Monday, May 4, 2009

SEO/Accessibility Convergence

A few months ago I was studying Accessibility (508 Compliance) for a series of websites, it was a real eye opener (no pun intended), many of the assumptions that I've made over the years regarding websites and their usage by people who are visually impaired were mostly incorrect, much of this was wiped out by watching one person use JAWS on a website. Many of the DIV elements and CSS that have been applied have been all for the visual gratification. I took a website and removed the styles, removed the images and JavaScript and was left with a site that was unusable. This is how a screen reader sees the site, without all the bells and whistles, to give the screen reader clues as to what is going on, you need to have Headings (h1, h2, h3, .....), yeah I know these elements have default styles associated with them, well remove the default styles with CSS, and apply new styles. More can be found about accessibilty on the W3C website.

Now you're asking, well that's cool, what does this have to do with SEO, well it seems that spiders, such as googlebot, are also blind, they can't determine hierarchy or importance from styles, they need hierarchy placed in the data to help determine what is going on in the data. If you code your sites for Accessibility, you'll most likely do very well in SEO scores. For SEO there are other items you'll want to add to your data, items such as meta tagging for description and keywords.

Be careful though not to try to use what are called "black hat" tactics with your website, this would be using keyword stuffing and link aggregation to help improve your scores, this will most likely cause your sites to be removed from the search index. Anything that you can read behind the scenes should also be visible one the page. If you have audio or video, then descriptions of the video and audio will help your score and your accessibility.

Overall both can be achieved with common sense, they aren't that difficult, they don't need experts, they do need planning and some marketing sense for your websites. Any developer can handle the technical pieces (it isn't that technical at all). If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

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