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10 principles of digital accessibility for modern marketers

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When we talk about digital accessibility as marketers, we’re talking about the intentional creation of an experience that can be accessed by as many people as possible.

Designing for digital accessibility means many things. It means designing for individuals with sensory or cognitive impairments. It means designing for people with physical limitations. It means designing for individuals who rely on adaptive and assistive technologies like screen readers or magnifiers to view digital content.

The key is building accessibility into your digital experience from the very start rather than bolting it on like an afterthought. Below, I’ve outlined some key accessibility principles to consider when creating your digital marketing materials.

Principles for developers

1.  Apply standard HTML semantics

Accessible design begins with standard HTML semantics. Standard HTML enables screen readers to announce elements on page so that the user will know how to interact with the contents. When HTML tags without semantical information are used–such as <div> and <span> for visual styling – the browser will display the elements as the developer intended, which unfortunately, may not be very helpful for the user.

Keep in mind that the user’s experience with a screen reader can vary greatly. For instance, using <div class=”h1”>Introduction to Semantics</div> or custom coding to override default browser styles will produce something that resembles a header. However, a screen reader will not understand or announce that the element as a header.

Key takeaways

  • Use standard HTML whenever possible so that screen readers will maintain the structure and content when reading aloud.
  • Use structural elements to group elements and to create separate regions on a page, such as header, navigation, main and footer. Screen readers recognize these structural elements and announce them to the user and allow for additional navigation between elements.

2. Enable keyboard navigation

All websites should be keyboard accessible because not all consumers can use a mouse or view a screen. In fact, according to WebAIM Low Vision, 60.4% of survey respondents always or often use a keyboard for web page navigation. Additionally, individuals with permanent or temporary loss of their hands or fine muscle control may also use a keyboard or modified keyboards for navigation.

For keyboard navigation to work, a user must be able to navigate through a page by moving from focus item to focus item. A user typically follows the visual flow, going from left to right and top to bottom, from headers to main navigation, to page navigation and lastly to the footer. When using a keyboard for navigation, enter activates a focused link, and the space bar activates a focused form element. Tab facilitates navigation between elements. Escape allows the user to close an element.

Knowing this, it’s important to consider the actions a user might take. The rule of thumb is that if you can interact with a focusable element using a mouse, make sure that you can interact using a keyboard. These elements might include links, buttons, form fields or a calendar date picker.

Key takeaways

  • Ensure users can navigate with the keyboard to all interaction components of the website. List all your site’s focusable elements and create easy-to-use focus indicators.
  • Structure underlying source code to correctly order the content and navigation. Use CSS to control visual aspects of the elements.
  • Allow users to bypass navigation windows if there are too many links in drop downs.

3. Use attributes

When it comes to linking text and descriptions for URLs, screen readers can skip from link to link within an article. If vague link text like “Click Here” or “Read More” is used, it provides very little context or meaning for someone to interpret on a screen reader.

Be specific and descriptive with your link text and include meaningful phrases that describe the content that the link is connecting to. Instead of “Contact us” use more specific language like “Contact our sales team.” For images and videos, assign ALT attributes and use descriptive file names.

Key takeaways

  • Banish extraneous and non-descriptive words in your links like “Click Here,” “Here,” and “Read More.” “10 Principles of Accessibility” reads better than “Click here to read the 10 principles of accessibility.”
  • Optimize file names and URL names and use both open and closed captioning for video content. Consider adding accurate video transcripts.

4. Use the ARIA label attribute

In some cases, the buttons or other interactive elements on your website may not include all the information needed for assistive technology. The ARIA label attribute enables assistive technology to override the HTML labels to allow the website owner to provide additional context to the element on a page.

In the following link example, a screen reader will announce “Bing Ads. Link.”

<a href=”…”> Bing Ads </a>

However, if the button itself is a call-to-action button, the site owner can use the ARIA label to allow the screen reader to speak the call-to-action text visible on the button. In this example, the screen reader will announce, “Sign Up for a Bing Ads Account. Link.”

<a href=”…” aria-label=”Sign Up for a Bing Ads Account”>Bing Ads</A>

Key takeaway

  • Use the ARIA label attribute within elements like forms and call-to-action buttons to define the visible text that a screen reader should read aloud.

5. Properly label and format forms

Make sure forms are intuitive and logically organized, with clearly identified instructions and labels. To ensure that users load the right keyboard format for all forms, use labels that are always visible and avoid putting placeholder text within form prompts.

From a formatting perspective, take advantage of borders for text fields and drop-down menus, and put forms in a single-column format. Also, use HTML input types, so users do not have to switch across types of virtual keyboards. For example, fields for phone numbers should pull up the numeric keyboard vs. a regular keyboard format.

Key takeaways

  • Be careful when using JavaScript in forms, which can make the form difficult to complete using a keyboard.

6. Use tables for data

There are two basic uses for tables online: data tables with row and column headers that display tabular data and tables for page layout. The intended use of HTML tables is for tabular data. Layout tables don’t typically have logical headers or information that can be mapped to cells within the table, so screen readers must guess the purpose of the table. For this reason, it’s important to use CSS for layout and reserve tables for data. Using CSS results in cleaner and more simplified HTML code.

Key takeaways

  • Use the appropriate mark-up for data tables and always include table headers. Always choose CSS over tables for page layout.

Principles for writers and graphic designers

7. Write content in a structured way

The structure and flow of your content are especially important for individuals who have a visual impairment and rely on screen readers. It’s also important for folks with cognitive and learning disabilities, as well as anyone scanning through content on a mobile screen. When writing for accessibility, summon your inner high-school English teacher and organize content clearly with descriptive headings for each section.

Key takeaways

  • Make text easy to read and logically structured. Be sure to use semantic markup for headings paragraphs, lists, and quotes.

8. Align to the left

Text alignment impacts readability, according to UX Movement. Centered text makes the viewer work harder because without the left straight edge, there is no consistent path for the eyes to follow when continuing to the next line of text. Use left-aligned text for a straight edge that makes it easier for the eyes to scan content and find breaks in the writing structure.

Key takeaways

  • Only use centered text headlines and short lines of text such as quotes and call outs. Avoid mixing text alignment.

9. Choose fonts judiciously

I love beautiful, artistic fonts. But the fact is that some fonts are easier to read than others. Which is why it’s important to use basic fonts. Sans-serif fonts are easier to read for people with visual or cognitive disabilities – even temporary, visual disabilities like reading a screen in bright sunlight.

Size also matters. Avoid font sizes smaller than 12 and choose absolute units (pixels or points) vs relative units (%) to define font size. Limit the number of fonts to make content easier to read. Don’t rely on the appearance of fonts (color, shape or placement) to convey the meaning of the text. Finally, avoid blinking or moving text – no user wants to chase a message around a screen.

Key takeaways

  • Choose simple fonts with plain, sans-serif endings, which make it easier for eyes to recognize letters.
  • Limit the use of font variations and sizes.

10. Put color to work

The application of color also impacts accessibility. According to a 2018 survey of users with Low Vision by WebAIM, 75% of respondents report multiple types of visual impairment, including 61% with light or glare sensitivity and 46% with contrast sensitivity.

Think about your color scheme and the contrast of colors to ensure that text is easily discernable from the background color. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) recommend using a 4.5:1 contrast ratio for normal text. To put this into perspective, black text on a white background is 21:1 whereas gray text on a white background is 4.5:1.

Using color alone to convey information may not be accessible to those with visual impairments. For example, websites often use green to signal something positive and red to signal something negative, which can be difficult to discern for someone with a visual impairment. Instead, consider combining shapes or icons with color.

Key takeaways

  • Ensure your colors have ample contrast and combine color with graphics or symbols to help convey meaning.

Designing for accessibility does not need to be complex or costly. It just takes planning and the intentional application of accessibility principles to ensure a more inclusive experience for everyone.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

​Christi Olson is a Search Evangelist at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington. For over a decade Christi has been a student and practitioner of SEM. Prior to joining the Bing Ads team within Microsoft, Christi worked in marketing both in-house and at agencies at Point It, Expedia, Harry & David, and Microsoft (MSN, Bing, Windows). When she’s not geeking out about search and digital marketing she can be found with her husband at ACUO crossfit and running races across the PacificNW, brewing and trying to find the perfect beer, and going for lots of walks with their two schnauzers and pug.



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Price extensions now supported in Microsoft Advertising Editor

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Price extensions in Microsoft Advertising Editor.

Price extensions launched in Microosoft Advertising a little over a year ago, allowing advertisers to show products and pricing in text ads in mobile and desktop search results.

Why we should care

Now you can manage those extensions in Microsoft Advertising Editor. That means you can manage them in bulk and much more quickly.

From the Shared LIbrary in Editor, you will be able to add headers, descriptions and prices, including currency.

To associate price extensions with ad groups in your campaigns in Editor, select an ad group and use the “Choose price extension” dialogue box.

More on the news

Some helpful reminders for price extensions:

  • The prices must be included on the landing page.
  • They are charged the same CPC as a click on an ad headline.
  • They can link to third-party retailers.
  • Do not duplicate the same copy in the header and description of a price extension.

About The Author

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, managing day-to-day editorial operations across all of our publications. Ginny writes about paid online marketing topics including paid search, paid social, display and retargeting for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, she has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.

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Google Lets Advertisers Promote YouTube Live Streams as Display Ads

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Google is introducing a new ad format that lets marketers run YouTube live streams in display ads.

Live stream ads can appear anywhere Google’s display ads are shown. So a person could be scrolling through a website, such as this one, and see a live stream playing right where an ad would be.

People can expand the video to full screen and interact with the live stream just as they could on YouTube.

Here’s an example of what a live stream ad looks like:

Google Lets Advertisers Promote YouTube Live Streams as Display Ads

Live streaming on YouTube is free, so advertisers will only have to pay for the ad unit itself.

The new live stream ad format is currently in a limited beta. There’s no further information available about how Google plans to charge advertisers for these ads.

One of my initial thoughts was whether viewing time would be a factor in the cost.

For example – would an advertiser be charged the same if a person only watched a few minutes of a live stream as opposed to watching the whole thing?

I presume we’ll learn more when the ad format rolls out more widely.

Other Google Advertising News

In related news, Google introduced another display ad format today that allows users to interact with 3D objects.

The new ad format, called Swirl, lets advertisers showcase products from all angles.

A car manufacturer could take an existing 3D model of a car and use it in a Google display ad. Then, those who view the ad could rotate the car as well as zoom in and out of it.

For more information about the Swirl ad format see our coverage here.



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Google Search Console image search reporting bug June 5-7

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Google posted a notice that between the dates of June 5 through June 7, it was unable to capture data around image search traffic. This is just a reporting bug and did not impact actual search traffic, but the Search Console performance report may show drops in image search traffic in that date range.

The notice. The notice read, “June 5-7: Some image search statistics were not captured during this period due to an internal issue. Because of this, you may see a drop in your image search statistics during this period. The change did not affect user Search results, only the data reporting.”

How do I see this? If you login to Google Search Console, click into your performance report and then filter by clicking on the “search type” filter. You can then select image from the filters.

Here is a screen shot of this filter:

How To Filter By Image Traffic in Google Search Console

Why we should care. If your site gets a lot of Google Image search traffic, you may notice a dip in your traffic reporting within Google Search Console. You may have not noticed a similar dip in your other analytics tools. That being said, Google said this is only a reporting glitch within Google Search Console and did not impact your actual traffic to your web site.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz is Search Engine Land’s News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on SEM topics.

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