Why Website Accessibility is Critical for SEO in 2024

In 2024, the significance of website accessibility cannot be overstated. While SEO efforts focus on enhancing a site’s visibility, accessibility ensures that once visitors arrive, they can effectively interact with the content, regardless of their abilities. With staggering statistics indicating a growing need for accessible web design and the growing legal implications of non-compliance, understanding and implementing accessibility principles has become imperative for website owners.

What Is Web Accessibility?

Website accessibility is about ensuring that all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, can access, understand, navigate, and interact with a website. This encompasses a wide range of disabilities, including auditory, cognitive, physical, neurological, and visual impairments. It also caters to users with temporary or situational impairments, such as someone with a broken arm, people in moving vehicles, or those with limited internet access, as well as environmental constraints like bright lighting or situations where audio can’t be played.

Man with a visual impairment, sitting on a park bench with his walking cane folded in one hand and his mobile to his ear in the other hand.

Why Is Accessibility Important?

An accessible website not only allows all users to navigate the site and access information easily but also enhances their overall experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of web accessibility, with a reliance on online shopping. Accessibility is crucial for creating a positive user experience, fostering satisfaction and loyalty.

The Rising Need for Accessible Websites:

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), by 2050, around 588 million people will experience moderate to severe vision impairments, and require assistive technologies like screen readers. Despite this, 90% of websites today do not meet necessary accessibility standards (AbilityNet). This gap highlights a significant portion of the population whose needs are not being met by current web design practices.

In the U.K., a study by Click-Away Pound reveals that 73% of individuals with disabilities encounter difficulties in completing basic online transactions on more than a quarter of the websites they visit. This not only leads to a poor user experience but also results in a loss of potential business. In fact, the same study found that 82% of customers would spend more and stay loyal to a brand with an accessible website.

Financial Implications and Legal Risks:

In a study conducted by Nucleus Research in 2019, it was revealed that over 70% of websites, including numerous top retailers, contain significant accessibility barriers, making them challenging for many individuals with disabilities to use. Additionally, the research suggests that U.S. e-commerce businesses might be forfeiting as much as $6.9 billion each year to rivals who maintain more accessible websites.

Furthermore, the European Accessibility Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the U.S., and the UK Equality Act all mandate website accessibility. These laws require websites to be compatible with assistive technologies and to anticipate and adjust to the needs of disabled users. Digital accessibility lawsuits are on the rise, with US judges imposing fines on websites that fail to comply with accessibility standards as set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with cases taken against high-profile companies such as Nike and Domino’s Pizza.

Why Is Website Accessibility Important In 2024?

Website accessibility is no longer optional; it’s a necessity. It’s not just about reaching a broader audience or improving user experience; it’s becoming a legal and ethical obligation. Accessible websites demonstrate social responsibility and inclusivity, reflecting positively on your brand’s reputation. Furthermore, accessible sites tend to have better SEO, as Google is increasingly rewarding sites that offer good user experiences, and accessible sites are deemed the best as they are the easiest to understand and use.

As voice-activated devices and assistants become more prevalent, ensuring that websites are optimised for voice search is crucial. This form of search often relies on clear, concise, and well-structured content, similar to the principles of accessible web design. By incorporating accessibility features such as descriptive headers, easily navigable content, and succinct alt texts for images, websites not only cater to users with disabilities but also align with the requirements of voice search algorithms. This dual benefit enhances the user experience for a wider audience, including those who rely on voice commands due to visual or physical impairments, and simultaneously boosts a website’s visibility in voice search results.

Man listening to audio on his phone.

The 4 Principles of Accessibility: POUR

To be accessible, a website must adhere to four key principles – Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. These include making content accessible to screen readers, ensuring user-friendly interfaces and navigation, and maintaining accessibility across various technologies and updates.

How to Test Your Website Accessibility:

You can use Google’s Lighthouse tool to run audits for performance, accessibility, progressive web apps, SEO, and more. The report provides an analysis of the page’s performance and indicates failures with guidelines for enhancing the page.

Improve Website Accessibility:

  1. Enhance Visual Contrast: Ensure text contrasts sufficiently with the background to aid users with visual impairments.
  2. Use Alt Text for Images: Describe images with alt text so screen readers can interpret them.
  3. Ensure Keyboard Navigation: Your website should be navigable using a keyboard for users with motor disabilities.
  4. Create Accessible Content: Use clear, straightforward language and provide transcripts for video and audio content.
  5. Regular Audits and Updates: Continuously monitor and update your website to maintain accessibility standards.

In 2024, the integration of SEO and web accessibility is not just a best practice but a crucial aspect of web design and development. By embracing accessibility, businesses tap into a wider market, enhance user experience, and improve their SEO performance.