Written by Matthew Bailey 2005

Are you the kind of person that parks in the handicapped space?

Hopefully not. However, many websites that I've seen are doing the equivalent of parking in handicapped spaces and very few people are saying anything about it. It's about time we start taking care of the user, ALL users, rather than just the ones who are able see the site how you see it.

Users utilizing assistive technology are increasing, both in number and in the awareness of web designers. According to the US Center for the Blind, there are over 1.3 million Americans that are legally blind, and over 10 million are visually impaired and can benefit from assistive technology.

In many circles and forums, the prospect of being forced to design accessible web sites is met with cries of unfairness, indifference or even a few callous comments. Disabled users are growing in number, especially as assistive technology continues to improve and become more affordable. Disabled users need to be recognized and understood.

The Challenge of Accessibility

Being disabled is a dichotic lifestyle. Most disabled people would never describe themselves as limited or restricted, as they are using what they know. Yet society has a way of not considering the needs or understanding those that they attempt to help. Others simply show their discomfort by disdain or even disparagement.

My father has been physically disabled for the past 20 years. Seeing both his resourcefulness in using computers, and then the Internet, I have been educated about the challenges people have using web sites. He uses the Internet for his online business, as well as for multiple other ventures. For disabled users, the Internet is freedom.

Assistive Technology

Assistive technology can help by giving users an alternate means of viewing information. Screen readers, Braille displays, user-defined stylesheets, magnification; all of these allow alternate means of viewing web pages. However, many search engine optimization tactics interfere with the user experience for these technologies. By using amateurish, misinformed and thoughtless tactics, disabled users are unable to understand web pages and are essentially told to "stay away" because they are not able to view the information as a "normal" person may. These tactics may be hidden from regular users, but because the optimizer is only thinking of rankings, alternate browsers and technology and those using them are subjected to poorly designed and poorly marketed pages.

Tactics that preclude assistive technology have at their root a search engine optimization method that creates inherent problems; keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing involves an attempt to gain rankings by forcing as many keywords as possible in a page, utilizing elements such as the title attribute, alt attributes, link titles and more. By stuffing keywords into every available attribute, tag or background, users in assistive technology are forced to listen or view these long strings of keywords, with no context, sense or understanding of any structure.

These are usually uncovered as soon as a screen reader loads the page, and the title attribute is read to the user. Most disabled users will be forgiving on a short stuffed title, as most web pages either overdo it or provide nothing at all. However, "invisible" text such as white text on a white background, stuffed div tags full of keywords positioned to be at the top of the code and stuffed noscript information. By stuffing these elements, a screen reader, Braille display or defined CSS will show all of these to the user and displace the normal page display in a typical Internet Explorer browser.

Visually impaired users combat poorly designed pages by listing the links. Screen readers will provide a list of links and anchor text to the user, so that they may choose from the list of links to find the information they need. Listing these links can be an exercise in futility on some "optimized" web sites. Lists of keyword-stuffed anchor text links, "invisible" links, and hidden links to doorway pages are all exposed to the disabled users, furthering their frustration with the site.

Accessibility Applies to All Sites

Search engine optimization needs to grow up, and move beyond juvenile tactics to inflate rankings. True optimization creates a website that is an accessible, valuable site to users on all platforms, browsers and user-agents. Ensuring that a web site is able to communicate to all users, regardless of disability and access is part of marketing a web presence. Otherwise, you may as well hang out a sign, "handicapped not welcome."

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

This article originally appeared in the Succesful Sites Newsletter.

July 27, 2005

Matt Bailey is the founder of SiteLogic, a web marketing consulting company. He leads seminars and teaches companies how to use their sites more effectively and to build a web business by applying common sense sales and marketing techniques. He is a specialist in interpreting web site statistics into practical usability.

Matt has been in the search marketing industry for ten years, and started leading classes in the late 1990's. One of his first opportunities was as a regular speaker for the Ohio Innkeeper's Association, teaching practical web site marketing techniques. Since that time he has worked with hundreds of companies, instructing them in web marketing principles.

Matt takes a very holistic view of website marketing, including accessibility, which has become a passion and a crusade. His goal with The Web Site Accessibility Blog is to teach companies that they can easy apply search marketing and accessibility techniques to their web sites.

Search Engine Guide > Matt Bailey > Keyword Stuffing = Parking in Handicapped Spaces