that investing in accessibility yields a business benefit. Forrester Research, in 2017, conducted a comprehensive economic impact study for Microsoft. Forrester found that inclusive software design improves customer satisfaction and reduces the cost of maintenance and service.
(Accessing the value of accessible technologies for organizations, 2017). Employee productivity also improved – not just for “persons with a disability,” but for all employees.

Another example: Tesco in the UK included blind and partially sighted people in its website redesign. They found that fully sighted customers also found the new site easier to use. Perhaps most compelling, they attributed £13 million in revenue to their accessibility work. Not bad for a project that costs just £35,000.

SEO and Accessibility Best Practices Work Together 

Accessibility also contributes to your search engine optimization efforts. Websites that provide good user experiences are more likely to appear higher on the search engine results pages. While we’re quick to note that correlation is not causation, consider how many accessibility practices align with well-documented SEO best practices:

  • Clear, concise page titles
  • Well-defined content structure, including proper headers, list styles, etc
  • Easy to read content
  • Fallback text for images, video, and audio (don’t forget podcasts!)
  • Descriptive link text and titles (no “click here” links, please!)
  • No dependence on special browser extensions or plug-ins for core content

When you ensure screen readers can better understand the content of a page, you are also helping GoogleBot. This means your work to improve a website for Google’s search robots also helps the robots assisting people with disabilities to use the Internet.

For example, NPR’s This American Life broadcast found that just adding transcripts to their podcasts increased search traffic, inbound links, and unique new visitors.

Accessibility helps diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts

If you want to attract diverse audiences, digital accessibility should be in your toolkit. A common trap is to design websites for “people like me”––it’s reflexive. You don’t restrict your site to reaching only people like yourself by practicing inclusive design.

Proper metadata makes your content richer when creating text, images, video, and audio for your website. This means it’s more enjoyable for more people. Image alt text and audio transcripts, for example, make it easier for people with visual impairments to access that content. It also gives search engines like Google more contextual information to index your site’s content.

Video SEO is another fast-growing segment of SEO strategies. Video doesn’t directly impact your rankings, but users are more likely to click when Google shows a video thumbnail next to a search result. It also seems to help colle​​ct more backlinks. Making that video accessible with proper captioning and transcripts makes it even more likely to rank for a search. And, it provides another option for those who can’t watch (or hear) your videos.

Our founder, Marc Avila, wrote extensively about being an A11y in Digital Marketing. It’s a great starting point for inclusive digital marketing, not just on websites but across social media platforms.

Web Performance and DEI

Faster websites are better for everyone. Not only does Google reward fast websites with improved visibility, but it also helps accessibility and inclusion.

Many of us take high-speed Internet for granted, but not everyone has it. Although 93% of US adults use the Internet, only 77% have broadband at home (Pew Research). No marketer wants to rule out 1 in 4 of their potential audience.

There are substantial geographic, race, income, and education gaps that limit broadband access. 28% of young adults own smartphones yet have no home broadband. That’s a big market to miss out on. That’s why you should design your site to perform well on an older 4G network and an older, slower phone.

Other user experience factors like mobile responsiveness make it easier for people who don’t have a desktop access. If a site doesn’t load correctly on all screen sizes, some of your audience may be seeing an incomplete website or missing out on your content. And it should work with touch or mouse.

Reduce Your Liability of Incoming Legal Action 

Website accessibility lawsuits have been rising steadily for years. In the US, 2,352 website accessibility lawsuits were filed in 2021.

Website accessibility exists in a weird legal limbo. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 does not explicitly address the digital experience. Nor is it always clear what your legal responsibilities are, as it can vary depending on where the suit is brought to court or even which judge hears the case. Unlike physical access, the Justice Department has not published website compliance guidelines.

Regardless, accessibility is no longer just a “nice-to-have” during your website redesign process. The current best practice is to comply with WCAG 2.1 Compliance Level AA. It has been recognized as an industry-standard in many jurisdictions.

Reach Larger Audiences with Accessible Web Design  

Marketers, web designers, and SEO teams should all embrace accessibility as a tool to reach their target audience. Not only can accessible websites look stunning, but they can also help to reach more people.

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