6 Ways Digital Accessibility Improves Website SEO

Posted by OnPath Testing Staff

While US business and nonprofit websites are currently not required to comply with digital accessibility standards, there are so many benefits to doing so that it doesn’t make sense to skip the effort. It’s possible that in the future, accessibility features will be clearly defined as SEO ranking criteria, but for now, SEO plays such a significant role in domain success that accessibility features, which positively, if indirectly, impact ranking, cannot be overlooked. Below are six reasons that domains should integrate digital accessibility to contribute to better search engine result page (SERP) ranking.

  1. Improved User Experience
    According to the Interaction Design Foundation, “User experience design is the process to proved meaningful and relevant experience to users.” The broadly definable UX plays a huge role in Google’s ranking criteria. Built-in accessibility means a better UX for the estimated 1.3 billion people, or 16 percent of the world’s population, with disabilities (source: World Health Organization).

    Features such as alt text for images, correct heading structures, descriptive link text, and keyboard navigation are all features that make websites
    accessible to users with disabilities, improving their experience on a site. While there are other factors to account for, such as original, authoritative content and navigability, websites that are accessible and user-friendly for as many as possible have increased probability of achieving good rankings in the SERPS.

  2. Mobile Accessibility Optimization
    “Mobile accessibility is the practice of designing and developing mobile apps and websites to make them accessible to users with disabilities with an aim to provide an equal experience to all users by removing all accessibility barriers,” according to the TPGi website.

    Many accessibility features, such as responsive design and proper semantic markup, are significant accessibility features that contribute to better mobile optimization. Give thought to design choices, color contrast, consistent navigation elements, pinch-to-zoom scalability, and optimized voice-to-text tools. Given the huge volume of mobile-based searches, a mobile-friendly AND digitally accessible site or app contributes to good ranking.

  3. Increased Reach and Traffic
    Digitally accessible websites invite broader audiences and may also attract more inbound links and social media shares — both healthy SEO signals. When accessibility features were added to a group of 847 domains, a SEMRUSH study concluded that there was a 12 percent average increase in overall traffic, and 73 percent of the domains saw growth in organic traffic.

  4. Compliance with Web Standards
    Search engine algorithms are tuned with criteria chosen to deliver the best results to users, favoring websites that adhere to web standards. Following the accessibility guidelines outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) signals a commitment to serving quality content and UX, which can positively impact SEO rankings.

  5. Reduced Bounce Rates
    Site users tend to move on quickly if they can't access what they're looking for. By adding accessibility features such as enhanced navigation, bounce rates drop and user engagement increases. While bounce rate is not a direct ranking factor, it does contribute to good UX, which most definitely is (a ranking factor).

  6. Legal Compliance
    US Government websites are required to comply with WCAG standards, but business and nonprofit sites are not. That said, domains that ignore these standards may be vulnerable to lawsuits based on the
    Americans with Disability Act of 1990

    While these lawsuits fly under the media radar, they are costly and time consuming. A few examples include: a Target 2018 settlement of $6 million to the Federation of the Blind; Harvard University’s $1.57 million payment for the National Association of the Deaf’s (NAD) legal fees in 2020; and an earlier $775k Netflix payout to the NAD in 2012. Ecommerce sites accounted for 82 percent of lawsuits in 2023, so eliminating that vulnerability is smart business. Complying  with WCAG standards provides protection and also fosters trust and credibility with users and search engines. 

Depending on the global scope of a business, designers may want to consider regional website digital accessibility regulations. To learn more, visit Commonlook.com’s Guide to Website Accessibility Across the Globe.  

Adapting digital accessibility standards not only benefits users with disabilities of all kinds, it also gives significant SEO advantages. History has shown that business is often slow to adapt disability accommodations unless forced to do so. Proactively embracing digital accessibility to serve inclusivity would be a fact of life in a perfect world, but smart organizations with an online footprint will take heed by adapting accessibility standards to compete in the SERPS and avoid legal tangles with advocacy groups.