Offering website accessibility services has attracted enthusiastic interest from digital marketing and web design companies seeking new revenue streams.
Ground zero is overcoming accessibility assumptions, myths, biases, and even misguided marketing about what accessibility is and who it is for.
Which Leg Is First?
When you put on your shoes, which foot do you choose first? Is it your left foot, or right foot? Do you sit or stand on one leg and then switch legs? Do you wear shoes? Do you wear socks with sandals? (Had to ask.) Do you own shoes?
What happens for people who do not have feet?
How often do web designers, developers, and marketers think about what we do, and how we do it? Why do we do it? When do we do it?
What happens when we can’t do it?
The assumption is that everyone can use our websites. They’ll figure it out.
There Is Gold in ADA Lawsuits
There once was a time in America where people lived, hunted and went to war over buffalo and boundaries, or a show of machoism between tribes.
When the country was “discovered”, a new group of people arrived and grabbed the land on the authority of a “chief” from somewhere across the big ocean who had never been there but assumed Native Americans wouldn’t mind a few changes.
Did they know who the people were who inhabited the mountains?
Was anyone brainstorming at a meeting with a gigantic whiteboard exploring all the ways to invade, create, persuade, trade with, sell to, convert, and otherwise dump a new system of life on people who could not use any of it?
No silly. Whiteboards didn’t exist back then.
The insult was the assumption by the British that the land was for sale at all.
How do you sell something you do not understand?
How do we build websites for people we do not understand?
Why do we build websites to sell products and services that target only the people we assume will be able to use the website?
According to the World Health Organization, at least 15% of the world’s population suffer from a disability.
The 2019 Midyear Update on ADA Website and Mobile App Accessibility by UsableNet found that:
- ADA web-related lawsuits reached a rate of one lawsuit every working hour; over 2,000 a year.
- 31% of retail companies listed in suits since July 2017 have been sued multiple times
- Industries receiving the most focus in web accessibility litigation include Retail, Food Service Industry, Travel/Hospitality, Banking/Financial, Entertainment & Leisure and Self-Service
When you stop to consider how much of the company budget goes towards digital marketing strategies and hiring SEO professionals to wrestle with search engines that change their business models every month, wouldn’t it make sense to provide an accessible website that will convert more visitors when they arrive?
Offering website accessibility services sparked some marketers to explore if they could automate accessibility testing or provide accessibility insurance policies to prevent an ADA lawsuit.
It would be a real gold rush if making websites accessible was so easy. How about a software application that codes it for you? Remember Frontpage for web design?
Understanding Accessibility & Removing Assumptions
Selling accessibility services is complicated. It’s not just about the costs. The difficult part is overcoming assumptions about why accessibility is important to web businesses.
From my personal experiences, educating prospective clients on website accessibility takes time.
Inclusive web design has never been a favorite area for stakeholders.
Usability and conversions are. Mobile design is. Performance is hot.
But website accessibility is like entering a new country and ignoring how things are done there.
At first glance, it sure looks easy enough to set up accessibility testing or design services or provide products like accessible plug-ins, WordPress themes, and automated testing apps.
One example is to simply write up a marketing campaign about the surge of website accessibility ADA lawsuits and how business websites are easy prey.
Convince prospective clients that you can save them enormous legal fees by performing accessibility tests to find all the accessibility errors that fail WCAG2.1 Guidelines.
Run some automated tests, produce a report with findings and walk away with a check.
The most common mistake is marketing accessibility design and testing as a once and done process.
Small businesses say no to accessibility testing because they have limited financial resources. They may be less likely to have a designer who knows how to design for accessibility.
Perhaps they purchased an inexpensive ready-made website, love it to pieces, and truly have no idea whether certain people are unable to use it.
This target market is terrified of the stories about ADA lawsuits. More than once I am told that a lawsuit will put a small company out of business.
Making accessibility services affordable makes sense. It also requires tremendous patience and a willingness to help these smaller businesses with education and ongoing support at fees they can tolerate.
Larger companies with bigger budgets are more inclined to invest in accessibility testing to satisfy their curiosity or take the offensive approach to any potential ADA lawsuit.
They require staff trained to fix issues that appear in accessibility reviews or a willingness to outsource accessibility specialists.
At the corporate level, interest in setting up an accessibility department increased, creating permanent jobs and a desire to “bake in” accessibility from the start, into the development process itself.
A positive outcome of providing accessibility testing or design services depends on the expertise of the people doing the work. This includes project managers, salespeople, web designers, web developers, and accessibility specialists.
In situations where a company has been served with a letter of complaint, the next steps may require legal assistance and possibly the services of an expert witness, certified accessibility specialist or accessibility agency specializing in advanced accessibility services.
But first things first.
How well do you know how people use websites?
Do any of your assumptions or biases prevent inclusive web design?
Assumptions, Biases & More Fairy Dust
Way back in the early days of search engines Mike Grehan, CMO & Managing Director of Acronym, researched and wrote an in-depth, 350 pages book called “Search Engine Marketing, the Essential Best Practice Guide.” The book shattered myths about the profession and provided sound practices and guidelines.
Finally, someone had the courage to stand up and say that ranking in search engines required more than magical fairy dust.
There were concerns that search engines would wreck the art of true information seeking.
“Web Dragons: Inside the Myths of Search Engine Technology” by Ian H. Witten, Marco Gori, and Teresa Numerico, explored ideas about how the web would change communication forever and search engines might someday control information and how we see the world.
It was praised by major influencers employed by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.
While search engines looked for people to inform, educate, amuse and advertise to, web designers were experimenting with new ways to create pretty things to admire on the internet.
Web developers were inventing new programs to help build them.
Remember MIVA? ColdFusion? Hotdog? Frontpage?
Steve Krug saw the flaws in the work being produced. His book, “Don’t Make Me Think”, was written because websites were mazes for users just trying to get from point A to point B.
Peter Morville, author of “Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond,” arrived at early conclusions about how web information is organized and made information architecture a vital piece of knowledge every web designer and SEO needed to learn. Suddenly we were classifying, prioritizing, and designing rules for how to find stuff.
Next came all the behavior studies and mountains of data gathered about how we make decisions, search, purchase and develop loyalty to brands.
With each area of exploration came software developed to automate the process. This included eye tracking, keywords, links, competitor analysis, webmaster tools, and Google Analytics.
But something has been missing.
Did we assume the web included everyone?
Do web site owners bring their own personal biases to their websites?
Even with Section 508 and WCAG and accessibility laws for public-facing businesses in each country, online businesses are not designed for everyone to use them.
Automating website accessibility may grant a peek at 25% of errors.
Touchy-Feely Matters to People
A business owner once said to me, “I don’t care about that touchy-feely stuff you do.”
He wanted to sell his products online but had no interest in meeting the needs of customers who could use his website.
People who use websites reward companies that build websites they can use.
This is just how it is.
And yet, there are countless websites that people struggle with.
The rise in website accessibility lawsuits occurred because some people were turned away when they needed assistance to do something on a business website that matters to them.
Some examples include wanting to download a coupon from a store website, order pizza, purchase products, book reservations, and access online art galleries.
Whether we are seeking information, looking for social engagement, researching, educating ourselves, looking for entertainment, or browsing for something new, everyone wants to be included as a valued user.
The bigger surprise is how we neglected to design websites that valued online business customers with the same consideration that is often legally required for places of business offline.
Our web design practices lack empathy for disabled persons or anyone with a permanent or temporary impairment.
Removing Assumptions From Web Design
“Let them call us if they can’t read it,” I was told by a company that refused to make their documents accessible.
Forcing a blind person to call for help to get a document because the web version does not work on their screen reader is discrimination. Not providing accessible content is against WCAG2.1 or Section 508 recommendations.
So, back to the gold rush of opportunity for companies wanting to add accessibility services. Do you know how to make documents accessible?
Before you jump in, it is vital to understand accessibility so that you can accurately explain why it is important for today’s business websites.
The most prevalent assumption is that accessibility is for blind people. This is probably due to the bulk of ADA lawsuits coming from blind persons using screen readers. They are taking advantage of the rapid advances in assistive computer devices that aid persons with disabilities.
Assistive computer devices, software applications for reading, and mobile device accessibility settings help all people with sight impairments.
If you know someone who is colorblind, they are not seeing the same colors as you are.
If you know someone who uses corrective eyewear, they may rely on screen magnification or audible reading tools. They also struggle with contrasts and lighting, whether indoors or outside.
Should you add an accessibility plugin that allows people to adjust webpages so that they can use them?
Or do you build in accessibility and provide code in the background that responds to browser or mobile device commands to change font sizes, magnify or switch to dark mode?
Providing accessibility services requires vast knowledge about how to design for inclusion, test for inclusion and educate for inclusion. There are no shortcuts.
It is part of your role as an accessibility advocate or specialist to educate your clients on how to provide a website property that can be used regardless of a physical, mental, or emotional impairment that may be permanent or temporary.
If you wish to provide accessibility testing as a service, you will need to know the different types of disabilities that are covered and what design practices are recommended.
By law in most countries, businesses must be accessible to customers. Even though a business may not have a physical building, for ethical and moral reasons, the same consideration applies.
Yes, the ADA Title III wording in the USA does not include “websites”. This has not prevented ADA lawsuits from website users trying to conduct tasks on business websites.
Automated accessibility testing tools do not find all the issues, but they are a nice exploratory lift. Accessibility testing is a combination of manual and automated methodologies. User testing with persons with disabilities helps developers understand what is not working or where improvements are needed.
Screen reader testing is done manually. The process is long because screen readers are unique to browsers, operating systems, computer devices – not to mention user habits.
Remember when I asked what foot you choose to put your shoe on first? This is something unique to you.
People who use screen readers also use them differently. For example, they may sort content by heading tags to find what they want faster or to help understand the content topic of the page.
Challenges & Protections
Adding an accessibility statement to a website is a service that some companies offer. These are policies intended to protect the website owner by being forthcoming with information about the accessibility compliance of the website.
If they did not test a form, or do not plan on making their PDFs accessible, this is information that should be included in the accessibility statement.
The statement describes:
- What was done.
- What level of compliance is met.
- How to contact the company in the event they are unable to use the website.
Some companies provide an accessibility statement for a fee as part of their accessibility services. The theory is that it helps prevent any legal action when there is proof the company is making an effort towards accessibility compliance.
The challenge here is that the moment anything new is added to the website, such as an image, new form, design layout change, or blog post, if it is not coded to be accessible, the accessibility statement is voided.
The same is true for software applications and forms on websites, WordPress theme updates and third-party plugins. Regression testing is required to verify that changes meet the accessibility standards claimed in the accessibility statement.
Another area of growing concern is protecting designers, developers and companies hired to build or maintain websites built to pass accessibility standards.
What protects you from clients who refuse to maintain the finished product?
What if you provide advice on a practice necessary to meet WCAG or Section 508 requirements and it is not implemented by the client, and they receive an ADA website accessibility lawsuit?
Another example might be choosing an accessible theme for WordPress and modifying the accessibility out of it either by accident or on purpose. The theme designer is not responsible for any changes to their compliant code.
Some companies must outsource third-party software that is not accessible, even though the rest of their website is.
There are circumstances where the developers of the third-party software are unable to update their software to meet accessibility compliance.
More and more contracts and accessibility statements are addressing these situations, but a vast majority of business websites are unaware and therefore potentially vulnerable.
The Accessibility Rabbit Hole
If you should decide to expand your knowledge about website accessibility, the good news is that most of the information is free to learn.
The bad news is that it may take years to educate yourself.
I am not afraid to admit that even though I have been conducting usability and conversions testing for nearly 20 years and included basic accessibility practices all along, when I went to apply for accessibility employment at the corporate level and was met with disdain by interviewers, it was a real shock.
In fact, I needed time to want to be part of the accessibility industry after meeting some of their leadership.
In trying to understand what was happening, I learned how deep the accessibility rabbit hole really is. It is not something to jump into lightly.
For digital marketers with a passion for conversions, the opportunities presented by website accessibility practices are wide open for you and your clients just by removing biases and assumptions about how people use websites.
There are people who have been building accessible websites and software for a long time. Search for accessibility podcasts to meet some of them.
LinkedIn, Twitter and Medium are additional outlets for accessibility advocates and leaders open to educating and guiding anyone interested in where to start.
Resources Referenced or Used in Research for This Article
Books on Amazon
- Web Dragons: Inside the myths of search engine technology by Ian H. Witten, Marco Gori, and Teresa Numerico
- Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug
- Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond, by Peter Morville
- Inclusive Design Patterns, Coding Accessibility into Web Design, by Heydon Pickering
- I Love You, Now Read This Book (It’s About Human Decision Making and Behavioral Economics) by Guthrie Weinschenk, J.D.
Are Blog Comments Useless for Link Building?
Editor’s note: “Ask an SEO” is a weekly column by technical SEO experts Shelly Fagin, Ryan Jones, Adam Riemer, and Tony Wright. Come up with your hardest SEO question and fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
This week for Ask An SEO, we have a question from Ed in Memphis. He asks:
“Are blog comments useless for link building?”
If you run or manage a WordPress site today, especially one that hasn’t activated Akismet for spam protection, you know all too well that people love to try and comment on blog posts purely for the sole purpose of dropping a link in the comments.
I can see how it might lead some to wonder whether this tactic is an effective form of link building today.
To answer your question, Ed, blog commenting is a useless form of link building today.
In fact, Search Engine Journal’s Roger Montti listed blog commenting as one of 18 link building tactics to avoid.
The Rise & Fall of Blog Commenting for Links
Blog comments were a popular link building tactic many years ago.
You might come across lots of older information that suggests using this tactic because it once worked extremely well.
Please hear me when I say this tactic used to work.
It does not anymore – and hasn’t for a long time.
Like many other popular link building techniques, this one was quickly abused.
Gone were the insightful comments from people who took the time to read the articles and comment thoughtfully.
Instead, blog posts quickly became overrun with spammy, incoherent, generic comments left for the sole purpose of building links with keyword-rich anchor text.
Eventually, spammers developed tools to automate this process, and the spammy comments quickly caused significant problems for site owners.
Most blogging platforms and other content management systems that allow users to submit comments started implementing the nofollow attribute on all links added by site visitors’ comments.
The nofollow tag was announced by Google in 2005 to help site owners combat spam and for publishers to use on sponsored links and advertising sold on their websites.
When applied to an outgoing link, we are telling search engines that we do not endorse the website that this link is pointed to, and no value should be passed within that outgoing link.
Google recently released new attributes, rel=” UGC” and rel=” sponsored” as a way of allowing us to qualify our outgoing links further. (UGC stands for User Generated Content.)
The UGC rel attribute is for sites that allow outside visitors to contribute content or post a response to site content.
Another good example would be web forums.
Soon after, WordPress announced they would be adapting the UGC rel attribute and applying it to WordPress comment links.
Are Blog Comments Useful at All?
Even though blog commenting is useless for link building, when utilized properly, it can potentially result in an increase in traffic to your website.
Within the blogging community, it’s a common way to help gain exposure and form blogger-to-blogger relationships when you engage with others in your niche by posting value-added commentary and support to other bloggers.
As a site owner, user comments on your content can help improve your rankings.
Lots of comments left on a post will not only signal that your content is highly engaging, but it can also provide additional valuable and indexable content that’s a supplement to your own.
Users’ comments can provide additional insights into the topic of that page and typically are rich with targeted keywords used naturally in phrasing.
In particular niches, such as food blogs, the comments on recipes commonly also include the ability to allow visitors to leave a rating on the recipe, a highly valuable functionality.
So please do not use blog commenting as a way to build links to your website.
If you are looking to gain exposure within your niche, I would instead only consider commenting on relevant blog posts where you can add valuable and helpful commentary based on your expertise on the subject.
You might find that other readers will come across your comment, find it informative, and visit your site as well.
How to Optimize AMP Stories for Google Search Results
An official set of recommendations concerning SEO for AMP stories is now available from the AMP Open Source Project.
AMP stories are similar to stories on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The key difference is they can be indexed and displayed in Google Search results.
See: AMP Stories Now Have a Dedicated Section in Google Search Results
AMP stories are just like other web pages in the sense that they have a URL on your web server, they are linkable, and they can link out to other web pages.
Flavio Palandri Antonelli, a Software Engineer at Google, states:
“In particular, just like other pages on your site, make sure your Stories are linked from within your website so that your users and bots can actually discover them. If you are using a sitemap, make sure to include your Stories in that sitemap. If you are posting your regular web pages to social media, post your Stories as well. We could go on here, but the gist really comes down to: Follow the best practices you’re already applying to the rest of your website.”
See: Official AMP Plugin for WordPress Now Supports AMP Stories
AMP stories should be optimized like any other page on your website. What works for regular web pages will also work for AMP stories
With that said, there are some SEO tactics specific to AMP stories that can be utilized as well.
Specific SEO Tactics for AMP Stories
Here are the SEO tactics specific to AMP stories. Keep in mind these tactics aren’t comprehensive and should be utilized in conjunction with the standard SEO work being done for your web pages.
- Metadata: AMP stories have a built-in mechanism to attach metadata to a story. This ensures maximum compatibility with search engines and other discovery features that take advantage of metadata.
- Internal linking: Site owners should generously link to AMP stories from other pages, such as linking to them from the homepage or category pages where applicable.
- URL format: There is no need to indicate in the URL of a story that it is using the AMP stories format. Follow the same URL format as other web pages on your site.
- Page attachments: Page attachments can be used to present additional information in classic article form alongside your story.
- Image descriptions: Use meaningful alt text where appropriate.
- Video subtitles: Consider providing subtitles and/or captions for the videos in your Stories.
How Hackers May Be Hurting Your SEO
It is oftentimes rather easy to sometimes grow complacent as an SEO when it comes to site security, or put all of the responsibility on I.T. departments when it comes to any form of cybersecurity or hacking prevention practices.
It’s a debatable topic amongst many, however, this is defiantly true:
Website security, or the absence of it, can directly and critically impact a site, and that includes the site’s organic performance.
For this reason, website security should not be ignored when it comes to digital marketing plans.
But first, let’s gain a deeper understanding of what hacking, it itself, is, in order to connect the dots on why it should not be neglected.
What Is Hacking?
Hacking occurs when an individual gains access to a specific website or computer network, sans permission.
Unwarranted hacking most often occurs when people are trying to gain access to sensitive or private information, or to redirect users to a specific hacker’s website.
What Are Some Common Tools Utilized by Hackers?
Malware is specifically designed to damage or disable a specific network, with the goal usually being a data breach.
The potential after-effects of a malware attack can be great, including extensive financial losses for an organization.
Website spamming usually occurs when a hacker adds hypertext to a webpage that, when clicked on by a user, will link to the hacker’s chosen destination.
Adding spammy links to a hacker’s website on websites that have a high amount of traffic to them has a chance of increasing search engine rankings.
It is essentially a way to shortcut the system of solidified, ethical SEO work.
Effects of Hacking
The ramifications of hacking can be significant and far-reaching. There are a few more common things that can happen when a website is hacked.
GoDadddy conducted a study a few years ago where they concluded that over 73% of hacked websites were hacked due to SEO spam reasons.
Something like this could be planned and deliberate, or an attempt to scrape a website that is authoritative and capitalize on strong rankings and visibility.
In most cases, legitimate sites are ultimately turned into link farms and visitors are tricked with phishing or malware links.
Hackers may also employ that use of SQL injections, where a site will be turned over with spam and recovery may be very difficult.
This can potentially put your website in the sandbox if Google detects it.
If detected, Google will display a warning message when users try to navigate to the site, and therefore encouraging them to stay away.
It can also potentially result in the complete removal of a site from search engines in an effort to safeguard users.
This will both, directly and indirectly, influence SEO value:
- Visits: Overall organic site traffic will most likely drop significantly.
- Mistrust: Users who know that your site may be less enticed to visit again if they know that your site has had one or multiple security issues, thus also affecting your traffic, and ultimately, your bottom line.
Oftentimes, hackers will implement redirects when a website is hacked.
These will send users to a different website than the one that they navigated to initially.
When users are directed to this separate web address, they will usually find that the site contains:
- Malicious forms of content such as duplicate content that isn’t true.
- Other types of scams like phishing where users are enticed to click on a spammy link and ultimately reveal sensitive information.
If Google follows your site that has been redirected and sees that it contains questionable content, it may severely hurt overall organic visibility in search.
Search engines carefully assess the overall reputation and value of domains and links that link to one another.
During a hack, links will oftentimes be added to a site, and most likely ones with low value, which can negatively affect SEO efforts.
Your website may ultimately be flooded with backlinks from questionable sources, which will most likely decrease the level of trust Google or other search engines has in a site.
Being hacked can put a site at a serious detriment in Google’s eyes. This can affect a site’s presence in SERPs and also result in potentially several manual actions in Search Console if Google flags it.
The kicker is, is that oftentimes they do not. This usually only leads to more attacks, such as via malware, without the webmaster knowing, and puts the site at risk for an even greater loss, both from a visibility and revenue standpoint.
This creates a bit of a conundrum. Being flagged or blacklisted for malware essentially depletes your site’s visibility across the board, at least until the site is analyzed and cleaned and penalties removed.
Yet, not getting flagged when your site contains malware can result in greater risk and penalization.
Common Risks & How to Prevent Attacks
There are a few more common things that put your site at a greater risk of getting hacked:
Installing Plugins or Other Tools From Untrusted Sources or Not Updating Them
Many plugins, such as those used in a CMS such as WordPress, are not all secure.
Hackers are consistently searching for sites that use insecure or outdated plugins and then finding ways to exploit the site.
As a best practice, it is recommended to research a plugin and read reviews before installing it on your site.
Sharing a Server May Also Pose a Risk in Terms of Site Security
This is because someone could easily upload a spammy or malicious file, or even grant access to other hackers.
Non-Secure Credentials May Also Pose a Risk for Data Security
It is recommended that secure passwords are created for online accounts and make them difficult to guess.
Another more advanced method to prevent an attack is through penetration testing. This analyzes and tests your network’s security and any potential vulnerabilities within it.
Everyone is affected by web security. When building a partnership with a website or client, SEOs should be able to provide some advice when it terms to overall security.
If you’re responsible for the SEO effectiveness of a site, part of your role is to ensure that there are security measures in place to protect it.
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