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11 Tips to Improve Website Content for Screen Readers

Screen ReadersAccording to the latest estimates, more than 4 million people just in the US use screen readers. However, like any developing technology, they’re not perfect. They find it hard to read different types of web pages which aren’t either descriptive enough or well-designed enough.

Disorganized blocks of text, images devoid of description, and non-descriptive links are all tricky to figure out. They do more harm than good. As a result, those visually impaired or blind are very much at a disadvantage even with the screen readers.

What are Screen Readers?

Screen readers are programs that are used to enable the visually impaired to read on computers. They can use these readers to scan through pages, search for content, or to simply have pages read aloud.

Screen readers usually work closely with the OS that the person uses. They provide information about icons, menus, dialogue boxes, folders, etc. In essence, the entire OS works with the device. However, the internet, since it’s available to all OS’ is trickier. There can’t be one specific type of web page that the screen reader can be programmed to read. Instead, it has to be adaptable to wide variety of web pages.

How Does a Screen Reader work?

Screen Readers work by relaying information in one of two ways. They can either translate the information on a page to speech, or to braille. The former is done through a TTS (Text-to-speech) engine which translates on screen information to speech. This can be heard through headphones or speakers.

The program for TTS can come bundled with the screen reader device or be an add on. In the present day, software TTS is preferable to hardware TTS due to high levels of variance in device models.

For braille, the TTS is connected to a braille display. That’s an external device which has more rows of cells. Each cell can be formed into a braille character depending on the text on display. The dots formed are very similar to dots in their layout. The braille output is often paired with speech output.

Screen readers use either external devices, or keyboards to interact with the users. Using the latter, they can’t just

Why is Web Accessibility Important?

The internet is now the access portal for the average person to everything from entertainment to news. It’s important to give everyone equal opportunity to access it without discrimination. People rely on the internet to apply for their jobs, pay their bills, communicate with their loved ones, etc. Hence, it’s not a luxury, but a basic human right now.

Accessibility to the internet is now essential. Hence, we should do everything in our power to make it possible.

11 Tips to Improve Web Content for Screen Readers

1.   Use a CMS Which Supports Accessibility

There are several content management systems out there that can build your website for accessibility. Common ones like WordPress and Drupal also support it. Choosing a CMS for accessibility is so important because you won’t have to do much of the work when it comes to design. You won’t have to start from scratch and code most of the functionality yourself. You can simply make the content you want and just optimize it for screen readers.

This is a small, but crucial first step. Skipping or ignoring this can mean myriad problems in the future.

2.   Organize Content With Headers

Organization is a key aspect of web design as it is. Structuring your content helps search engines identify specific answers to queries by users. However, it also works equally well for screen readers. It helps them zoom in on specific headings to help their users.

Hence, segment content as much as you can and add headings and sub-headings. Also make sure that sub-topics are at least contained in separate paragraphs. This way, jumping between them; no one will miss out on crucial information about a specific topic.

3.   Label Media with Tags and Links

Whenever you’re inserting any media in your content, be it images, video, gifs, or even links; label them. This will assist those visually impaired to understand them. Screen readers will be able to relay exactly what the media entails. You’ll not only save their time, but lessen their confusion.

Use Meta Titles for Images and Video

Images and videos are the most common forms of media used on the internet. Static images, gifs, videos, etc. should all come with meta titles, alt texts, and descriptions. This is a good practice for SEO as well as for improving accessibility.

Describe Functional Images

While websites usually use images for illustration and aesthetic, they can use them for functional purposes. Images can be used as links and buttons. In that case, a text alternative should be used to describe the functionality. The alt text for a submit button can be “button to submit this form”.

Describe any Infographics

If you include an infographic on your web page, make sure to add a detailed explanation with it. It should describe what is shown in the infographic as well as the insights it presents. If it’s a graph, make sure to outline the measurement types and units as well as the trends.

Directly label the data instead of using color coded legends to reduce the burden on users. This decreases the human reader’s need to scan back and forth. If you want to regularly product such content, then hire content writing services for a more consistent posting schedule.

Use Descriptive Tags for Links

If you’re using any hyperlinks in your web page, make sure that they’re well placed and descriptive. Screen readers can be used to scan for links just like sighted users scroll through content. However, screen readers don’t usually read the link within the context of the page. They simply read out the text “click here”.

To improve accessibility, try phrasing the hyperlinked text more descriptively. Instead of just saying, “click here”, say, “Check out this post for this topic”. Site visitors will know whether the link is for them or not. Also, descriptive links make it easier for search engines to find content as well.

4.   Use Colors Carefully

Roughly 8% of the population is colorblind. Red-green color deficiency is especially common for them. Using colors like these including dark green, maroon, etc. can confuse them. Hence, using a wide variety of colors for your audience is better. If you must use green or red, pick one.

If you’re using colors to label and discern information in a graph, try labeling the trends instead.

5.   Use Tables for Tabular Data

If you’re planning on using tables on your webpage, to ensure accessibility for the visually impaired, do it for functionality. If you’re just inserting tables to improve the aesthetic, that may confuse screen readers. Hence, create tables to organize data. That will actually help screen readers relay smaller, bite sized information to their users.

When a data table is necessary, use headers for rows and columns. This will help explain the relationship between cells. Also, if you’re planning to create a complex table, use the scope attribute in HTML. That can help establish relationships between cells. Table captions in HTML5 will also help give additional information to users about the tables.

6.   Include Site Navigation via Keyboard

A huge part of navigating the web through screen readers is skimming the web pages through the keyboard. Since using a mouse isn’t as intuitive, a keyboard provides a lot of functionality. Hence, all your website content that is optimized for screen readers should be navigable through keyboards. There are a few keys you should focus on including the Tab key, the arrow keys. You should also include the mouth stick or the single switch input.

7.   Avoid Grammatical Errors and Abbreviations

Proper grammar is an absolute must for screen reader accessibility. You can improve this simply by adding an extension like Grammarly. You can even use a spellchecker in your word processor. You should also avoid abbreviations in your content. This doesn’t count for words like “won’t” or “I’ll”. Instead, it counts for abbreviations like “IUPAC” (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry). Instead, use periods to separate out the individual letters like “I.U.P.A.C.” This way, the screen reader will sound out the entire acronym letter by letter instead of reading it at once.

Don’t Use Emojis

Translating emojis is tricky for screen readers. If you must use them, put them at the end of a sentence. Putting them in the middle of sentences or paragraphs can create a muddled mess and interfere with speech interpretation. It can make it infuriating for those visually impaired to understand and string together coherent sentences.

Use PascalCase and camelCase for Hashtags

Screen readers make use of PascalCase and camelCase when they want to read hashtags. With the former, the first letter of every word is capitalized. With the latter, the first letter of every word after the first is capitalized.

For example, PascalCase is #YesPlease, and camelCase is #yesPlease. Using this technique will help screen reader users make better sense of hashtags that are particularly long.

8.   Make Sure Dynamic Content is Accessible

Dynamic content refers to any videos or gifs that are embedded within your website. That content possibly relays a lot of important visual information to the reader. Hence, as with static images and infographics, there needs to be a detailed explanation attached to dynamic content.

If you feel the need to add closed captions and text alternatives to anything, do so. This will help those with either visual or hearing impairments as well. ARIA properties can be used here to update content on a web page as well. This will ensure screen readers don’t leave out any important details or skip over anything. You should consider hiring web content writers to create descriptive labels for dynamic media.

9.   Validate Web Accessibility

After you’ve implemented web accessibility for screen readers, it’s very important to test it in real life scenarios. This is called accessibility testing or validation. This allows designers to identify flaws, or bugs in the design. These bugs may end up causing a lot of problems for the visually impaired if left unresolved.

The bugs could be compatibility issues with certain browsers or with certain OSes. They could also be problems related to certain web extensions.

10. Design Forms for Accessibility

Forms are a very common element of web pages today. If you’re buying something online or requesting a subscription, or even emailing someone, form filling is inevitable. Hence, using symbols that are frequently in use is a great way to improve accessibility for screen readers.

Using symbols like asterisks is great for required fields. It shows screen readers what is absolutely necessary. Hence, it makes it easier for the visually impaired to get through the forms quickly. Another way to do this is to add “required” to the coding. Screen readers will pick up on this and relay the message.

For non-essential fields, you can either label them “optional” or delete them entirely.

11. Use ARIA roles and Landmarks

ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) is a complex, and technical specification for adding accessibility information to elements which aren’t natively accessible. The solution isn’t to always use ARIA. In fact, using ARIA is often considered the last resort. Luckily, ARIA implementations are now frequently found in HTML5.

These include:

  • Native HTML button tag in place of the ARIA button
  • HTML label tag in place of ARIA label or ARIA labeledby
  • HTML5 nav tag in place of ARIA role of navigation

ARIA attributes can be inserted into HTML code using classes in HTML. These can be used to load attributes from ARIA the same way CSS attributes were loading into HTML. Not that adding ARIA attributes isn’t the end of the process. It’s not sufficient to make complex widgets accessible to screen readers.

ARIA doesn’t have any functionality for keyboard users. It only affects people that use assistive technology. Since there are far more people without assistive technology than with, JavaScript behaviors and interactions are needed.

ARIA usage however, can impart the following functionality for the visually impaired:

  • Making complex, but interactive widgets like date pickers accessible for screen reader users
  • Adding notifications for dynamic page changes like stock tickers and search filters

Using these 11 tips will cover the basics of improving web accessibility. However, as you design more web pages and produce more content, be sure to add more skills to your quiver.

Improving the User Experience on Your E-Commerce Website

In 2020, many e-commerce businesses have experienced a burst of growth. Ecommerce giant, Amazon, saw a 47% increase in revenue as people increasingly shifted to buying online. The company’s sales are projected to reach $416 billion by the end of 2020, owing to the increase in online shopping.

A recent study shows that 95% of consumers will likely shift to online shopping in 20 years.

Starting businesses online is easy and requires building a good website that enhances user experience and increases sales.

User experience is defined in terms of user interaction and engagement with a particular website and their satisfaction level. Sites that are easy to navigate translate into a good user experience.

To increase your sales and turn your leads into customers, you need to provide your users with a better user experience, which, in turn, will increase conversion rates.

Studies show that user experience can increase a website’s conversion by up to 200%, along with your website’s reach. Customers who had a better user experience are more likely to provide a useful review and tell others about your products and services.

Let’s look at how you can improve your site’s user experience to increase sales and generate more revenue.

Improved Website Design

When designing a webpage, aim for an aesthetically pleasing look with appealing colors and an attractive, well-coordinated theme.

If a visitor finds your website easy to access, they’ll spend more time browsing through your products and services. The increased dwell time of customers on your webpage will help increase your SEO ranking and give you an advantage over your competitors.

Here are some ways you can improve your website’s design to enhance user experience:

1.    Structured and Organized

The best websites have an organized and structured look, which helps users quickly find what they’re looking for. Your IT support team can make your website enticing to attract consumers to your products and services.

To better organize your website, choose which services and products you’re going to offer and then stick to them.

Having a fixed idea in your mind about which products and services to display on your site will make it look cleaner and more efficient.

Additionally, make sure all the content posted on your website is relevant to your overall theme and in-line with your company’s values. Posting a large amount of information to attract more readers can backfire if the content isn’t relevant and doesn’t match your company’s mission.

2.    Fast Response Time

An important part of providing a good user experience is fast and efficient customer service. Customers that don’t get quick replies are more likely to abandon your site and search somewhere else.

Incorporate an online chat option with a customer service agent available 24/7 to help customers with their queries. You can further boost sales by reaching out to customers quickly over the phone and email, and ensuring their issue is resolved in the least possible amount of time.

3.    Optimized for Mobiles and Tablets

Your website should be optimized for phones and tablets as most customers purchase products while on their phones. ReadyCloud reported that 44% of customers shop on their smartphones, while 11% use their tablets.

Similarly, eMarketer’s reported that 59% of online consumers who shopped on ecommerce websites used their mobile phones.

4.    Run a Trial Test

To ensure your website provides a good user experience, conduct a beta test of your site to ensure all areas of the site are functional and accessible. Make sure all the hyperlinks are working and are connected to the right pages.

Ask the testers to fill out a short survey at the end to rate their user experience and encourage them to leave recommendations about what they would like to change or improve. You can go now to this website if you would like surveys to be part of your customer retention program.

A trial run will help you gain valuable feedback from your website’s visitors and give you a chance to improve the overall site design.

Image Filename: Amazon-website-main-menu

Image Alt text: A screenshot of the main navigation menu on Amazon’s website

Easy Navigation

If your website isn’t easy to navigate, it won’t be long before your visitors abandon your site and head over to your competitor’s, thereby increasing bounce rate.

Let’s look at some ways in which you can provide easy navigation to your customers.

1.    Give Simple Options

To optimize your ecommerce website with easy navigation, make sure all sections of your website are linked. You can do this by hyperlinking text to various webpages, using call-to-action buttons, link building in your main navigation menu, and embedding links in your primary and subheadings.

The options you offer to your visitors in your main navigation menu should be simple and easy to understand. Use small words and phrases and link the names to the product webpages to quickly go to their desired products.

Try to keep the number of your items listed in your main menu to seven or less. If you provide customers with too many complicated options, they’ll get confused and leave your website.

Ensure your main navigation menu is easy to read at a glance. Use drop-down menus to divide categories and sub-categories.

Check out how Walmart’s site offers an organized, easy to read main navigation menu that allows customers to quickly go to the relevant product pages.

Put your contact page information, FAQs, and staff pages in the footer, so the main menu or the navigation bar at the top of the webpage doesn’t become too crowded.

2.    Describe Your Specific Products

Many websites use generic labels in their main navigation menu, such as “Shop” or “Products.” This puts off visitors who may be looking for something specific and don’t wish to browse through all your products to find it.

It’s better to write descriptive labels for easy navigation. Titles that are product-based and meaningful engage customers better.

For example, if your ecommerce website is selling green cleaning products, use descriptive labels for each category of your products, such as “Green bathroom cleaning products,” “Green kitchen cleaning products,” and “Green window cleaning products.”

The use of clearly defined labels will allow customers to see your product range at a glance and help them quickly decide what link they want to click on. Descriptive tags will also help your website rank higher in Google searches.

3.    Back to Previous Page Option

Another way to provide easy navigation is to incorporate a ‘back to previous page’ option, which allows visitors to go back to the previous page that they had opened with a single click.

Many customers accidentally click on a link and are transported to another page. Giving them an option to go back to the previous page will ensure they continue browsing through your website instead of abandoning your site in irritation.

You can add links to previous pages under the masthead of your ecommerce website or add a button linking to the last page above the product descriptions.

Adding a “back to previous page” option also reduces the number of clicks a customer needs to make to go to their choice of a webpage. Instead of going a long way around, these buttons will make navigating your website easier for your users.

4.    Improve Your Website’s Footer

You can increase your website’s conversion rate by 23% if you improve your footer area. An ecommerce website with a good design stands out from the rest because it makes fair use of every inch of space available.

Don’t make the mistake of ignoring your website’s footer area as they’re extremely useful in providing easy navigation to your customers.

Feature links to the main products in your site’s footer. You can also include popular offerings here so customers can quickly navigate to those links.

Another way to utilize your footer space is to link to the About, Contact, and location pages. Add links for your contact information or contact form and link to Google maps for your physical offices’ location.

As with good website design, make sure the footer area isn’t too cluttered. You should only add links that you feel are important to your visitors and ones they’ll need to visit frequently, such as a customer support page or FAQs page.

Loading Speed

A survey result showed that if your website takes more than 3 seconds to load, 57% of customers are likely to ditch your site and hit the back button.

In the last 20 years, people’s attention span has reduced from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. This statistic reflects how customers tend to stay on websites that open quickly and leave if a website takes too much time to load.

With every second your user has to wait around for your site to load, your website’s bounce rate increases, resulting in a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction and a 7% reduction in conversion rate.

To provide visitors with a smooth and speedy shopping experience, you need to reduce your website loading time.

One way to reduce load time is to compress your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript files so your webpage can load faster. There are many software applications on the internet that can help you achieve this.

One such software is Gzip. It takes large chunks of data and content on your website and compresses it, so your website loads more quickly.

Another useful tip to decreasing your loading time is to reduce redirects to other sections of your website. While it’s essential to use backlink building services to improve your website’s SEO in Seattle and enhance your user experience, too many redirecting links can slow your website down.

The time it takes to take the user from one page to another may lose you a customer and lower your revenue.

You also need to optimize all images on your website to increase your loading speed. One way to optimize images is to reduce their size without compromising their quality, as smaller images tend to load faster than bigger ones.

Choose your image’s dimensions carefully and title them using descriptive labels that are relevant and meaningful to your site’s visitors. As a result, they become curious and are likely to wait a few seconds longer for the image to load.

The right file type and thumbnail of images also play a role in image optimization. Make sure you’re adding Alt text to each image as this gives visually impaired readers an idea of what the image represents.

Lastly, reduce server response time by selecting a reliable and fast web hosting service so your website can load quicker, and users are encouraged to stay on your page and explore more.

Search Capability

Most visitors want to quickly find what they’re looking for on a website. If your website doesn’t have a search option, 60% of users will abandon their search and exit your site.

Ensure your website has an easy-to-finding search bar that is positioned clearly at the top of the homepage and subpages. The search function helps customers do a quick search and go directly to the product they need, thereby enhancing their user experience.

When customers can locate their desired product quickly, there’s a higher possibility that they’ll immediately end up purchasing that product, increasing your sales.

Some customers also like to browse through different products on a website. The search bar will help them jump from one product to the next seamlessly and effortlessly, thereby increasing their satisfaction level.

To improve your website’s search options, add multiple filters such as price, ratings, color, location, size, etc., to make it easier for customers to sort through the range of products available.

You can also add a voice search option for a better user experience, as studies suggest that almost 30 to 50% of all searches will be via voice commands.

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