Web Accessibility 101: 9 Tips from WordStream’s Web Experts

December 12, 2019

If you haven't put much thought into web accessibility before now, there's no better time: It is a critically important area that every marketer and business owner with a website should be prioritizing. Why? Over 57 million Americans have a disability. That means having an inaccessible website could also substantially hurt your business.

But what makes a website accessible? How is web accessibility implemented successfully? What guidelines should you be following to ensure you're meeting the right criteria? You probably have a million more questions, but let’s start with the basics.

woman working at desktop computer

What is web accessibility?

To ensure your website is inclusive and accessible, it is first important to understand what this means. According to Usability.gov, "Accessibility focuses on how a disabled person accesses or benefits from a site, system or application. Accessibility is an important part of designing your site and should be considered throughout the development process."

Essentially, making sure your website can be used by everyone, regardless of a permanent or temporary disability, is what web accessibility boils down to.

“Website accessibility is ensuring that your website is inclusive and mindful of all of its users,” says WordStream’s Video Production Manager Ali Ajemian.

WordStream’s Web Developer John Parks also weighed in, defining web accessibility as “facilitation of the ability of handicapped people to engage and interact with your website.”

Now that we understand what web accessibility is, the question is …

Why is web accessibility important?

Web accessibility is important for so many reasons. First off, it informs your audience that your business wants to share content, products, and tools, with every visitor. Showing that your company is accepting of every single visitor is not only going to help you gain more business, but it going to ensure your brand gains respect.

John summarized this well. “With today’s technology, it should not matter whether users are visually impaired, deaf, or have another disability,” he says. “A website's content can and should be available to all users.”

It is also important to remember that limiting your web accessibility is going to narrow your reach.

“The more people utilizing your software or business the better! If you have a video ad that a chunk of people can’t engage with or a landing page that isn’t accessible you will lose engagement,” says Ali. “Businesses can’t just pretend an entire population of people doesn’t exist, they need to better serve everyone!”

Apple's accessibility options with message: "Technology is most powerful when it empowers everyone."

Image via Apple.

John also pointed out that there are certain industries, like healthcare and banking, where a certain level of web accessibility is mandatory through set legislature.

Some further reasons to ensure your website is fully accessible include the fact that search engines consider site accessibility when determining rankings on the SERP (more on the relationship between accessibility and SEO here), and in certain scenarios companies have been sued for not being fully accessible. Clearly, it's in your interest, as well as your audience's interest, to meet high accessibility standards.

To make your website as accessible as possible, follow these nine web accessibility tips:

1. Improve accessibility during times of change

Overhauling your web accessibility might feel like a daunting task, but if you do it strategically—for instance, while undergoing other major website redesign—it can make the job much more feasible.

“Although it’s possible to implement accessibility requirements in an existing site, it’s far easier to implement when a site is being redesigned/rebuilt,” says John.  “Take advantage of the opportunity a site overhaul offers!”

2. Choose your fonts with accessibility in mind

Fonts might seem like something that should already be accessible, but with so many fonts to choose from, it is easy to go for the fancy and attractive options while forgetting about accessibility. Yet the reality is there are many less accessible fonts to choose from.

fonts with accessibility markers

Ali recommends sticking with fonts that are not too fancy, have leading that is far enough part to not overlap, and large enough for those with impaired eyesight to read.

Check out WebAIM for more information on fonts and accessibility.

3. Start with the most impactful improvements first

When thinking about making strides in your accessibility, it can feel like there are a million little things that could be improved. John recommends taking a step back, and look at the big picture to figure out where to focus your time, efforts, and money.

“Some accessibility recommendations give larger improvements than others,” says John. “Ensuring your entire site navigation (including drop-down menus) are keyboard accessible dramatically facilitates access to your site for people unable to use a mouse or who require a screen reader.”

4. Take advantage of the “low-hanging fruit”

After dealing with the larger fish, dig into any low-hanging fruit to make small and easy improvements in your overall web accessibility with minimal effort. If there are quick and easy ways to make your website more accessible, then why not do them, right?

“Some of accessibility guidelines involve changes that are easy to implement,” says John. “As an example, all ‘decorative’ images should have empty alt tags added.  This should be easy to implement, especially if you’re using a CMS.”

image of low-hanging fruit

Ali also recommends doing small things that are easy to implement if you cannot get the bigger, more technical components done right away. For instance, if you cannot get transcripts in your video, think of other ways to make that video accessible.

“Add a transcript of what is said in the video’s description if you can’t get in-video transcripts right away,” she says. 

5. Make your videos more accessible

Anyone who spends any amount of time online is aware that video has taken over the marketing world. As a marketer or business owner yourself, you may have taken on the trend for your industry with a variety of videos decorating your website. The question is, have you considered accessibility when implementing your video strategy? This is something Ali is constantly working on for WordStream’s video content. Here are a few quick tips to make your video content as accessible as possible.

  • Have accurate captions and transcripts.
  • Ensure font colors contrast against your background to be visible.
  • Ensure font floors are large enough to read for varying visions.
  • Make sure your audio is loud enough so those with impaired hearing can watch.

“Since we are starting to ramp up video production, I am keeping in mind all of the above things,” says Ali. “Making sure text on the screen doesn’t blend with the backgrounds and is large enough to read and ensuring all videos have captioning are things that I’m currently working on.”

video still with caption

6. Use a color contrast tool

Speaking of color contrast, this a critical component of website accessibility for every form of content that you want to be readable on your website.

“One requirement for accessibility is maintaining sufficient color contrast between foreground and background elements (like text overlaying an image), which can cause ‘garish’ designs,” says John.

color contrast tool

Image source

Ali agrees! She says that thinking about contract is one the most important things to check when evaluating web accessibility. The other cool thing is that there are plenty of online tools that check color contrast for you.

7. Prioritize accessibility over visual effects

Going along with the recommendation above, it is so important to make sure your visuals are accessible to all and make sense! While they might look super cool to some of your website visitors, if a fraction of your audience can’t read or comprehend them due to the design then they are not going to be accessible.

“It’s just making sure to always keep accessibility in mind when designing things for my videos. I might think something looks super cool and then run it through a color contrast checker and it doesn’t pass at all and it’s back to the drawing board,” says Ali.  “It’s definitely difficult to toe that line between cool visuals and visuals that can be understood by everyone, but I’d rather sacrifice something that I think looks slightly better in order to have WordStream’s videos be more accessible!”

8. Set accessibility goals

While accessibility might feel like a huge ocean of opportunity, it is important to stay focused and goal oriented when prioritizing your web accessibility wants. John recommends being strategic when mapping out your plan for web accessibility.

view of desk with yearly goals list

“There are different levels of accessibility,” he says. “Determine what level you want to aim for, and don’t waste cycles on levels above that since they tend to require more work to implement/maintain.”

9. Check your current accessibility status

Before diving into a major accessibility overhaul it may be wise to determine where your website stacks up. You might be surprised! Perhaps your to do list will be shorter than you think.

“A quick and easy way to get started with your sites accessibility is to download the browser plugin, WAVE, which gives you a run-down of your sites accessibility,” says John.

WAVE report

An example report from WAVE.

Where should I learn about web accessibility guidelines outside of this comprehensive post?

I myself am not a web accessibility guru, which is why I referred to my colleagues for help with this guide, one of whom informed me that there is an official website with web accessibility guidelines: WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). This site will provide some general guidelines, but also gets into the more technical aspects of ensuring your content is as accessible as possible.

So go forth and become more accessible! Your larger audience will thank you.

Margot Whitney

Margot Whitney

Margot is a content marketing specialist at WordStream and nutrition graduate student at Framingham State. She loves all things digital, learning about nutrition, running, traveling, and cooking.

Sign up to get our top tips and tricks weekly!