I started writing this article on web accessibility and, because I feel very strongly about it, it has begun to resemble a John Travolta Danceathon – too long with too many points … (sorry). So, I have broken it into bite-sized chunks for your reading pleasure.
Developing your site for broad accessibility will usually result in healthy search engine results. Text is KING in the web world. Not only is it quick to download, it is also accessible by every format for reading the web – computer, PDA, phone, screen reader, Morse code and smoke signal.
Firstly, a few of definitions …
1. SEO – Search Engine Optimisation. Fine tuning your site to rank higher in the search engines
2. Accessibility Designing and coding your site so the maximum numbers of people have access to it.
3. Web Developer – Someone who should be helping you grow your business, not force you into some pre-built piece of software they have.
Search engines can only read the text and metadata in your site. If you have headings that are images or blocks of text within an image, they are invisible to both search engines and blind people – not to mention mobile devices and people with images switched off. You may reply that everything is invisible to a blind person, but that is where you are wrong. Blind people read the web with screen readers and the fewer images you use to sell your product or service, the better they can read your site and possibly make a purchase.
If you need to have a heading in an unusual font, describe it with an ‘alt’ attribute so there is a text version of the image. E.g. alt=”KND logo”. There is no need to describe the image in minute detail, i.e. steal ball structure on a black background with light coming from the lower right hand side. The ball is made from intersecting steal tubing and the light has a golden hue, reminiscent of a … WE GET THE PICTURE! Unless your site is an art catalogue, keep it short and to the point.
Just as you scan a web page for interesting bits of info, so do screen readers. A blind person can scan down the page for headings and find the relevant pieces of information.
Search engines use headings to give relevance to your content. A term is considered more important when it is in a heading. For example, the term ‘Mowing Service’ would hold a lot more weight in a heading like ‘Bob’s Mowing Service’ than if it were buried in the main content of the page. The search engines assume, however foolish, that your heading is the topic of your content. This logically implies that a cryptic heading with no relevant key terms, no matter how funny it is, is not helping your search results. There is ongoing debate whether bolded text is weighted any differently, but it certainly helps for scanning a page.
To wrap this up, there are more reasons to write good code than not. Cutting corners by hacking it together in Dreamweaver or getting your 15-year-old nephew to build your site in Frontpage (Don’t get me started!) is not going to save you money. You will lose a quarter of your market from the people who can’t read your site, a large percentage of prospective customers who can’t find you in the search engines and those who do find you will probably leave out of frustration because the site is like a dog’s breakfast.
If you design and code your site for good accessibility, you will naturally be building a site that has a fighting chance in Google and vice versa. Good XHTML and CSS coding is not only easily accessible and ranks well, it will save you a lot of money in the long run when you need to update and build upon your site.Posted by Chris Garrett on 24 May 2006