SEO benefits of an accessible website

Web Accessibility principles match the principles of on-page Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to a great extend which means that optimizing a website for search engines also makes it more accessible. In this article we explain how the principles of accessibility and SEO overlap.

Search robots and screen readers need good HTML mark-up

Web designers who specialize in on-site SEO know that a website will rank higher in search results if the pages follow hierarchical structure: main title are in H1 heading, subheadings are in H2 and the text is broken into bullet lists (bullets don’t necessarily affect search robots but increase readership on the web). Titles, Divs, Headings, Paragraphs and Lists are used to mark-up a page so that the search robots can properly understand the hierarchy of information and its relevance.

Screen readers need HTML mark-up for the very same reason. Like everyone else, blind users don’t read websites word to word – they scan them. Screen reader can be set to read only the headings so the person can quickly get an idea of what is the article about.

Good mark-up improves Web Accessibility and SEO.

Descriptive Titles and headings allow for scanning

People do not read websites word-for-word, they scan the headings first. That's why it's important use titles and headings that have strong information scent. When writing a good, descriptive heading try using your keywords as it will work towards your SEO (although the keywords often come-in naturally).

Descriptive titles and headings greatly improve website usability. Companies often overlook usability and concentrate on other SEO techniques or on technical accessibility. The result is a website that is technically accessible yet unusable.

Meaningful titles and headings improve website usability. Good usability leads to a better user experience increase in site’s popularity.

Text alternatives provide information for both search engines and for screen readers

Using text alternatives for all non-text elements is one the main requirements for making a website accessible for people with disabilities. Both screen readers and search robots rely on text. They cannot interpret images, videos or audio files. The trick is, however, to make sure the alt text is humanly-readable and self-explanatory for people with disabilities.

Alternate text for all non-text elements provide screen readers and search robots with information about an object and add valuable keywords to the website.

People will better understand simple language than industry jargon

The reason why language of the copy is important (and why good copywriters should be paid in gold) the purpose of any website is to reach real people, not search robots.  People with cognitive disabilities - learning problems, autism, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, brain injury, Down Syndrome – find websites written in a stiff marketing speak extremely difficult to understand. And let’s not forget that we live in Canada – country of immigrants. For many, English is their second language. Copywriters should aim for grade eight reading level when writing a copy for any website, not just for Web Accessibility.

From SEO point of view, if you are approaching general public, people are likely to search the web using simple words than an industry jargon. This statement always opens a long discussion with clients who argue that their target audience will understand what it means. Well, I argue that even if you are a computer distributor approaching IT departments, the manager of IT will have to get the boss sign the purchase order. And the boss will need to understand who you are and what you do. Industry jargon will not cut it for him.

Using simple language will replace odd terms with more common keywords people search for and ensure that more people understand what you do.

Keyword-rich links

Imagine a page of forty useful links written this way:

For hours of operation Click here >>
For information how to submit a complain Click here >>

Screen reader will only read: “Click here. Link. Click here. Link. Click here. Link…”

Click here and Read more have no information scent for user or search robots. Instead, use keyword-rich, descriptive sentences that tell people and robots where the link leads to. Also remember that accessible website is easier to use for seniors, not only people with disabilities. Seniors have a more methodical approach to website and want to make an informed decision before they click on a link.

Descriptive links help people with disabilities as well as seniors make decisions and provide a great deal of information for search robots.


Sitemap is a bare-bone structure of your website that allows search robots quickly scan your site. Site map helps users of screen readers understand what he site contains and how is the content organized. It replaces complex navigation and allows people to get to information much faster.

Better rankings in search results should be good enough reason to make a website accessible.

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