SEO and WCAG Compliance
Most business websites in the UK will get at least 50% of their website traffic (people visiting their website) from users on a mobile phone. If your website could not be easily used, or understood, by potential customers whilst using a mobile phone, you would address the issue as a priority.
In the UK, over 20% of the population have one or more permanent disabilities and many more have temporary disabilities*. Many of these may have difficulty using your website. The same priority should be given to people with disabilities accessing and using the website as you would mobile phone users.
So, “Accessibility” is an important part of running your business and your website.
It makes business sense to ensure that your business’ website, content, services and products are accessible to all customers, regardless of abilities or disabilities.
In the UK, the issue of accessibility of a website is covered by the WCAG compliance standard.
What is WCAG Compliance?
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is a standard that defines how to ensure your website content is accessible to people with disabilities.
Accessibility includes a wide range of disabilities, including visual (blindness, partially-sighted and colour blindness) auditory (deaf and hard of hearing), physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning (Dyslexia and ADHD for example), and neurological disabilities.
WCAG, 508 and ADA Compliance
ADA (American with Disabilities Act) is a civil rights law that protects people with disabilities being discriminated against, in any walk of life. This includes the use of the internet and any websites.
Whilst ADA will not apply to most UK businesses, those that provide information, services or products in the USA will likely need to comply with the act.
The use of the act for litigation has increased significantly in the last few years, with notable cases brought against Dominoes, Netflix, Harvard University and Uber.
Section 508, is a US Federal Law requiring Federal Agencies to use and maintain information in a way that makes it accessible for people with disabilities. It is very unlikely that this law would apply to UK business websites.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is a standard that has been adopted by the UK Government.
WCAG Compliance and Website SEO
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the ongoing strategy and practice of making your website “search engine friendly” so that it appears high up in the search engine results page and attracts visitors to your website.
WCAG compliance aims to make your website more accessible to all users.
Some practices that an SEO Agency may undertake to make your website rank higher will impact your WCAG compliance.
Consideration of WCAG and SEO should be a part of your overall strategy for your website, especially as both aim to get visitors to your website and make it easy for them to become customers.
8 Ways to Make Your Website WCAG Compliant
1. Use “Alt Text” In Images
The old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words” is normally very true on a website. A product or service can be demonstrated or shown in a simple photograph or diagram, however, visual elements of a web page, such as images, can be a barrier to blind, visually impaired or colour-blind users.
These users will often use software such as Braille or screen readers to verbally describe images on a page. Although they cannot ‘read’ the image itself they use the description of the image, called ‘alt text’, to verbally portray the image to the user.
Most SEO experts will use ‘Alt Text’ for the purposes of website optimisation. Making use of the image file name, title, and long description allows both SEO and WCAG compliance to be improved.
2. Ability To Enlarge The Font Size
Usually, when a website is designed and built, the written word on the site is designed to be aesthetically pleasing.
More and more often we are asked to build websites with minimal wording and more imagery.
Whilst this may make the website look and feel as the business wants it to, it may not give visually impaired users enough information for them to understand the messages on the website, it may also not give search engines enough content to rank you for all the search terms you would like to be found for.
A balance of usability and aesthetics should be built into the website.
Where text is in a website, it should be at a font size that allows it to be read easily, especially on a mobile phone.
Even better add functionality to your website that allows the user to set the font size themselves.
How you want visitors to communicate with your business should be clearly signposted. Call to actions, such as telephone numbers, email addresses or buttons should be large and obvious. This is good practice for any website and not just those seeking to be WCAG compliant.
3. Think Colour Contrasts
As well as the size of text, you should consider the colours used on your website and how they contrast.
People with vision impairments such as retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and cataract have low colour contrast sensitivity.
Of course, people who are colour blinds will also see your website differently. Many colours may fade into each other.
Allow functionality to allow the user to change the website to ‘high contrast’, ‘negative contrast’, ’greyscale’ and a ‘light background’. This should make the website accessible for most visual impairments.
Ensure that your ‘call to actions’ and ‘buttons’ have a contrasting colour.
4. Add Keyboard Navigation
For blind, visually impaired and disabled users, navigating your website can be challenging.
Rather than a ‘mouse’ or trackpad, these users will use the keyboard (or a Braille keyboard) to navigate around your website.
As they can’t use a mouse to browse the site, you have to incorporate keyboard navigation into your website.
Blind users will use Braille keyboards to access your site.
Use visible HTML links, buttons, and form fields to make sure all of the elements of your website are accessible via the keyboard.
5. Make Your Videos Accessible To All
Having a video on your website is fantastic for user experience and SEO.
However, visually-impaired and blind users of the website cannot see the video and deaf or hard of hearing can’t hear the video.
Videos and other multimedia elements on your website play a critical role in increasing the user engagement on your website.
Make use of ‘closed captions’ in your video. This where spoken work or audio is written out and runs at the same time as the video, so the video can be ‘read’ and heard as well as seen.
Uploading your video to YouTube and adding this version of the video to your website is best practice for SEO and accessibility. The user gets the benefit of the closed captions, that are automatically generated by YouTube, and the loading speed of your website will be faster compared to you having the actual file on your webpage.
6. Consider Your URL Structure
The screen readers that visually impaired visitors use will read the URL (the website address for that page). Giving the user more information in that URL allows then to better understand the page it is linked to.
An example from our site could the SEO Consultancy page.
Poor URL Structure: https://bamsh.co.uk/consultancy
Better URL Structure: https://bamsh.co.uk/seo-consultancy-services/
For both SEO and accessibility try to avoid using anchor text (the wording that links through to another page or website) such as “Click Here” or “Read More”.
7. Add Labels To Your Contact Forms
Of course, you want contact forms on your website to be easy to complete for all. However, many forms have what is called ‘placeholder text’ in them. This is, usually light-grey in colour, wording inside the contact form box.
This is particularly irritating for all users of the form, but more especially for visually-impaired users.
For most, the grey writing disappears as the user writes their information – meaning they no longer know what information was being requested for that box. A simple distraction away from the screen and they have to delete their information to get the grey texted instructions back.
For many, this text is too small and light-coloured to be able to be read. As the information is inside the “field”, most screen readers will also ignore it. Allowing users to increase the font size will not increase this text.
Rather than use placeholder text, add a label to each field. This will remain as the user enters their data and allows you to colour and size the label. Also, if the user has the ability to increase the font size, it will work on this label.
8. Don’t Use Tables and Pie Charts (Unless Absolutely Necessary)
Software that visually-impaired users utilise, such as screen readers will ‘read’ how many columns and rows a table has, but not necessarily the data within.
Think how a fully-sighted user uses a table? A ‘table’ is usually a comparison of the two axis – one running across the top, and another running down the left-hand side. To get the results of the data, you scan across from the left-hand side until underneath the correlating box from the top. A screen reader just sees data – it cannot draw a comparison from the column and rows.
Pie Charts are similarly confusing and difficult to read, with the added disadvantage that they usually use different colours to indicate the data, which is fine if you can see a definition between colours.
What is the law on WGAC and accessibility?
The law on accessibility can seem daunting, especially for multinational organisations. Here we look at the key legislation in the UK for Public Sector and Business websites.
UK Commercial websites & WGAC
The accessible use of every UK website is covered by the Equality Act of 2010. This act promotes a fair and equal society and protects all individuals from any unfair treatment.
Businesses and website owners are required by law to make “reasonable adjustments” to their website to make it accessible to people with disabilities.
Although a few UK companies have faced legal action brought about by the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind), these cases were settled ‘out of court’. So, at the time of writing, there is no legal precedent in the UK and the act has not been tested in law.
That said, the UK Government has adopted WGAC as a standard for public sector websites (WCAG 2.1 AA to be exact).
Though the question of legal compliance is important, again, I would ask you to consider why you wouldn’t want to make your website more accessible to 20% of the population?
UK Public sector websites & WGAC
Whilst people have a choice whether to use a commercial business website and can choose to leave your inaccessible website for a competitor’s more accessible site, people may not have a choice when using a public sector website or mobile app and so they must be accessible to all.
Most public sector websites do not meet even the simplest of WCAG compliance testing.
It is a challenge for public sector websites. They are usually very old (in website age) have been added to and extended over the years, hold huge amounts of data and PDF’s and are not mobile-friendly for any user, let alone on who is visually-impaired.
From the 23rd September 2019 new accessibility regulations have come into force and public sector websites will need to meet accessibility standards and publish a statement saying they have been met.
Existing public sector websites had until 23rd September 2020 to comply.
All mobile apps have until 23rd June 2021 to comply.
It is not absolutely clear who the regulations cover but according to Gov.uk public sector bodies include:
- Central government and local government organisations
- Some charities and other non-government organisations – especially where significant funding is from the state.
New public sector websites (published on or after 23 September 2018) had to comply by 23 September 2019. All other public sector websites by 23 September 2020
Public sector mobile applications by 23 June 2021
The requirements are applied to all public sector bodies, although certain organisations and types of content may be exempt. Even when exempt by these regulations, all UK service providers have a legal obligation to make “reasonable adjustments” under the Equality Act 2010. Meeting these accessibility standards is a way of proving that you’ve made “reasonable adjustments”.
Who is exempt from WCAG?
Two terms are important,’Reasonable adjustments’ and “disproportionate burden’.
Currently, commercial websites that do not serve or are funded by local or state government need to make reasonable adjustments to make their website accessible to all.
Where complying with the standard and fully meeting the requirements is too large for an organisation to cope with, this is called a ‘disappropriate burden’ in the accessibility regulations.
For example, a local Council may make the case that to ensure their website fully complies with the required standards would take £1M from the Council budget which would otherwise be used on vital services. You cannot make the case for a ‘disappropriate burden’ based on lack of time, knowledge or other higher priorities.
Also, wherein the example above fully meeting the requirements could be argued as a ‘disappropriate burden’ based on budget and funds, it could not be argued that simple changes to the website such as making the telephone numbers, call to actions and buttons more accessible (a relatively low-cost change) are such a burden.
It would similarly be difficult to argue ‘disappropriate burden’ where the website page is regarding services directly beneficial to those with accessibility needs such as a page of information on the Disability Living Allowance or where a page should be accessible for everyone, such as registering to vote in an election.
An ‘accessibility statement’ should be published on the website or mobile app stating the parts of the website that are not fully accessible and why. It should also offer an alternative way of getting the information.
“Even if you’re exempt from the accessibility regulations, or judge that meeting them would be a disproportionate burden, under the Equality Act 2010 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (in Northern Ireland) you’re still legally required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people when they’re needed – for example, by providing the information they need in another, more accessible format”. Source: gov.uk
All UK service providers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (in Northern Ireland).
The following organisations are exempt from the accessibility regulations:
Non-government organisations like charities – unless they are mostly financed by public funding, provide services that are essential to the public or aimed at disabled people public sector broadcasters and their subsidiaries
The following organisations are partially exempt from the accessibility regulations:
Primary and secondary schools or nurseries – except for the content people need in order to use their services, for example a form that lets you outline school meal preferences
Partially exempt organisations would need to publish an accessibility statement on their website.
The United Kingdom requires business owners to make reasonable adjustments to their websites following the codes of practice according to the Equalities Act 2010.
The laws of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Hongkong specify that businesses must meet the AA levels of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to be deemed accessible.
If you want to expand your business to Canada, you must ensure that your business website meets the current Accessibility Canada Act (ACA) of 2019.
The accessibility requirements of IS5568 are based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
To make a website complaint, you must meet the WCAG 2.0 guidelines as the current regulations are similar to that.