This is a guest post by Alice Wicker, junior content marketing executive at London-based SEO and digital marketing agency Reboot Online.
Marketers, PRs and comms professionals need to understand just how diverse their audience is. We think about it all the time when we create buyer personas – but not everyone fits into the niche demographics we create.
By opening up our marketing materials and websites so that everyone can utilise them, we are not only drawing bigger audiences but making a positive statement about the morals of the brands we represent.
What is digital accessibility?
Digital accessibility is exactly what it sounds like — making digital platforms accessible to all. This means ensuring that people of differing abilities, whether visually impaired or suffering from cognitive or neurological issues, can benefit from a digital space that meets their needs.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has created guidelines to help businesses and web developers create websites with accessibility in mind. For a website to be considered accessible, it has to be built so that individuals with disabilities can navigate, use, and understand the content.
The four core principles of digital accessibility
There are four core principles that direct the approach we should take to digital accessibility:
1. Perceivable: The information on a website or platform and the user interface must be formatted so that all users can perceive it.
2. Operable: Users with differing abilities must be able to operate the platform or interface.
3. Understandable: Both the use of the interface and the content itself must be understandable.
4. Robust: The content must be robust enough to be interpreted and understood by a variety of users, as well as assistive technologies.
How can digital accessibility impact digital marketing?
Approximately 14.6 million disabled people are living in the UK. That number grows to one billion worldwide, with a staggering 15% of the global population having some kind of disability. That’s a significant amount of people whose digital accessibility all-too-frequently gets overlooked.
These disabilities can vary wildly, with each coming with its own unique difficulties when it comes to accessing and understanding information online. A report has found that businesses can lose out on customers by not providing accessible content, with 80% of disabled customers taking their spending power elsewhere due to lack of access.
By ensuring your platform or marketing material is as accessible as possible, you are gaining the ability to draw in wider audiences and customers.
How to ensure your website and marketing materials are accessible
There are many steps we can take to make our websites accessible, and even more best-practice suggestions to improve on this. Here is a quick rundown of what every website and piece of marketing material should contain, to ease access for all.
The content itself should be readable and not too reliant on jargon or technical language. Try not to use an obscure, lengthy word when there is a simpler synonym word that means the same. With that in mind, short sentences and paragraphs make the text more easily digestible.
It is recommended that webpages have a readability score of lower secondary school level and there are even some web tools, such as the Hemingway App, that measure readability.
Descriptive anchor text
Anchor text should accurately describe what the link is directing to, even without the context of the surrounding content. People who use screen readers can navigate websites from link to link, so they need to know where the link will lead them.
Easy to follow structure
You might have noticed in this guide, and on other accessible web pages, that a lot of headings and subheadings are used. This breaks up the text, so it is easier to read. It also makes it more accessible for users so they can skim through and find the information they’re after.
Headers (H1, H2 etc) also enable screen readers to understand how a page is structured, and make it easier for search engines like Google to crawl through.
Pictures and graphics
Graphics can be useful for breaking down information and presenting it more appealingly. Similarly, pictures and images can help present an idea.
Alt-text should describe the image accurately and succinctly. It’s best not to begin with ‘image of’ or ‘drawing of’ because screen readers already say ‘image’ before reading the alt-text.
Alt-text is vital for people who use screen readers and is also useful in helping search engines understand what the image is. Using the keywords relating to your topic is a great way to let users, and search engines, gain an understanding of the page.
It is also important to ensure that people with colour-blindness can understand the graphics you create. It can be easy to differentiate between colours by using tools to check the colour contrast or by using patterns to differentiate.
Videos and GIFs
Much like pictures and images, GIFs should have alt-text that explains what is happening in the GIF and why it is relevant. However, it is important to remember that GIFs with flashing imagery can be simply annoying to some, and dangerous to others by triggering seizures or migraines.
Videos can be a wonderful additional source of information on a web page — particularly if they include sound, for the visually impaired.
However, there are some things to consider to ensure your page is digitally accessible. If your video has activity happening, such as a demonstration, include an audio description so the visually impaired users can understand.
It’s also essential to include subtitles and closed captions, both for the deaf and any users who may want to watch the video with the sound off.
Ensure all the behind-the-scenes stuff is accessible. This means ensuring bullet points and tables are formatted properly, checking what language the content is in, and making sure any video players are accessible.
PDFs and other documents have different formats than a webpage — you can’t use HTML to add alt-text or headers. But you should still use headers, for the skimming we talked about. Any images, graphs, or graphics should have a concise but detailed description, too.
Optimised website for all devices (and aids!)
The technology people use can have a big impact on the platform or website. Make sure your web pages or marketing materials are optimised to be viewed on phones or tablets as well as PCs. Also, be aware that the user might be navigating with a keyboard or need to disable flashing images.
The benefits of having an accessible website
From user experience to bottom lines, and SEO to customer growth, accessibility can have a huge impact on websites.
SEO: We can take several steps to make our websites accessible with headers, structured content, and detailed alt-text on images. These things are read by Google and other search engines.
Any (good) SEO agency will tell you that search engines use this information to help them better understand what your website is about. Google also measures accessibility as a metric for determining where a page will rank.
User experience: Customer standards are on the rise, thanks to the flawless experiences offered by internet powerhouses like Amazon, Google, and Netflix. By streamlining the process of navigating your site for all users, you increase the odds of more people engaging with your content.
Even seemingly minor inconveniences, like small font size, can leave users uncomfortable or even unable to read what you’re saying — and they will soon turn their attention to something else.
For more on ensuring your comms can be accessed by everybody in your audience, check out this previous guest post from Elliot Ross at Taxi for Email ‘How to make your next PR email campaign accessible for everyone‘.