The Intersection of Usability, Accessibility,
and SEO (Part II)

November 17, 2010

Last year I started thinking about the similarities between Usability, Accessibility, and SEO, and posted the first of what I hoped to be a series of articles on the subject. Since then, I assembled a talk, which I presented at BarCampRDU in 2009 and 2010 and am preparing to give at Internet Summit 2010 in Raleigh this week. This post will provide some additional resources as well as a copy of my slides.

For those attending the Internet Summit this year, I’ll be presenting as part of the Usability and Customer Experience: Online Customer Behavior and Online Customer Experience session at 9:40am on Thursday. The talk is set to run for fifteen minutes, and I’ll be using fifty slides to illustrate the topic.

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Though my talk focuses on the similarities between Usability, Accessibility, and SEO, and how they can be approached in a unified manner, success execution is measured differently.

SEO is all about competition. To be a the first result for a given search phrase, you must beat every other website, and even if you do, you have to hold the spot. No matter how much effort and expense you expend, if your competitor does more, you will never reach the top.

Usability is also a competition, but usually against yourself. There is no absolute winner, as there is with SEO, but making your website more usable should get you closer to your goals, however you define success.

Accessibility in some ways is the most pure, since it is not about competition, but allowing access to technology. Every website can be made accessible, and while some may be more accessible than others, there are accessibility guidelines such as Section 508 that may be achieved by all.

There are, however, a wide variety of disabilities that must be considered when designing and testing for accessibility, more than just profound blindness, which I used as an example in my talk. In addition to screen readers, there are also screen magnifiers for those with low vision. Sighted developers don't need tools to test for accessibility for the deaf, though need to provide alternatives for content and functionality dependent on audio queues. With an estimated 8% of men suffering from some degree of color blindness, color queues and contrast issues need to be considered. The physically disabled, as well as though with reduced dexterity may not be able to use a mouse, and need to be able to navigate websites strictly with the Tab and Arrow Keys, and should not be forgotten.

Usability Resources Jakob Nielsen's Website: Jakob Nielsen's is one of the leading authorities in Website usability. His weekly Alertbox column is a must read. For many professionals (including myself), Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity was their introduction to Web usability.

Advanced Common Sense: Usability consultant Steve Krug’s book Don't Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability is a classic resource for learning about Web usability. His latest book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding 
and Fixing Usability Problems, is on my reading list.

Accessibility Resources

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI): A great resource for learning about accessibility, including strategies and guidelines. WAI is part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The official website of the US Federal government covering the accessibility for the disabled requirements for websites. The definitive source of information for website managers needing to meet federal accessibility requirements.

Assistive Technology Software Applications and Simulators

The following are useful tools for simulating the user experience of users with disabilities, as well as testing for accessibility compliance.

JAWS for Windows Screen Reading Software: A commercial application from Freedom Scientific. Provides feedback via synthetic speech, with support for MAGic Screen Magnification Software. While commercial, Jaws offers a demo mode that times out after forty minutes of use, until Windows is restarted, making it useful for testing.

Fangs Screen Reader Emulator: Fangs is an Add-on for Firefox that renders the content of a web page in a manner similar to as a screen reader would, making a handy tool for web developers. As I suggested in my talk, I find Fangs a useful tool for learning how search engines see web pages.

NVDA: A open source screen reader alternative for Windows that provides feedback via synthetic speech and Braille.

MAGic screen magnification software: A commercial application from Freedom Scientific that magnifies parts of the screen up to 36 times. A useful tool for people with low vision.

Voiceover: Screen reading and magnification software built-in to Apple OS X. Includes feedback via synthetic speech and Braille.

Vischeck: Software used for simulating what images and websites look like to those suffering different forms of color blindness or color deficiency. Vischeck offers both an online tool, as well as Photoshop plug-ins.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Resources

SEOmoz: A leading source of web-based Internet marketing and search engine optimization tools, as well as tutorials. SEOmoz also publishes interesting research, such as the results of their SEO Industry Survey.

Google Webmaster Central Blog: The official news on crawling and indexing website for Google. If you focus on optimizing for Google (and in the US you would have to be crazy not to), a must read. Many of the posts can be fairly technical, but there is nothing better than getting news direct from the source.

Google Trends: A good tool for gauging relative volume for search terms. You can compare up to five terms, and see historical volume, giving a good idea of ongoing trends, as well as seasonal variation. Breakdowns are available by country as well as more granular geographic regions.