The Accessibility & SEO Myth

No, Accessibility doesn’t lead to better SEO. More importantly, this isn’t a good business case argument. It is time to put this one to rest.

In order to formulate a good business case argument, you must be able to prove that Taking action 'X' will have 'Y' consequences and in this case the argument is that improving accessibility will improve SEO. The implication that follows is that this will somehow make the organization more money or otherwise help the organization reach its defined goals, where more visitors equals higher possible achievement of those goals. This is only true if you weigh a handful of accessible development techniques with inordinately high levels of importance.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Contains:

  • 4 Principles
    • Split to 12 Guidelines, which are then
      • Split into 61 Success Criterion

The informative supplemental material for WCAG defines approximately 400 Techniques and Failures. At the time of this writing there are 93 Common Failures for WCAG. I’m of the opinion that saying “Accessibility Improves SEO” is greatly over-selling accessibility.

A Google search for "Search engine ranking factors" displays a number of results featuring leaders in the SEO/ SEM industry that outline the many factors that improve SEO. The vast majority of the identified ranking factors have no relationship of any kind with Accessibility. In fact, even many of the “on-page factors” don’t have much relationship with Accessibility.

Accessibility and SEO intersect in the following places:

  1. Page titles
  2. Headings
  3. Alt attributes
  4. Link text

In the entire list of 400 WCAG Techniques and failures, 21 of them relate to the above list of items. In other words, only 5% of WCAG techniques are correlated with SEO. None of this means that those 21 techniques aren’t important, they definitely are. Titles, headings, and link text are important navigation and wayfinding aids for users. But that’s not the same as claiming better accessibility results in better SEO.

“Better SEO” is not an accessibility business case and this myth needs to go away.

If you are interested in learning about the next generation in Web Accessibility Testing, give Tenon.io a try.
If you or your organization need help with accessibility consulting, strategy, or accessible web development, email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343. Download Resume [MS Word]