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Monday Dec 12th, 2022

ADA Compliance Impact on Search Ranking

When you take the time to make your website ADA-compliant, that good deed doesn’t go unnoticed. Not only is your website accessible to millions more people, but search engines may also give you a boost in search rankings.

While making your website more accessible is undoubtedly the right thing to do, Google and Bing aren’t necessarily patting you on the back for your efforts. As it turns out, many elements that make a website ADA-compliant help search engine crawlers too. Between headers and titles to alt text and video transcripts, it all adds more content and context to your site.

To get a better idea of how ADA compliance impacts search ranking, Werkbot, a leader in ADA-compliant website development, looks at what ADA compliance is, how it could help you with SEO, and how you can take action today.

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An Overview of ADA Compliance

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of public accommodation.” Accordingly, state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations need to make accommodations so that they’re able to provide equal access to goods and services to people with and without disabilities.

It’s these measures to meet Title III (and Title II for public-sector websites) that make up ADA compliance. While many of these accommodations are physical, such as ramps, high-contrast signage, and bathroom grab bars, there is also a digital side. In the broadest sense, both public and private sector organizations need to ensure their website’s design, content, and code are accessible to everyone.

The Landscape of ADA-Compliant Lawsuits

According to the American Bar Association, website and mobile app accessibility lawsuits make up roughly a fifth of all ADA Title III filings in federal courts, which consistently exceed 10,000 lawsuits annually. While every industry needs to be mindful of their level of online compliance, e-commerce sites receive the most lawsuits, especially those that deal in:

  • Consumer Staples
  • Consumer Durables & Apparel
  • Consumer Discretionary
  • Consumer Services
  • Retail

The most common reason for litigation is the use of third-party overlay tools that don’t follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). To avoid this issue, ask for documentation from a vendor about their ADA compliance or have a web development agency build you something you know will  work.

The SEO Benefits of ADA Compliance

Beyond running a more inclusive business and avoiding ADA compliance lawsuits, ADA compliance has a multitude of search engine optimization (SEO) benefits. For those who need clarification on what SEO is, it’s the marketing science of increasing the quantity and quality of visitors to your website.

To be clear, search engines don’t directly consider ADA compliance when considering search engine rankings. However, many search engines do directly consider user-experience metrics in their search algorithm. For instance, if Google suspects people aren’t finding your website useful or usable due to high bounce rates and low on-site time, your search ranking will be negatively impacted.

Where SEO and ADA Meet

Search engine crawlers and assistive technologies (AT) process the content on a page similarly. To help users effectively, they both demand certain technical elements on a page as well. These elements include:

Alternative Text

Search engines use alternative text, also known as image captions, to determine the specific content of an image and how it relates to a web page’s topic. With accurate and comprehensive alt text, you’ll likely enjoy better search rankings.

However, the benefits also extend to those who use assistive technology, such as screen readers. The reason being is that screen readers use alternative text to tell people with visual impairments what information is conveyed in an image.

Pro-Tip: Describe an image thoroughly but keep it to 125 characters max.

Anchor/link text

Context is critical for search engine crawlers. That's why links with descriptive anchor text are so important, as it allows search engines to determine a link's destination and why it's relevant to the page.

Links with descriptive anchor text also help people using screen readers by providing additional contextual information about a link and where it goes. 

Pro-Tip: Use anchor text that describes the information they find or the destination to which they’ll go if they click the link.

Headings and Header Tags

Header 1 (H1) text helps search engines and people determine what’s on a webpage. Headings 2-6 denote subtopics and define context structure. Accessibility-wise, headings help those with screen readers to navigate through content.

Pro-Tip: Use H1 text to highlight your main topic and H2-6 for subtopics. Never use more than one H1 per page.

Structured Data

Structured data is a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content. Properly structured data will qualify a page to show rich results in SERPs, which could include helpful aspects of a page's content, such as product ratings, event dates, or recipe cook times.

Not only does structured data help people that use voice search, but it also helps ATs better communicate the information on a page.

Pro-Tip: Find what structure data markup your webpages can use and implement them. Doing so will help you take up more real estate in SERPs, appear in voice searchers, and help ATs better communicate with users.

Title Tag/Page Titles

Title tags provide search engines with the context of a page's content. Of course, they also serve as the title text in the SERPs. These title tags also help people using ATs to access pages that are relevant to their needs. They also help people differentiate between content when multiple web pages are open in a browser.

Pro-Tip: Always include a title tag/page title that accurately represents the content on a page with a 65-character max.

Video and Audio Transcriptions

Writing video and audio transcriptions adds more content to your site and makes it easier for search engine crawlers to understand what your page is all about. From an ADA-compliance perspective, transcripts allow hearing-impaired people to utilize your site's content.

Pro-Tip: Include transcriptions for all of your videos and audio files. Conversely, try including audio versions of all your written content as well to provide a multimedia experience.

Where SEO and ADA Compliance is Heading

Google and other major search engines are constantly tweaking their algorithms to provide better experiences for users. With a global push for a more inclusive web, we think it's likely that, at some point, ADA compliance will eventually directly impact SEO.

If you're interested in ensuring your website is ADA compliant, check out our ADA website Compliance Checklist and reach out to Werkbot today.