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Accessibility is a Marketing Advantage

Katie Martell recently pointed out the following:

Only 1% of homepages are accessible according to a recent review of 1M top-visited websites. Inclusivity means asking “who are we excluding?” Are we excluding those with a disability? (1 in 4 US adults!)

There’s an even bigger, profit-driven reason for inclusivity, if the altruistic side isn’t enough to motivate you to action.

Accessibility is a marketing advantage.

If you look under the hood at all the major algorithms and machine learning models that power modern marketing, from Google’s BERT to the YouTube recommendation engine to how LinkedIn decides what to show to members, they all have one thing in common: text.

Lots and lots of text. And what helps generate that text, those features that these advanced artificial intelligence programs use? Accessibility and inclusivity programs. Let’s look at three examples.

YouTube

YouTube takes into account search queries as well as the content of the videos to help decide how relevant a video is to a user’s experience. If you read their academic research papers carefully, you’ll note that they pull in video attributes like title, description, and other available text into part of their deep learning algorithm.

YouTube Algorithm

Guess what feeds part of that algorithm? If you guessed closed captions for the hearing impaired, pat yourself on the back. In fact, closed captions are such an important part of YouTube’s engine that they have their own automatically-generated captions for videos that don’t have them.

It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to guess that if you provide the closed captions – ideally with the keywords and phrases you care about spelled correctly and checked for accuracy – your videos will perform better, especially in video search and video recommendations.

SEO

While what webmasters can do on a website to influence search algorithms and machine learning is limited (to prevent gaming the system), Google does insist on a number of basic things to rank well. Those basic things include navigability, clear identification of parts of a page, layouts that can be processed by their crawlers, and useful, relevant content.

In fact, Google has explained exactly how they crawl websites and digest what we provide to the search engine in very clear detail; they have massive server farms of headless Chrome browsers (no displays) that visit pages as if they were people.

Unsurprisingly, many of these requirements for Google’s crawlers to successfully digest a page are also things that improve accessibility. Adding alt text to images? That helps screen readers, and it also feeds Google’s crawling. Clear, obvious layouts of your page? Same. Pages that load without excessive Javascript or fancy animations that obscure simple navigation? Same.

The more accessible your website is, the easier it is for Google’s search crawlers to ingest as well.

LinkedIn

Finally, LinkedIn has published in various blog posts, technical interviews with engineers, and patents that their feed algorithm is based in part on text. But not just any text – LinkedIn considers the words on your profile, on the profiles of your first degree connections, as well as on your posts, comments, and uploads as inputs for who to show your posts to.

What’s one of the tasks asked of us when we upload a photo to LinkedIn? Provide an alt text description. What’s one of the tasks asked of us when we upload a video to LinkedIn? Provide a closed captions file. These aren’t just for compliance. These are text inputs into their system to help determine who to show our content to. If your closed captions file contains profile-matching text, it likely stands a better chance of being seen than if you hadn’t provided closed captions.

Accessibility is Machine Compatibility

What makes social media and SEO work well for humans with impairments also works well for machines processing our data and preparing it for use. The easier, faster, lighter, and more clear our digital content is, with multiple modalities for everything, the better our content will perform in both humans and machines.

Make accessibility and inclusivity part of your standard marketing processes, and you’ll be rewarded by both your human audience and your machine audience.


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