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SEO and W3C Accessibility

 8:57 am on Aug 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

We're working on redesigning some sites - converting to xhtml and making them complie to the W3C's Accessibilty guidelines. However, we've come across a couple of things that is causing a bit of concern.

For instance the use of the label tag and forms... In a simple form it is not a problem at all, but when we want to capture day/month/year (sometimes multiple times on a form) it starts to become a pain. Making each element of the form very descriptive makes the page look cumbersome for people using a standard browser.

The work around that I've seen (showcased on a british mortgage lenders site) involves hiding the label text using CSS. This I start to find worrying from an SEO point of view due to search engines dim view of hidden text. Although the hidden text is only on pages that have forms and not much text if a search engine notices it would the rest of the site be penalised?

Please post your views...



 9:08 am on Aug 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

The links between SEO and Accessibility are generally very positive, but there are a few grey areas such as this.

Another one I've come across recently is the use of a transparent gif used as a "skip to navigation" link with alt text saying as such.

From an SEO view point, we're always told not to hide links, hide text and so on. Also, many of us would not want to un-balance a carefully crafted keyword ratio in our alt text fields.

My feeling is that this sort of thing would not get you banned because:

a) the SE's are rubbish at algorithmically detecting these kinds of things; and

b) if a hand check took place, the honest intentions would be clear (you could even place in comment tags something like <!-- for accessibility browsers -->)

However, where do you drop the line? Would...

<a href="#nav"><img src="transparent.gif" alt="skip to keyword keyword navigation"></a>

...be OK?


 10:54 am on Aug 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

snookie, it sounds as if you are going about things the right way - the supplementary information for users with, for example, screenreaders, can be hidden with CSS if such information is unneccessary for visually-able users. It's not hidden text, it's just courtesy on your part, and you should be congratulated for it. Optimization is for users, too.

<offtopic> Adam_C, regarding your point, if you need a "skip navigation" link, it should actually be visible and click/selectable at all times, as it is important not only for visually-impaired users, but also users who can view your CSS design but have a motor impairment meaning that they are using technology to tab through the links on the page. A visible link allows them to jump to your menu without tabbing through all the links in your content first.

It's one of the common misconceptions about accessibility in that you are not only trying to cater for visually-impaired users, but also those with other accessibility problems who are, in general, using your site with the CSS enabled via a reasonably standard browser environment. </offtopic>


 11:00 am on Aug 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

thanks for the replies guys!


 11:23 am on Aug 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

encyclo, in the UK there are big legal changes underway with regards to accessibility as set out by the Disability Discrimination Act.

These are focussed on improve accessibility for disabled users.

The example I gave was related to the legal requirements in the UK, but more intended as an indication of how accessibility and SEO intertwine, and more specifically how accessibility could be used to cloud the line between ethical SEO and spam.


 3:27 pm on Aug 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

Making each element of the form very descriptive makes the page look cumbersome for people using a standard browser.

Can you expand on that one? I'm not sure how using the <label> element would make the page look cumbersome as the element is not viewable at the browser level.


 3:35 pm on Aug 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

pageone, he's talking about something like this...

<label for="month">Month</label>
<input type="text" name="month">
<label for="day">Day</label>
<input type="text" name="day">
<label for="year">Year</label>
<input type="text" name="Year">

where it would be more visually appealing to just have...

<label for="date">Enter Date</label>
<input type="text" name="month">
<input type="text" name="day">
<input type="text" name="Year">

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