Hand on door handle preparing to open doorIf you’re like the majority of people, you turn on your computer, look at the screen, and start typing or using your mouse to navigate. With your mobile device, you touch, tap, and drag while looking at the screen to get the result you want.

That’s not everyone’s experience, though. For approximately 19% of us (in the United States), using a device isn’t that easy. Roughly one in five people* has a disability of some sort that may restrict their ability to use technology to its fullest.

And, if you work in a government organization or one that does business with or for the federal government, accessibility isn’t an option—it’s a requirement.

A little background: Federal government agencies are required to ensure all their information is accessible to employees and the public—including those with disabilities. That’s thanks to the 1998 Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The intent of Section 508 is to eliminate barriers in technology and give all citizens full access to electronic and information technology (EIT). For technology to be considered accessible, a person with disabilities must be able to use the EIT just as well as someone without a disability. Many states and local governments enforce the same requirements.

While private sector businesses aren’t covered under Section 508, that doesn’t mean they can ignore accessibility. Consider how much purchasing power the federal government has—if you want your business or product to be part of that consideration, you must be able to demonstrate that your offerings are accessible.

Even if you don’t sell to government, making your content, products, and website accessible expands your customer base—and provides a positive customer experience for all users. If your website isn’t accessible, potential customers with disabilities may not discover your site—and if they do, they’ll likely have a frustrating experience. Businesses with disabled employees or customers are unlikely to consider products that aren’t accessible.

Think of it this way: do you really want to lose up to 19% of your potential customers?

Section 508 outlines a number of criteria for accessible technology. To get you started, here are some common examples of accessibility issues.

On-screen navigation. Blind or low-vision users rely on screen readers to read aloud all text on a website and they often use keyboard shortcuts to navigate. On mobile devices, they may rely on audio feedback to orient them as they drag a finger across the screen. If your sites or products don’t support these navigation methods, users with limited vision will experience frustration that can lead to poor impressions of your company, negative reviews, and lost sales.

Images. Many businesses use images to advertise their products. Blind and low-vision users who can’t see the images on your site rely on alternative text (alt text)—read by screen readers—that describes the image. It’s important to not only include alt text, but to include the right kind of alt text to help these users. Descriptive and robust alt text describes all information conveyed by the image.

Let’s say you provide this image in an online store that sells sweaters for pets:

Image of big bulldog sitting in the snow wearing fitted sweater that is primarily grey but with white and red bands. Cabled sweater ribbing runs lengthwise and sweater has short sleeves.

Good alt text might say: Image of big bulldog sitting in the snow, wearing fitted sweater that is primarily grey but with white and red bands. Cabled sweater ribbing runs lengthwise and sweater has short sleeves. This description is more likely to result in a sale than Image of sweater #12345.

(By the way, alt text is important for search engine optimization (SEO), too.)

Video and audio. Users who are deaf or hard of hearing may be unable to hear the video’s audio, so captioning is a must. Do you provide transcripts of your audios and videos? Transcripts allow anyone who cannot access this content from the web to read a transcript instead.

Links and buttons. People who use screen readers need to hear a description of where a link or button will take them. “Click here” is an empty phrase that doesn’t help a user know where they are going. (It’s also actually bad usability and bad for SEO.) Make sure all your links and button labels provide clear and accurate information about the destination page or button result.

Headings. Screen readers read headings in order, so make sure you use heading 1, heading 2, heading 3 and so on—and not in any other order. And keep the content that follows a header brief and concise—no one likes to read (or hear) too much information at once.

The above examples just scratch the surface of website and online content accessibility.

Ideally, websites and content are built to support the variety of assistive technologies that customers with disabilities use. That’s why it’s best to understand the criteria for creating accessible content before you start designing and implementing your website. But it’s never too late to do an assessment of existing assets and collateral to identify issues and then take corrective actions. Because making your assets and content accessible benefits both users and your business—it’s a win-win for everyone.

If you’re wondering whether your website, application, or content is accessible, watch for our upcoming Accessibility Checklists, which you can use to check your assets for accessibility issues. Subscribe to our blog, using the form on the right, to get notified of new content.

Need assistance?

Resources Online is an Accessibility Center of Excellence. We have a full team of accessibility experts, including federally certified Trusted Testers, to help your business ensure that your offerings are accessible to everyone. Contact us for help making your website and product content accessible.

*Data source: Nearly 1 in 5 People Have a Disability in the U.S., Census Bureau Reports, United States Census Bureau press release, 2014 

Content is king in search engine optimization tactics
What’s a website without great content? It’s a site that’s of little interest to search engines and thus hard for customers—and potential customers—to find. Great content is critical for making your site discoverable to the world.

Let’s start by defining content. For our purposes, content is text on the page, videos with closed captioning or transcripts, downloadable files, blogs, and forums.

In the rest of this post, I’ll tell you what we mean by great content: content that ranks well in search returns and increases customer traffic. And which content attributes you should prioritize to improve search engine optimization (SEO).

1. Create original content that adds unique value

Original content might seem kind of obvious (like don’t copy someone else’s material), but there’s a nuance here. What I mean by original is writing about your product or offering in a way that it’s never been written about before. Throw away that boilerplate text—don’t repeat a single phrase that you’ve seen before.

Here’s an example of adding unique value that resonated with me. Far too many Facebook postings drive me nuts—but why? I hadn’t been able to figure that out. Then I found Tim Urban’s post, 7 Ways to Be Insufferable on Facebook. An aha moment for me: he beautifully describes annoying Facebook posts in a way I’ve never seen before.  And even though we’re not talking about writing for Facebook, there are lessons here for all of us. Namely, be interesting or helpful. (Talking at length about yourself, your product, or your company is rarely either.)

Be creative. Be innovative. Be completely original. Find that new and compelling context that no one has described before—that’s the unique value.

Got a product? Talk about how someone accomplished something unique and exciting with it. Show really cool things created with it.

Better yet, tell an interesting story that ties into your product in some small way.

Here’s an example. A friend lost his phone in the Clark river. Six weeks later, someone called him to tell him they’d found it—and it still worked, thanks to its waterproof case. Isn’t that more interesting than just talking about the specifications of the waterproof phone case?

And here’s a tip from my favorite SEO pro: Search for content similar to what you’re trying to create—and then create something better.

2. Publish content that others want to link to

If you create content that is original and unique; helpful, informative, or amusing; and clear and clean (free of typos and grammatically correct), authoritative websites or bloggers with an interest in the subject are more likely to link to it. Publishing content that other credible sources link to is one of the most important things you can do to increase your ranking in search results.

When you publish a new piece of content, make sure all those credible sources know about it. Announce it on all of your channels—especially your social media channels—to help get eyes on it and links to it. (And, referring to that earlier note about insufferable posts, make that announcement interesting, helpful—even intriguing. Don’t just say “Hey, I wrote this article. Here’s a link.”)

3. Know your audience and speak their language

Research words and phrases your audience uses for your product and use them in your content. Don’t make assumptions. If you don’t use terms your audience uses when they’re looking for information on your product or offering, your content won’t be returned in their search results. This article provides some good tips on how to do keyword research for SEO.

Just as important is understanding searcher intent: what question are searchers trying to answer? What information are they trying to find?  Search engines are optimized to return searches that match a user’s intent—so that should be your goal in content, too. Here’s some good information on addressing user intent with your content strategy.

Search engines recognize synonyms and word variations, so you can write naturally about your product, using the full variety of terms that may apply, throughout your content.  For example, if you’re selling electronic books, you can write about electronic books, e-books, and digital books—if your audience uses any of these terms to search and your content contains them, there’s a good chance your content will show up in search results.

4. Write for usability to improve SEO

What’s good for usability is good for SEO.

One way to improve content usability is to divide content into sections which are separated by compelling headings that contain relevant keywords. Your audience can more easily scan your content, and search engines will respond to the keywords.

Another usability tip is to put your most important information first: readers may not get to the end of your content, so front-load the critical information. For example, in this post, the most important things you can do to improve SEO are at the beginning. So even if you didn’t get past the first couple of sections, you got the most important information.

5. Keep content fresh

This is especially important for a new site. Search engines favor sites that publish new content regularly—it means you’re paying attention and staying up to date.

Create an editorial calendar that supports serving up relevant content on a consistent basis. And update your home page frequently to keep it topical.

6. Blog regularly

Blogs give you a bit more topic flexibility than your regular website. You can post about things that you wouldn’t cover on your website, giving you a chance to talk to your audience about areas where your product can add value—and to potentially attract a bigger audience.  If you blog, create new posts on a regular basis—fresh content! And remember to be interesting, helpful or both.

In summary, develop original, one-of-a-kind content that others will want to link to, make sure it addresses audience intent, and keep it fresh.

Resources Online can help you plan, create, and publish content that brings visitors to your site—contact us today.

For more information:

Build a solid SEO foundation

Backlinks for SEO

Original content that adds unique value