Web Site Accessibility

Making your site accessible means making it available to be used by all. It's too easy to think that what looks ok to you will do for all. Unfortunately, things aren't that simple.

Websites are no longer just looked at by people sitting down in front of a PC. Today, websites are viewed on PCs, laptops, palmtops, all manner of mobile devices, digital TV, they are viewed by non-human automated systems or robots and are read aloud by special software to the visually impaired. If your site cannot be used by all these browsers you are reducing your audience and it's not a small minority you're losing.

Content is king

The essence of accessibility is to put the content of a web page first and the design second. As an example, if you want to find out the opening time of a museum, you go to the site, navigate to the opening times page from the home page and read the time. You've got what you came for. Whether the times are set out in a table, in a stylish font with an attractive colour scheme really isn't that important.

Now imagine you're looking at the same site from your mobile browser. You type in the museum site's address and it connects. But wait. All you can see is the very top left of the page, the size of a postage stamp. You need to scroll across to find the navigation section. And then when you do find the opening times link it doesn't work. You can't find the information you need so you decide against going to the museum that day. Put yourself in the museum owner's shoes - you can see the impact this could have on your business.

How do you make a site accessible?

There are lot of things you can do but the simplest method is to use something called CSS. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheet and is a file which sits along side the content file telling the browser how to style the content. For each section of the page you can preset a style (colours, fonts, sizes, etc.). Now, when the browser comes to the page it displays the content first and then according to its own settings accommodates the styling as best it can. You can see that using this 2 tier system, content first, styling or design second, the information is always accessible.

Making your site accessible not only means you are able to reach a greater audience but also helps with search engine rankings. The top search engines' robots scan through your pages on a regular basis. They're trying to establish the content and relevance of your site in order to rank it. Some robots are set to place more emphasis on the opening section of a page, for example, the first 25 words it finds. If your first 25 words are bogged down with instructions on which fonts to use, table widths, etc. it stands to reason that your page won't do as well as one with 25 first words of pure content.

If your site is not accessible, rebuild it now. The cost of a new accessible site is nothing compared to the money you could be losing.

Chris Smith works as a web designer, developer and internet marketing consultant. For further information on cheap web design solutions and accessible sites please visit Chris's website - Cheap Web Design (http://www.chris-smith-web.com)

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