The importance of Web Accessibility for businesses!

 


By: Nihar Khemani


As described by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD): “Access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, is a basic human right.” 


Web consumption statistics show that as of 2021, there were approximately 36 million Canadians surfing the internet at any given time. That number is projected to grow to 99.1% in 2026. Canada has more than 96% of its population with internet access (not necessarily broadband) and therefore the imperative, and currently the political will, to make web accessibility a primary concern. We all know the web provides unprecedented access and engagement opportunities for all individuals alike. When it comes to websites, by adhering to accessibility guidelines, we can let the web perform its true function of removing barriers to communication and interaction that exist in the physical world. By complying with current accessibility standards, organizations and website developers enable access to a wider strata of the population who are impaired. Doing so removes obstacles to make it easier to browse, understand, hear, and purchase. in short ‘engage’. Most of all, it enables meaningful participatory contribution to the online conversation in all ways as readers, influencers, customers, reviewers, and advocates. 



While not a new concept, you may be surprised by how few businesses do enough about it. In this post, we will try to explain web accessibility standards in detail and cover the aspects that the standards define, the organizations they affect and how to implement changes to your organization’s website to make it accessible for everyone. 

Through the growth of CMS website & ecommerce services like Shopify, Wix, and even WordPress to an extent, there are many opportunities to automate or “solve” for many forms of web accessibility. Recall the original accessibility affordance, the HTML “alt” property in an image tag. Long before images downloaded on your 56K modem, you could read the captions and descriptions.


Accessibility in 2021:

The Accessible Canada Act was passed in 2019 to help identify, remove, and prevent barriers to accessibility for persons with disabilities. Also known as the Act to Ensure a Barrier-Free Canada, it mandates compliance for digital content and tech for Parliament, the Government of Canada, and federally-regulated organizations in the private sector. This includes sectors such as banking, telecommunications, and transportation industries. 

When did it come into effect?

Web accessibility standards are addressed directly in the Standard on Web Accessibility created in 2011 to “Ensure the uniform application of a high level of web accessibility across Government of Canada websites and web applications”. While the act applies to all federal websites and related intellectual properties, each province in Canada has its own accessibility law act set up and in motion right now, including: 

  1. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which was passed in 2005 and aims to create a barrier-free Ontario by the end of 2025.

  2. The Accessibility for Manitobans Act.

  3. The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act, 

to name a few.

The guidelines put forth by the Standards on Web Accessibility are categorized into three levels of compliance in order to meet the needs of people with disabilities: A (the lowest conformance), AA (mid-range conformance) and AAA (the highest conformance). 

Accessible Websites are essential for some and useful for everyone!


Before we dive deeper into the web accessibility norms and how to make websites accessible for one and all, it is important to know what issues & impairments web accessibility standards hope to mitigate for the purposes of usability, which are (but not limited to) the following:

  • Auditory

  • Cognitive

  • Neurological

  • Physical

  • Speech

  • Visual 

Web accessibility also benefits people without long-term/permanent disabilities, such as:

  • older people whose abilities change with age.

  • people using smart TVs, smart watches, mobile phones, or other devices with smaller/different screen sizes to access the web.

  • people with situational disabilities like those living in remote areas or areas with exceptionally bright sunlight.

  • people with temporary disabilities like a broken arm, broken glasses, etc.

  • people who have slow internet connections or limited/expensive bandwidth.

  • people using older technology/devices or unable to operate common interfaces like a keyboard.

To give web developers a new perspective on accessibility, a social media company sponsored hackathons and similar events, and placed participant developers in the situation of having only older 2/3G cell phone speeds and connectivity issues. They were asked to assess usability in their apps on a variety of devices. Issues that they had never thought of suddenly became usability obstacles. This is a classic example of how known unknowns vs. unknown unknowns in quality assurance testing approach and tactics come into play quickly. 

Who is required to follow the Web Accessibility Standards?

Accessibility laws apply to publications, including educational material and website content, and some are specifically meant for digital media.

The AODA states all public and private sector organizations with 50+ employees must make sure that the website complies with accessibility standards.


4 main aspects which make a website (more) accessible:

  1. Ease of operation: refers to navigation 

  2. Ease of perceiving: refers to the ability to see and read the website 

  3. Ease of understanding: refers to the content being simple and understandable for impaired users 

  4. Ease of integration: refers to a website / app / online service being robust in its functionality for all users


Web Accessibility best practices: 



Typography: 

Typography is one of the most important aspects of a website’s design, but when it comes to accessibility, its role becomes even more important. The following things should be kept in mind when designing an accessible website:

  • Use of consistent fonts and font sizes which are simple and large.

  • Use of text and not just graphics for contextual reference.

  • Avoidance of too many appearance variations like bold, italics, etc.

  • Establishing enough contrast between text and background.

  • Avoidance of text that blinks or moves.

Content Headlines:

By using carefully constructed headlines, website content can be easy to follow and navigate. Appropriate headline font sizes, their placement and usage goes a long way in making web content accessible.

Colours, Imagery and Layout:

The importance of using an appropriate choice of colours when you have accessibility in mind cannot be stressed enough. Colour blindness is often the most common problem faced by visually impaired users, and therefore, it is important to design your website elements with this in mind. Since there are various forms of colour blindness, there is no fixed rule of thumb to address this on your website. However, by keeping the following as part of your site’s style guide, you can ensure to account for  visual impairment through a proper website design process:

  • Keep in mind to use a proper contrast between the font and the background. This is important to make the text stand out vis-à-vis the graphic or the background, making it easier to identify and comprehend.

  • Make sure to use well-sized images with proper alt tags to describe their content.

  • When it comes to layout, make sure to use plenty of white space, bullets, consistent and legible font size, and proper headers to make it easy for any and every user to navigate through a website.

  • It is also important to ensure that content is responsive to any screen size without affecting functionality or creating usability issues on the layout of the page.

Video content:

If your website uses video content, it is important to pay attention to 5 things: captions, description, transcripts, file size, and feature-use. 

  1. Make sure that the captions are synced properly with what is being spoken in the video. Also, captions should be put in an auto-play feature with a button to turn them off if necessary. Construct the captions in a manner in which all important cues, actions and words are accurate and to the point.

  2. Consider not using the auto-play feature for your video content as people with impaired vision may not know how to stop it. For example, Chrome and other browsers automatically mute auto-play videos in most cases - which could add additional confusion.

  3. Use descriptive audio to explain any actions that are not otherwise narrated so that people who are visually impaired enjoy the video content as much as all other users do.

  4. File size & feature use: to ensure delivery of the video to users with low connection speeds, producing multiple resolution/file size videos and streaming in an accessible manner make a difference. Most platforms like YouTube and Vimeo allow for this almost automatically, but sites hosting their own video or using other platforms may need to dig deeper.

Keyboard accessibility:

It is important to remember that the keyboard continues to be the most commonly used way to input information. People with motor disabilities rely largely on a keyboard. Assistive technology also uses keyboards extensively. In addition, several users use modified keyboards or other devices which mimic a keyboard. Therefore, any information that is navigable only by using the mouse needs to be altered for better accessibility.

Accessible documents:

Documents present an important overlay in most websites. You can make your assets like text documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, and similar assets more accessible by making a note of the following accessibility best practices when it comes to documents:

  • Use proper headers to provide better content flow and make them concise and clear.

  • Use “alt” (alternate) text to identify images where possible.

  • Tag the document with language or other codes to make it easier for any screen user to access.

  • Use bullet points or numbered lists.

  • Use simple table structures.

  • Give all sheet tabs unique names

  • Delete blank sheets


Accessible forms:

No matter what line of business you are in, your website will likely contain one or many forms, such as a form to subscribe, buy/sell merchandise, create an account, etc. Forms can be one of the greatest points of friction for an impaired user. To make your website more accessible, be mindful to use large and distinguishable fields with appropriate labels wherever necessary, with clear and easy-to-find instructions, current form validation techniques, and functionality that is device and screen independent. 

The good news is that accessibility standards are not very limiting, and in fact, create a more positive experience. Luckily, current implementations of HTML and CSS (the framework and style functionality of the web) are catered to address these very issues. Responsive CSS techniques allow websites to display properly (and if needed, differently) on a variety of screen shapes and sizes. It is easy to create accessible websites that are also aesthetically appealing. The more functionality a website or app requires, the more work might be needed to adhere to various guidelines. That too is being addressed via automation and iterating reusable code libraries.

Accessibility for one and all makes complete business sense. It almost always has. These requirements drive innovation and automation, enhance your brand and extend your market reach for minimal cost and maximum benefit. If the web was supposed to lift people up, we’ve never been closer to shining that light or lending a hand. 

Want to know more about how to improve your website’s accessibility? Contact us at UpOnline for more information!




Google Core Updates and their effect on website performance!

Things to know about Google Core Updates
By: Nihar Khemani


If you noticed a recent drop in your website’s search visibility over the past two months, you weren’t alone! Ripples of a recent Google Core Update are being felt and observed across blogs, social media posts, and hours spent combing through SEO best practices. The two-part Google Core Update carried out in June and July of 2021 impacted not just several thin-content websites but also companies with content focused on car/automotive news, self-care, and other knowledge sites.


In this post, we will explore how Google Core Updates impact websites, with a focus on the recent update and what you can do to navigate through such updates in future. The team at UpOnline helps clients take an omnichannel approach to digital marketing which not only makes available a host of other services to attain your online marketing objectives but also helps to combat situations that arise out of such updates. Contact us today to learn more about the full suite of services offered. But for now, back to the Google Core Update - the turbulent waters which made many a ship halt/reroute over these past few months: 

What is a Google Core Update?

The recent Google Core Updates have been typical “broad core updates”, designed to ensure that the search engine delivers relevant and authoritative results to search queries.  An update such as this is not specific to a particular region, website category, or language. Essentially, these core updates are meant to enable Google to assess content better and determine which pages serve the best answers to users' search queries. The end result is a boost to pages that have been under-rewarded, thereby leading to significant gains in SEO ranks for some websites and drops for some others. 


Google explained in a blog post that core updates are needed to try to meet searchers’ expectations which are always changing. Imagine you have a list of favorite films in 2016. In 2019, you decide to update your list. Many items in the list would have naturally changed. You may want to add new films that you’ve discovered or realize that previous films deserve a higher place on the list. This is how Google is trying to sort through content to determine those that will benefit searchers the most.


In June 2021 we saw a series of posts on the Google SearchLiasion Twitter account informing users about:


The June Core Update: According to the Search Engine Roundtable, like most global core updates that preceded it, this update focused on quality and was released in two parts. Google did warn users that they may see some changes in June only to witness a reversal after the second part of the update planned for July. 


The July Core Update: The second part of the core update was rolled out in the month of July. Google's advice to users impacted by the update was to focus on quality as there is no absolute fix to remedy the impacts of the update. 


The impact!

Google is always working to improve the quality of search results. It has a history of rolling out core updates to help increase search results relevance - previous updates were in December 2020, May 2020, January 2020 and September 2019. Those updates dealt with signals and factors like search intent, web pages that get suggested as a result of the search intent and how are these pages relevant to the intent. You can also read our coverage on the June 2019 and January 2020 Google Core updates!


Impact of Google Core Updates on SEO



Marcus Tober from Searchmetrics observed that the June update was “an unusual update with a typical Core Update feel to it” and users may see a reversal of changes after the July update.

The June update affected 1900+ domains and 31 categories. Websites that focus on product reviews and affiliate space in technology and consumer electronics spaces, as well as dictionary sites, emerged as winners due to their authoritative content and relevance to search intent. On the other hand, sites that rely heavily on user-generated content saw a significant decline. 


‘Intent change’ was the common theme for the second part of the update. Google has shifted its understanding of user intent across a variety of user queries as a result. Following the July update, international versions of many sites suffered a decline and freed up space for local smaller ecommerce vendors to compete for keywords, Several sites saw their rankings change due to recalibrations that happened after the drastic differences noticed as a part of the June update.


A few days after the update, algorithm trackers typically start to show significant fluctuations. As a result, organic rankings may drop for some (long-tail keywords), and rise for others. The general recommendation across the board is to not act in a haste; let the update roll out and settle before reevaluating your website and its content.


About 15 days after the update rolled out is when you can look at your website from a wide lens and review it on the following parameters: Is it easily accessible? Is it well-organized? Does it have relevant and authoritative content?

What can we learn from this?

Key Learnings from Google Core Updates
As site owners and SEO specialists scrambled for advice on how to rebound from the Core Updates, Google’s answer remains the same: there is “nothing to fix.” Google recommends looking at your website from the following perspective:
  1. Expertise: How trustworthy is the content? Does the website have any errors? Would you trust the site if it came to you via Google?

  2. Content: Is the content original? How valuable is the information provided? Has the information been copied? Does the page title summarize what the page is about? Would you recommend this page to your friends?

  3. Presentation: Does the content seem researched well? Are there too many ads? Does the content seem like it is mass-produced? Is the content compatible with all devices?

  4. Comparison: As compared to competitors, does the page provide more or equivalent value? Does it meet the expectation of users? 

Danny Sullivan from Google suggested using Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines as a reference guide for creating quality content. However, SEO experts warn not to use this as a diagnostic tool of whether a website “passes” a quality test. It is important to note that perhaps your site and content have nothing to do with the drop in ranking; rather, the user search intent for your targeted queries might have changed and your content is no longer relevant or useful for the questions people are asking.

Experts suggest that “nothing to fix” can mean that:


  • Google is improving natural language processing tasks

  • Google is improving how it ranks links

  • Google is improving how it understands search queries

  • Google is improving how it understands a part of a web page that exists within a large part of a webpage

  • Google has improved the speed at which it identifies low-quality links and ignores them


Julia McCoy from Express Writers emphasizes a key strategy in evaluating your website’s SEO: think about your content in terms of user experience (UX). She states:

“You need to reframe your thinking about ranking and algorithm-obsessing. Your goal shouldn’t be to rank; it should be to provide users with the information and UX they need to fulfill their Google searches with the least amount of effort.”

In other words, rather than trying to figure out how to satisfy Google’s search algorithm, you should be focusing on how to satisfy the user’s search query. Your site should be delivering the best possible user experience with content that is reliable, trustworthy, and easily comprehensible. 

It is imperative to focus on the quality of content on your website to provide a seamless user experience. Depending on how much a site was affected by the core update, revisit your website and make improvements to ensure your content is relevant and authoritative.


For more information on SEO best practices, speak to an UpOnline representative today!