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Coding for Machines and the Blind

Posted on April 23, 2019
Written by Conner Biolsi
Tags: Accessibility, SEO, Websites


Search Engines are blind. Consider the fact that whenever you use Google or Bing there is no set of human eyes “on the other end” looking at all of the websites in the world to deliver you the most relevant and authoritative results possible (in just a second or two). No, there is a machine that is algorithmically “reading” indexes of websites at lightning speeds. Indexes is an acceptable way to make index plural, by the way. Indices just sounds weird.

Now consider that the vast majority of blind web users (there are millions in the U.S.) utilize a tool commonly known as a screen reader in order to understand content on the internet. Because they cannot see, a machine will read through code of a webpage and “read out loud” what it finds to the user. Awesome technology, right? The screen reader and the search engine share an important component – a machine “reading” website code to process the information and provide human-understandable output.

However, if you are not intentional about making your site screen reader friendly, it can be like those broken English instructions you get with some Christmas presents. Or worse, like Sylvester the cat trying to read to you a conversation between Elmer Fudd and Yoda. You get the (audio) picture.


What does this mean for you and your website?

  • Developing a machine-friendly website increases your visibility to a large market – the millions of users that depend on accessible web pages.
  • Developing for screen readers has been proven to enhance your website’s SEO score! All the tweaks that make a site great for screen reading also make it great for those infamous search bots that are reading your site.
  • Developing with the disabled in mind is a reputation saver as you will show to your community and the government that you take equal access seriously.
  • Developing in this manner also helps you (and/or your company) comply with the law (Americans with Disabilities Act) and avoid lawsuits. Not an unimportant detail. Click here for more on the topic.


Applying the following tips will enhance your website’s SEO and accessibility:


    • The general header hierarchy of the web page should be logical. There should usually only be one H1 header.
    • Ensure your H1 header is informative and indicative of the content that is to come. Use relevant keywords for an extra boost to your content-specific SEO.
    • Subsequent headers should also have logical naming conventions.


    • Any input fields on your web pages or web forms need proper labels and descriptions so that the machines can read what information is needed for the user to input. Without these, a blind user may have no clue what a form is requesting!
    • Any button or navigational tool on your website absolutely needs a proper name, label, and description. If a machine cannot understand what a button does, neither will the visually impaired user.
    • Additional instructions in the descriptions of input fields is a plus.

Alt Tags

    • Any non-text content should be “alt – tagged.” This, essentially, is the information you normally see when you hover your mouse over an image or video object and is related to labels and descriptions. Make sure your non-text content is readable (has text)!
    • Your SEO score will see a massive jump if all of your content is alt-tagged intelligently and with relevant keywords. Your users will know what is on your site and so will the search engine. Now the search engine can more readily recommend the content on your website to all of those totally rad internet surfers.

Avoid Images as Text

    • If it can be avoided, do not use images to show text. Overlay a text field on the image. Machines can not and will not read text that is in the image itself. That said, with proper alt tagging of the images, some of the problem is removed. It is industry best practice to separate the text and images as much as possible.

Keyword Stuffing

    • DON’T DO IT. I have mentioned the use of intelligent and relevant keyword usage in this article. Do not overuse a keyword for the sake of quantity.
    • User experience ALWAYS comes first. How annoying would it be to hear the same word 3-5 times in one description of a picture? It is especially annoying to someone who needs to hear a machine read that same word or phrase over and over again. Ugh.
    • Google and other search engines have evolved and keyword stuffing actually negatively affects a site’s SEO (unlike 10-15 years ago). Google has been improving the ranking algorithm to try to appreciate site content in the way a human would. Thanks Google!


Thanks for taking the time to read this little blurb. If you enjoyed it, be sure to check out our other content regarding accessibility and SEO on the blog page!

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