The ADA's Effect On SEO

Accessibility is set to have a big impact on website design in 2014. Among other market forces, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced that it plans to update the Americans Disability Act (ADA) to add Webaccessibility standards. Those changes, expected in 2014, are going to propel search marketers in a new, improved, direction.

Most of us can’t imagine living our lives without the Internet and the new ADA regulations will go a long way to ensure that all website users, especially those that are disabled, will share in its benefits. The industry standards are already in place, commonly known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. 

So that’s great, you say. But how does this relate to my life as a search marketer? Maybe you don’t actually say that, because it’s already making sense. If a website’s content is more easily consumed, it’s bound to be easier for search engines to crawl and index its content. It’s not hard to imagine that each page is rewarded for that simpler, digestible structure, right?

Here are five provisions of WCAG 2.0 that specifically impact organic search performance:

1.1.1                  Text Alternatives for all non-text content        

This provision mandates that all non-text content be available in text. There are exceptions, but text is required to describe and explain the non-text content. Image results are going to greatly improve as this establishes that alt (or longdesc) tags must be used for all images.

1.2.1                  Transcripts

This provision requires the presence of a transcript for audio-only media and a text or audio description for video-only (no audio) media. Between this provision and 1.2.2, all audio and video files will now be required to have a transcript present. With WCAG 2.0, adding transcripts will move from an advanced SEO practice to a standard practice.

1.2.2                  Captions for pre-recorded media 

This provision mandates the presence of synchronized captions for all pre-recorded media. YouTube has two methods for manually adding captions to videos it hosts, and these captions can be read and indexed by search engines. YouTube also offers automatic captioning (results may vary).

1.4.5                  Images of Text

This provision simply establishes that text will be used instead of images of text. There are exceptions and this is not mandatory (Priority 2, see WCAG 1.0 Priorities 1, 2 and 3) but this prevents search engines from failing to index critical elements of the page.

2.4.4                  Link Purpose

This is the part of WCAG 2.0 that most obviously aligns with SEO. The provision formally states that the purpose of a link can be determined from the link text alone. In other words, using keyword-based links is now the website development standard (RIP “click here to learn more”).

WCAG 2.0 is a tall order, with 38 unique provisions. However, search marketers should willingly embrace these changes, as they will improve organic search performance and make for a better search experience.

3 comments about "The ADA's Effect On SEO".
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  1. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, May 22, 2014 at 1:36 p.m.

    Remember making a website "Bobby" friendly? Glad that updated it.

  2. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, May 23, 2014 at 4:44 a.m.

    Over 99% of content is user-generated, so does this mean that every selfie and DOTA video must be captioned? Also, they know that people speak hundreds of languages, right?

  3. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, May 23, 2014 at 4:54 a.m.

    OTOH there's a business opportunity here, to scan web pages and add computer-generated captions etc. to content that doesn't have it. Hmmm

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