There are many design considerations when launching or upgrading a Web site. Two important tasks that should not be overlooked are search engine optimization (SEO) and site accessibility.

Why is accessibility important? It's not just for disabled users these days, although that's a major consideration. However, there are a number of other users who can benefit from an accessible Web site, such as all those accessing the Web with electronic devices like PDAs (personal digital assistants), cell phones, and WAP devices (Wireless Application Protocol).

It stands to reason that the more accessible you make your Web site, the more potential you'll have to develop a wider audience. For instance, there are actually 28.2 million potential prospects out there who are color blind, and they're predominantly male. If you don't consider the effect of color on their ability to use your site, you can lose a lot of market share. There's also a sizeable audience of users who access the Web from various browsers, diverse environments, different devices or platforms, and low connection speeds. A site designed for accessibility will broaden your reach and increase your bottom line.

Likewise, a site optimized for search engines will attract targeted traffic that results in higher conversion rates. You'll get some branding with the search engine text links, and this marketing strategy is cost effective. These are all good reasons to consider SEO and accessibility.

The Benefits of Accessibility
Optimizing your site for search engines enhances accessibility and improves usability, but benefits go further than that. It's smart to ensure that your site is viewable and navigable from a wide variety of Web clients and for people accessing the Web from a variety of different environments. Here's why:

  • The popularity of mobile devices is an accessibility challenge as more and more people use wireless devices to access the Web.
  • Not everyone can view graphics. Besides visually impaired users, many people access the Web with slow connections, disabling graphics and scripting capabilities. Some may use a text-only screen or a small PDA screen. Some people still use older browsers and computers.
  • Environments can also influence accessibility. Some people work where lighting makes it difficult to read the screen. Others may be in situations where eyes, ears, or hands are occupied, interfering with certain tasks (e.g., people driving or working in a loud environment).
  • Did you know one out of every 12 men are color blind? Your choice of colors affects their ability to use your site.
  • The baby boomer demographic is the fastest growing group of new Internet users. These folks find it hard to read small fixed fonts. They also are users of cell phones and PDAs.
  • Not everyone has a mouse and keyboard -- or the ability to use these tools. More people are using speech browsers while accessing the Internet in their cars. Others have difficulty using a mouse due to carpal tunnel syndrome or because of visual impairment.

As you can see, inaccessibility takes a toll in lost opportunities for prospects and sales. It's important to plan ahead, taking the time to identify your site goals, intended audience, content, design, and SEO services. This will save money in the long run and will make updating and maintaining your site easier.

You may wish to have your site audited by Bobby, a free service to help identify and repair accessibility barriers. Get a reading and prioritize improvements by level of impact in meeting basic accessibility standards.

The Benefits of Optimizing Your Content
Content optimization and accessibility go hand in hand. When optimizing a site for search engines, a reputable SEO firm will analyze the site's code, structure, and page layout, looking for any elements that might prevent a robot from indexing your site. Content optimization resulting in search engine friendliness contributes toward accessibility.

For instance, your Flash site can benefit from the SEO firm creating a static mini-site of several pages with some content. Links to the Flash site would appear on each page. The mini-site would be accessed as a static page from the main site. It won't be as visually engaging, but your text will be readable. Compensating for the Flash "bells and whistles" makes your site crawlable by search engine robots and gives users who can't view Flash the ability to access a low-bandwidth version.

W3 Guidelines for Accessibility
The W3 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines tell you how to make your site accessible. Each issue in the Table of Contents is described in detail with examples provided. Guideline headers are:

  1. Provide equivalent alternatives for auditory and visual content.
  2. Do not rely on color alone.
  3. Use proper markup and style sheets and do so properly.
  4. Clarify natural language usage.
  5. Create tables that transform gracefully.
  6. Ensure that pages featuring new technologies transform gracefully.
  7. Ensure user control of time-sensitive content changes.
  8. Ensure direct accessibility of embedded user interfaces.
  9. Design for device-independence.
  10. Use interim solutions.
  11. Use W3C technologies and guidelines.
  12. Provide context and orientation information.
  13. Provide clear navigation mechanisms.
  14. Ensure that documents are clear and simple.

It's to your advantage to make your site accessible because it broadens your audience. Enhancing accessibility with SEO services makes sense because all the enhancements will improve your bottom line.

Accessibility Resources
If you need more information on accessibility, try the following resources.

  • IBM Accessibility Center -- Checklist and references for Web accessibility.
  • The Alliance for Technology Access -- A network community providing information and support services to people with disabilities.
  • WebABLE -- Provider of Web accessibility technology, consulting, and training. The library includes press releases, white papers, articles, and references on accessibility and adaptive technology.
  • AWARE Center (Accessible Web Authoring Resources and Education) -- HTML Writers Guild central resource for educating Web authors on accessibility.

December 21, 2001

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

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