Being Thoughtful Can Also Be Good SEO

I recently took a trip to visit some friends and family, and was able to spend time with an uncle who has been involved with computers most of his life.

He and I spent several hours talking about old and new technology, each telling our glory stories of programming and system implementation. To me, his stories were far more interesting.

I heard stories of computers that took up three stories of a building, systems that required flipping toggle switches on and off to send the instructions required to boot, punch-cards, vacuum tubes, tapes, and assembly language.

I had heard of these things before – in the mandatory computer history portion of my computer science classes. But hearing my uncle’s first-hand accounts really brought them to life, as he described many of the great challenges he’s faced with computers throughout his life.

For the past few years my uncle has faced a new challenge with computers; he is now blind.

Using JAWS® screen reader software to browse the web, he first gets a list of all links on a website; then the reader reads the link list to him one by one until he finds the one he is looking for. If the site’s navigation is made with images that are missing alternate (alt) text, or with JavaScript, he can’t browse the site.

The easiest sites for him to browse are the ones with the most relevant navigation first, with clean text and markup, and not over-heavy with images. Unfortunately, he says that more and more sites are becoming unreadable for him.

To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about accessibility until having spoken with my uncle. Since then, I have done a little homework on what makes a site accessible. I was pleased to learn that many things I already try to do are a good step in that direction:

  • Valid XHTML / HTML
  • Clean link based navigation
  • Using markup elements to add context to your web page content, things like <h1> to indicate a document heading, <p> to indicate a paragraph, <blockquote> to indicate a quote, etc.
  • Using style sheets (not embedded style) to make the visual presentation.
  • Providing alt text for images within the page.
  • Using clear and readable language for web page content.

Does this list sound familiar? If so, then you may have also been considering what makes your site more visible to search engines. It turns out that most things that make a site accessible to the visually impaired are also good SEO techniques.

Having looked over the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), there is a lot to consider with accessibility, and it takes some effort to implement it. But it’s not wasted effort.

In doing so, you will make the lives of visually impaired visitors to your site easier, and make your site more optimized for your friendly neighborhood search engine spider.