How to write accessible content for websites

Portrait of Rob Simpson
Rob Simpson

Bridging the gap between business goals and user needs

The way that you write and format content on your website can have a big impact on whether people find it easy to read or read it at all.

As I’ve already touched on, having an accessible website makes good business sense, and there are a handful of things content editors can do, to improve the accessibility of their websites.

In this article, we’re going to focus on writing, and formatting content for the web, that will help attract a wider audience and make the reading experience easier for everyone.

Write clear and concise content

When you come to write content for your website, keep it simple. The easier it is to read, the more people will benefit from it.

10% of the British population are dyslexic; 4% severely so.

If people with lower educations or dyslexia can read your content, then people with higher educations will find it easier to read too – a win-win situation.

Follow these tips to keep your writing simple and concise:

  • Keep sentences short; ideally 25-30 words
  • Use simple words; ideally with 1-2 syllables
  • Use tools like Grammarly to measure the readability of your content; aim for a readability level for grade 8 (age 13-14) or lower
  • Use images, videos and format your content using lists etc. so it’s easier to digest
Grammarly testing the readability of this article – how to write content with accessibility in mind to attract a wider audience

Grammarly checks the readability of your content, this article is “likely to be understood by a reader who has at least a 7th-grade education (age 12) and should be easy for most adults to read”

Use headings to show the structure

Use short headings to group content into sections. A good heading structure provides an outline of the content, which makes a page easier to scan for sighted users.

They also allow screen reader users to jump directly to the content they’re interested in, which can save them a lot of time and frustration.

Headings should follow a logical hierarchical order <h1> to <h6> and should not be used solely based on what they look like (also don’t make text bold when it’s a heading).

Follow these tips to create a solid heading structure:

  • Keep headings short
  • Group relevant content into sections by using a heading
  • Follow a hierarchical heading structure e.g. if the main heading for a section is a <h2> then a child heading of that section should be a <h3>
  • Use tools like tota11y to check your pages heading structure

Write descriptive link text

Avoid using generic phrases like “click here” or “see more”. Every link should describe what the user can expect to find when they click it.

Navigating through a page full of links using a screen reader can be tiresome. “Click here, click here, click here” is often all you’ll hear.

Descriptive text provides screen reader users with a sense of where the link will take them. “View all articles” is a lot more helpful than “click here”.

Descriptive text, also help sighted users scan through a page and identify useful links without having to read the surrounding content.

Follow these tips to write descriptive link text:

  • Avoid generic phrases like “click here” or “see more”
  • Avoid using website URLs for link text, as screen readers will read it letter by letter
  • Describe what the user can expect to find when they click the link e.g. “Website proposal (PDF 10MB)”
  • Use tools like tota11y to check the descriptiveness of your links

Writing well-defined link text can help aid accessibility, improve SEO and make a page easier to scan.

Provide meaningful text alternatives for images

If you’re using a content management system (CMS), you should have an alt text field when adding an image.

For decorative images, leave the alt text field blank. If the image assists the surrounding content, then alt text should be provided.

When writing alt text, you don’t need to open with “Image of”, as assistive technology knows that it’s an image.

Also, make sure that your alt text is clear, concise and descriptive – focusing on the important pieces of information in the image.

Make use of captions

You can go one step further and add a caption to your image (as shown in the images in this article).

A caption is visible for everyone, it helps people scanning a page to understand the context of an image without having to read surrounding copy.

Describing infographics

Infographics require alt text to describe the information they convey. The alt text field isn’t the best option here as the amount of content will be quite long.

Instead, provide written content immediately after the image. This is also useful for sighted users and your websites search engine optimisation (SEO).

Avoid text in images

Avoid adding text in images as screen readers won’t be able to read it (search engines also won’t be able to read it, which won’t help your SEO).

If you have to include text in an image, always provide alternative text that describes the image and the content it contains.

Follow these tips to write image alt text:

  • If the image is just for decoration leave the alt text empty
  • Be clear, concise and descriptive when writing alt text
  • Don’t include “Image of” at the start of the alt text
  • Describe the information in an infographic below the image
  • Avoid adding text in images
  • Include a caption under the image that everyone can see
  • Use tools like tota11y to check your images have suitable alt text

Tools you can use to help write better content

I hope you can see the value in taking a little bit of time to format your content properly. It might take a small change in your process, but it will be worth it in the long run.

To summarise, here are the tools you can use, to help create more accessible content for your audience:

FAQs

Why is accessibility important for a website?

Recent government statistics show that roughly 1 in 5 people suffers from some form of disability. By having an accessible website you provide a better experience for everyone, including people who have permanent, temporary or situational impairments.

What is accessible content?

Everyone experiences content they access online differently. Some people read text and understand images they see, whilst others use assistive technology to listen to the content. Accessible content caters for different people and their needs.

How do I make my website content accessible?

To improve the accessibility of content it’s all about making it easy to understand. Whether that’s writing clear and concise text, providing audio versions of the content or displaying complex information in the form of a graphic.

Follow these tips to create more accessible content:

  • Write clear and concise content
  • Use headings to show the structure
  • Write descriptive link text
  • Provide meaningful text alternatives for images

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Why having an accessible website makes good business sense

Government statistics show that roughly one in five people suffer from some form of disability. Viewed from a business perspective, it just doesn’t make sense to ignore 20% of the market share.

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