SEO vs. Accessibility: Can you have both?

by Stephanie Rewis on January 21, 2005

I try to design the code of my pages to be very clean, with little
extraneous “stuff.” My goal is always to make them as accessible as
possible as well as search engine friendly. And I've got it all figured
out. Using text instead of images for headings and navigation allows me
to be kind to both spiders and people that browse with alternative
methods like screen readers. This is one of the main reasons I love
sIFR. I can use creative fonts for my headings but still retain the
text display in a browser. Yup, I have it all figured out.

When I put images into my pages, I use a descriptive alt attribute
if it contains information that a low or non-vision person needs to
have. If it's purely decorative, I use the empty alt attribute so that
the screen readers will ignore it and not read the name of the file.
Yup, all done… good for accessibility… did I mention I have it all
figured out?

I belong to a great SEO list, and due to a couple questions going on
with a site, I needed to verify some SEO knowledge. While getting into
dialogues with the SEO experts there, I'm told that I must put my
keywords into my alt attributes. The most important one up to three
times in the first few images. NOOOO! Imagine what the people using
screen readers will hear — Blathering keyword ridden yada!

How do I balance the need to be kind to all surfers with the need to
be kind to the spiders? Must I choose one or the other? Can I not have
a fully accessible to humans site that the spiders also adore? I
certainly do not have it all figured out.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

bluecorn January 23, 2005 at 1:25 am

search engines are stupid, which is why we have to talk more simply to them than to our fellow humans.

some of us even learn their language to gain their approval – and thereby speak less elegantly than we might

but, brilliant websites that defy all the search engine codes, and thrill the world with their human greatness, tend to end up most admired by the engines.

pxLabs February 13, 2005 at 5:46 pm

I have been obsessing over the same thing for the past week (we are redesigning the pxLabs site), and figuring out where the boundaries lie is a real mother of a task.

I, like you, don’t know everything, but hopefully someday, we’ll be able to figure it out.

Jon Teare June 1, 2005 at 8:15 pm

From my experience Accessibility actually aids SEO, If an image is decorative place it as a css background on an element, only if it is a proper feature ie goes with an article would I place it in img tags. At this point use the alt tag and don’t forget the longdesc option if a textual description is helpful.

I used these methods extensively in this site