Website accessibility is a very big deal. Many organizations specify that websites must meet WCAG 2.0 requirements; the Australian government for example specifies “accessibility requirements for websites are mandated under government policy, legislation, and through whole-of-government commitments”. Education providers, research organizations, large businesses and all other sorts of organizations are mandating website compliance with WCAG 2 guidelines.
Does Accessibility influence SEO
Before answering the question posed in this article (‘Are pop-up windows good or bad for SEO?’) we need to know if there is any relationship between SEO and accessibility. WCAG 2 is the most widely referenced of the accessibility guidelines therefore in this article I use accessibility and WCAG interchangeably (even although they are not directly the same thing).
In the Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide there are numerous mentions of the importance of accessibility such as, when recommending the use of the ‘alt’ attribute for images “Why use this attribute? If a user is viewing your site on a browser that doesn’t support images, or is using alternative technologies, such as a screen reader, the contents of the alt attribute provide information about the picture”. In fact Google defines accessibility in the starter guide as “The ability for users and search engines to access and comprehend content” which implies that Google considers that making a website accessible for humans as great SEO.
In addition, Google as an organization takes accessibility very seriously stating “We are committed to making accessibility a core consideration from the earliest stages of product design through release”.
Microsoft too are very active in promoting accessibility on the Web and in their products. They have participated in WCAG 2 updates, provide accessibility testing tools for Windows Store Apps, continuously improve accessibility in their software and much more. Microsoft of course also own the second most popular search engine, Bing.
If nothing else, it would be foolish not to consider the importance of accessibility to SEO if both Google and Bing take it so seriously.
Are Pop-ups bad for SEO?
One of the WCAG 2 Success Criterion is titled Using progressive enhancement to open new windows on user request. This guideline states “this Success Criterion aims to eliminate potential confusion that may be caused by unexpected changes of context such as automatic launching of new windows”. The Success Criterion specifically mentions pop-up windows and how they may be implemented to be compliant by using the target attribute to open a new window on user request and indicating this in link text and using progressive enhancement to open new windows on user request.
Pop-up windows themselves therefore aren’t an accessibility issue. When a pop-up window automatically opens without the viewer having to click a link to open the pop-up, then this contravenes accessibility best practice.
As there is clearly a link between SEO and accessibility, automatically opening pop-up windows means bad SEO.
A note on MailChimp and WCAG
As I work with numerous Australian and New South Wales government departments with their MailChimp needs, I need to ensure that email campaigns are accessible. There is an interesting note at Media Access Australia stating “MailChimp has been chosen specifically because, according to our assessments, it is currently the most accessible email marketing platform”.