Where SEO and accessibility collide

Recently a link to a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) cheat sheet came across my radar, and I was curious what sort advice is given for SEO these days. I’m not an SEO expert (although my sites seem to do pretty well for the number of links to them), but I thought a short analysis of how SEO and accessibility overlap would be useful.

The cheat sheet is from seomoz.org, and as a fan of cheat sheets in general, I immediately downloaded it. Some of the advice directly contributes to an accessible site (which is something many have noted before), but a couple of items will impact on the experience for people using particular technologies.

The good (for accessibility)

Much of the advice is also good for accessibility. For example, keeping the number of links on a page to under 100 can help not scare screen reader users, redirects should be done server-side, and site URLs should be readable and consistent.

The syntax of the page title is recommended as Keyword < Category | Website title, which is pretty close to what we recommend. (We tend to put the category / section at the end, as usage in browser bookmarks, tabs and history means that the second most important information is the site.)

The Common Robot Traps tend to align closely with accessibility as well, where frames, forms and sessions are highlighted as potential issues.

It also highlights the use of the sitemap XML file, which would be a useful thing for access technologies to pick up on and use as a navigation mechanism. It would allow things like listing recently changed pages (if the site doesn’t itself), and the importance that the site places on particular sections.

The conflicting

Whilst the advice on title (elements), headings and bold/strong are good accessibility wise, a couple of the recommendations do conflict. The main thing is that the attribute use suggested does not seem to help people:

  • Stuffing keywords into alt text is unlikely to be a valid description of an image.
  • Adding titles to text links (especially if they are just keywords) has little meaning to people, and is likely to get in the way for people using screen magnifiers.
  • Using keywords as link text might give you an indication of the destination, but that isn’t the advice I would want to be taken.

For link text, I generally advise that it should match the main heading of the target page, which I believe aligns with SEO fairly well, alhtough I guess it depends on whether keywords are used.

As an SEO specific cheatsheet, it is doing what it is supposed to. However, I wouldn’t give it to a developer or content author without the caveat that keywords should be included where applicable, that is not the purpose of those attributes. (And just skip the title attribute on text links.)

5 contributions to “Where SEO and accessibility collide

  1. Thanks for sharing your unique perspective on my cheat sheet. I am always interested in learning about how different people use the web. I plan on keeping this post in mind when I write future posts.


  2. Hi Danny, glad to hear it.

    Hopefully it makes a good long-term strategy as well, because the search engines are trying to give people the best results…

  3. imo, web standards, semantics, accessibility first..seo and other things will follow or as a bonus..

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