SEO and Accessibility: Content [Series Part 2]

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As SEOs, our goal when we’re creating content is to provide equitable access, which means that content isn’t just available to search engines, but also to people of all abilities. In the second installment of his three-part accessibility series, Cooper shows you how to ensure that your amazing content is accessible by bots AND people.

Photo of the whiteboard with handwritten notes on how content SEOs can focus on accessibility.

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Video Transcription

Hey, Moz fans. Welcome to the latest edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Cooper Hollmaier. I started doing SEO in 2016, and today I worked at a large outdoor specialty retailer helping make our strategies for technical SEO come alive. Thank you for attending this Session 2 of 3 of our SEO and accessibility series.

It all starts with accessibility

If you’ve taken the intro to SEO course here at Moz, you’re probably familiar with the concept called Mozlow’s hierarchy of SEO needs. If you’re not, the basic idea is that we have to have some foundational elements that are needed to make us rank in search engine results, and then we can layer some things on top to make us more competitive in those results.

A pyramid-shaped chart showing how different elements of SEO are graded according to how essential they are. The lower tiers are 'essential to rankings' and the higher tiers 'improve competitiveness'. Bottom tier: Crawl accessibility (so engines can reach and index your content). 2nd tier: Compelling content (that answers the searcher's query). 3rd tier: Keyword optimized (to attract searchers and engines).4th tier: Great user experience (including fast load speed, ease of use, and compelling UI on any device). 5th tier: Share-worthy content (that earns links, citations, and amplification). 6th tier: Title, URL, & description (to draw high CTR in the rankings). Top tier: Snippet/schema markup (to stand out in SERPs).

But it all starts with crawl accessibility, and in the same way it starts with basic human accessibility as well. Our goal when we’re creating content is to provide equitable access. So this means my content is not only available to search engines but people of all abilities as well. Let’s look at an example.

Making assumptions about your audience

Let’s say I’m a restaurant. Commonly you’ll see restaurants post their menu in the windows of their stores or shops. Well, the problem with this idea, while it seems easy because anyone can walk by, they don’t have to look at my Facebook or my website, and they can look at the menu, see what they like or don’t like, and then choose to engage with my business and enjoy my food.

Hand drawing of a menu with "Ordering Food" written above it.

What’s bad about this is that we’ve made some assumptions about our ideal audience. We’ve assumed that they’re the average height and that they’re tall enough to be able to see the menu that I posted in my window. We’ve assumed that they have great vision, that they on a rainy day can see the menu items and still make the decision to come inside. We’ve also assumed that by not including any pictures on our menu people know what we’re talking about.

They’re familiar with the cuisine that I’m making or the flowery culinary, eloquent culinary language that I’m using to describe my dishes. But I think what you’ll find is that these assumptions are exclusive versus inclusive, and we want to be inclusive of all of our audience members. So for example, assume maybe my person is not an average height. How do I account for that?

If they’re not the average height, seeing the menu might be impossible. Assume that maybe they have low vision or blindness and ask yourself, “Is this available digitally or in a Braille compatible format that they can access, too?” Or maybe add some pictures, add some different language to your menu to help people understand the culinary language that you’re using, because without that they might not understand and they might choose to avoid your restaurant versus come in and see it.

Ask “What if?”

Handwritten list of "what if" questions to ask yourself when making assumptions about your audience.

So these are things you can do to assume the best and provide a diverse group of people a better experience.

Let’s do some math. If you have 1,000 people in your restaurant every month, we know from last time that 1 in 5 people on average have a disability in the United States. That means 200 of those 1,000 people have a disability, and you’re excluding them by not including some information or other mediums to consume your menu.

That compounded as 200 people times let’s say an average of $15 a meal, that’s $3,000 a month you’re leaving on the table quite literally. So think about that. It’s not just about providing equitable access, but it will cost your business money too, and $3,000 a month is very expensive, especially for a small business. I’m sure you’re saying, “Cooper, what if I’m not a small business? What if I want people to buy my product or give me a lead or come sign up for my service?”

Hand drawing of different content mediums to use for people of different abilities, including podcasts, emails, and videos.

That’s okay. These rules apply to you too. It’s the mindset. If you have a podcast, an email newsletter, a blog, a website, I would implore you to ask the question, “As a person with __________, can I __________?” Fill in that first blank with things like as a person with colorblindness, ADHD, dyslexia, hard of hearing, Down syndrome, can I and fill in that second blank with whatever you want people to do at your business.

Can I buy a product? Can I read this newsletter? Can I enjoy this podcast? If the answer to that question, that string of questioning, is no, you have a little bit of a problem. You have some work to do, right?

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Handwritten list of WCAG criteria: POUR.

What I’m talking about is following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and these are commonly called WCAG or “Wikag.” These guidelines are set up to make sure that our content on the web is accessible.

I think you’ll find that as you make your content accessible for people of diverse abilities, you’re going to have your content accessible for search engines of diverse abilities too. So following the four principles of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, they are POUR or “Pour”: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, or Robust, I think you’ll find that your content resonates better with your audience, you exclude less audience members, and your search engine optimization will ultimately only be that much better.


So what do I mean by perceivable? What I mean by perceivable is we all don’t want to look at a brick of text. I think that’s pretty clear. We tend to include things like images, video, and audio on our pages. What I want you to do is consider any time you’re using those rich media elements to include a text alternative. So this means images, include alt text. Videos, include captions and transcripts.

Audio, same thing, include the transcript so if I can’t hear that audio with my speakers, I’m able to either convert it into something I can use or I’m able to enjoy it in some other way. Then when we’re talking about video, including an ASL interpreter or converting your presentation into American Sign Language can also be a little bit more inclusive for the audience you’re trying to reach and save you a little bit of that money we talked about earlier.


Operable, what I mean by this is: Are your links saying “Click Here” or “Learn More,” or are they really telling me where I’m going as a user? Think about your users here. We know we love anchor text. We know that search engines love to see where we’re going too. So “Click Here” and “Learn More” aren’t as descriptive as they could be. They’re not as operable. It’s hard for me as a user to operate your website or your email newsletter or your podcast.


Is my content understandable? So this is something I have a hard time doing too sometimes, but considering is the content that I’m writing at a reading level that my audience is going to enjoy that. Have I described it in a language that my customers understand? Oftentimes I think we get stuck in SEO and we start to use a lot of SEO language, especially if you’re working at like an agency with clients.

Taking the time to break it down into language that’s more understandable will allow you to resonate with a larger set of audience members, but also it will allow you generally to capture those search terms too, right? People aren’t looking up PhD level things in Google search. They’re looking up language that we can all understand, so consider that.


Then robust, this kind of touches things like: Is my website mobile friendly? Is it responsive? Are the things that I’m producing compatible with a lot of technologies and these technologies include assistive technologies? So POUR, remember those things when producing web content. You shouldn’t need a monocle to read what you’re producing. You shouldn’t need a PhD to read what you’re producing. It should be really, really easy for a diverse group of people to access the stuff that you produce.

If you want some more information about WCAG, there’s a link right here, and it will be linked in the bottom of this post as well.

What can content SEOs do?

Handwritten list of seven things SEOs can do to apply accessibility practices in their work.

So what can you do as a content SEO?

  1. You can write informative and unique page titles. Those page titles matter for not just search engines but people as well and assistive technologies.
  2. You can use headings correctly. Commonly I’ll see people use those H tags. You’re probably familiar with the H1, but H2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 matter too to style the page in a certain way and make the text bolder or brighter or larger, and that will be great. But as someone who’s using assistive technology or someone who’s trying to understand the parent-child relationships between things on a page, it’s going to be a lot harder for me to do that if I’m not using those headings correctly.
  3. Links are for users. One thing I always ask myself is, “Is this link on the page for SEO, or is it for my customer?” If the answer is it’s just on the page for SEO, come back to the table, figure out a way to make an SEO friendly approach to a customer problem, and put a link on the page that’s going to resonate with customers and also help your SEO. Not just one or the other.
  4. Plan for a text alternative. No matter what you’re building, I’m sure it’s going to involve some rich media. Plan to include captions, transcripts, ASL interpretation in your presentation from day one.
  5. Over-describe what’s happening. We know that descriptions are going to help pick up additional synonyms and additional talking points for search engines as well. We know that being more comprehensive and honest and ethical will ultimately lead to a better SEO outcome. It also helps people, normal people with diverse abilities get that same outcome as well. Let them enjoy it. Make this about customers and not just search engines, and I think you’ll find that both parties win.
  6. Provide clear instructions, so what you want people to do. Don’t make it hard to convert.
  7. Number 7 is write content that you want to read.

I would ask you to close your eyes and listen to the content that you’ve written on the page and ask yourself, “Is this SEO optimized, or is this built in a way that a customer would want to engage with it?” What I want you to try to do is try to figure out, “How can I write this piece of content in a way that is just seamless? It’s invisible, and I’ve even optimized this for SEO. It just feels like it’s a normal piece of content that resonates with me.”

Hand drawing of a stick figure holding the hand of a robot. "Helping people + bots."

That’s what you’re looking for. The best SEO is invisible. Help people and bots. Not just bots or not just people. So focus on the Web Accessibility Guidelines. If you want some more information about WCAG, it’s right there. Next time, we’re going to talk about technical SEO and some behind-the-scenes code that will make your website more accessible for all.

Thanks for watching.

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