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July 25, 2007

New SEO Waves: W3C Standards and Accessibility

One look at Google’s Accessible Web Search is enough to make even the most stubborn web coder understand that compliant, accessible design is no longer the infatuation of some W3C enthusiasts, but a necessity. Even amateur SEOs will stop affirming that W3C compliance has nothing to do with getting high Google rankings.

W3C compliance has a lot to do with accessibility. Correct codes are scannable. The search engine bots scan error-free HTML better and index the sites accurately.

But when the W3C enthusiasts started this project their idea had nothing to do with SEO. The plan was to create some web coding standards that will make it easier for the web coders to program websites that are visible in all the browsers, adaptable, flexible and accessible with any reading devices, in short: websites for the users. The idea was supposed to bring advantages for all: designers, web surfers and website owners (by providing the basis for sites with a good, logical structure, that would be more economical to update, change and so on).

The W3C standards are still a matter of debate, but this will not take so long anymore. Google, the Giant of the search, is already taking steps to support the W3C initial ideas.

In Google’s Accessible Web Search – right now a simple experiment – accessible sites rank higher. This is Google’s effort to deliver better search results (accessible websites) for the visually impaired. This means that sites that comply with the W3C standards and pass an official accessibility tests (ex. Cynthia Says) will rank higher into the search engine result pages. Accessible sites are not visually distracting: so the graphics or/and animations are kept to a minimum and they work well even without images. Such sites are easy navigable – navigation can be managed with the keyboard. Good navigation enhances user experience and that means that it increases website usability.

The fact that Google prioritizes websites that are accessible and compliant sets clear new goals for SEOs everywhere.

The truth is that people with disabilities should be able to benefit from the same tools as everyone else. And I suppose that Google’s purpose is to merge its Accessible Web Search into the standard Web search one day. More and more webtrepreneurs understand the importance of valid codes and accessibility, but till the day comes when the Web will run on smooth paths, we still have a long time to wait. In the meanwhile SEOs will introduce a new SEO service in their menu: HTML validation. I confess, I practice what I preach since 2004. It’s my understanding of “web optimization.” I also try to address the main accessibility issues on each site I work on, and make each and every page pass the automatic Cynthia validation.

Google’s guidelines on accessibility (still under development) will probably not be as strict as those of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), but they’ll still make a difference for the impaired users.

With already existent sites it might be difficult to comply with all the accessibility guidelines, but it will not hurt to correct at least a part of them. There are no excuses for invalid HTML codes.

To make a long story short: validate your HTML and address your accessibility issues now, to create a solid base for website usability and to avoid imminent future financial strains.

Besides, by optimizing your site from these two perspectives (W3C and accessibility), you are increasing visibility in Google. Isn’t this what you wish for your site?

Author:  Mihaela Lica is online marketing specialist for the Luxembourg based web development company Red Dog Communications.

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