Enhancing Accessibility and Searchability in E-Commerce

A guide to ADA compliance and voice search for e-commerce websites

Do you remember a world before wheelchair-accessible curb cuts? 

Today, it’s common to see curb cuts as an easier path for strollers, cyclists, walkers and wheelchair users to cross the street. But before the mid-1960s when disability rights activists pushed for more curb cuts in major cities, navigating a busy neighborhood with a physical disability was nearly impossible. 

In today’s society, there’s still room for improvement in how we accommodate those with mental and physical disabilities. However, many strides have been made for accessibility in comparison to just the last century. 

A lot of this progress can be attributed to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities in all areas of public life. 

We see the implications of ADA in places like schools, where accessible facilities like cafeterias, classrooms and libraries are required, and public transportation, with wheelchair ramps and priority/reserved seating for those with physical disabilities. 

But there are also ADA requirements for e-commerce sites — and not abiding by them could harm your bottom line and alienate your potential customers. 

A few simple additions to your site could enhance both your accessibility as a brand and your SEO, enabling you to reach an even wider audience than before. Find out how to stay compliant and set yourself apart from your competition. 

What is ADA, and what does it cover?

ADA is a US civil rights law initially passed in 1990 to give equal access and opportunities to those with disabilities. 

In the 1990s, most business transactions took place in a brick-and-mortar building. But when the Internet took off and the world of e-commerce began to grow, the lack of ADA regulations left those with disabilities at a disadvantage. 

In 2008, Title III regulations were added to protect access to websites and apps of businesses that are open to the public. As a result, e-commerce businesses need to be ADA-compliant. 

Failure to comply could pose a financial risk to your business — ADA-related lawsuits are on the rise, and if you get hit with one, it could cost you anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. 

It’s worth reiterating that ADA laws only apply in the US. However, there are similar accessibility rules in Canada and Europe. 

Regardless of their ability, your customers should be able to perceive, operate and understand the information on your site. Thankfully, there are a number of tools you can use to make your customers’ shopping experience as accessible as possible. 

Voice search for e-commerce sites

One of the top ways to improve your user experience (UX) — and thereby, your SEO — is to incorporate voice search optimization (VSO.)

Another lesser-known accessibility hack: If your content is readable to voice assistants, it’s also more likely to be compatible with screen readers (software converting text to audio or braille) and other assistive technologies (AT.) This is because voice assistants seek content that offers clear, concise information with appropriate HTML tags.

Implementing voice search is a huge win for accessibility — and it opens you up to a wider audience than ever before. According to Juniper Research, over 8 billion digital voice assistants were in use in 2023, compared with 2.5 billion in 2018.

PWC reports that about 10% of people on a given day buy something using their voice on a device like their iPhone, Amazon Echo, Google Home or other voice-activated assistant, and 40% do it at least once a month. In 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions were screenless

Ready to tap into this huge base of potential customers and grow your e-commerce revenue by up to 30%? 

Here are three tips to maximize your VSO and improve the accessibility of your site: 

  • It’s all semantics, isn’t it?

Let’s step outside the world of e-commerce for a moment. The word “semantic” refers to the meaning or interpretation of meaning for a word, phrase or symbol. For example, the word “bank” could refer to a place where you keep your money, or one side of a river, depending on the context in which you used it. 

In the context of web development, the term semantic markup describes the intent displayed in the content throughout your site. 

All the visual features of your site should be displayed in a way that search engines — and users — can understand. 

You can ensure this is the case by using the appropriate HTML for all images, headings and subheadings. This approach helps improve the overall usability and SEO of your website.

  • Write with your user in mind — not Google

In a similar vein, VSO keywords are a little different than traditional SEO keywords in that they’re a little bit more conversational. The way we type a query into Google varies from the way we might pose it to Siri or Alexa, so it’s important to keep this in mind when crafting the content on your site. 

  • Keep up with other SEO best practices

Focusing on a smooth UX that follows the customer journey from start to finish could enhance your VSO. As you look at your site, what are the common voice questions an ideal customer might ask? Could you incorporate a schema markup to add depth to your existing structured data? Do you have an XML sitemap that users can easily navigate? 

One hidden factor that might be holding you back in voice search engines is page load speeds. You can decrease page load speeds by optimizing images and minimizing the elements on each page. Additionally, you should monitor and test your website’s performance regularly to identify and address any issues promptly.

They may seem small, but all these back-end efforts contribute to overall enhanced SEO — and accessibility — for your site. 

Staying ADA-compliant

There are myriad other ways we could improve our e-commerce sites to make them more accessible. Most importantly, you need to be performing regular audits of your site to ensure you’re compliant — Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a great resource for this purpose. 

Here’s a brief checklist of accessibility guidelines you’ll want to implement into your site right away:

  •  Provide text alternatives and audio descriptions for non-text content, such as images and videos.

Online shopping is often viewed as a visual activity — but for your customers who are blind or visually impaired, you need to provide strong and accurate alternative text they can use to navigate your site. Audio descriptions are another way to make sure as many people can get the information they’re looking for from your site as possible. 

  • Ensure all functionality can be operated via keyboard alone.

Your entire site, including menus, should be able to operate using only the keyboard. This ensures those who can’t use a mouse can still get the most out of your website. If a user adds the wrong item to their basket or clicks off of a page too soon, it should be easy to navigate your site and rectify whatever error occurred. 

  • Use descriptive labels and headings to improve navigation for screen readers.

Use a detailed sitemap (like this one or this one) that clearly defines where to find the information your customers are looking for. It also helps to clearly define the language being used by your site to increase screen readers’ ability to interpret your site and suggest it to your potential customers. 

Overwhelmed? We’re here to help.

Ultimately, these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to increasing the accessibility of your e-commerce site. 

We want to help your brand reach as many people as possible and grow your e-commerce business. If you’re looking for the tech, talent and tactics it will take to get there, we’d love to set up an introductory convo today. 

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