Accessible Websites – Semantics, Hierarchy & The Reader

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Accessible Websites – Semantics, Hierarchy & The Reader

The average Joe doesn’t really think in terms of accessibility when it comes to the web and how a website might be read aloud by screen readers. The fact is, it's important for your website to make since to all people - even those with special needs.

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One of the first things I learned with my studies in web design and web development was website accessibility. Included in this learning; was web semantics, how to create a code hierarchy, and anticipating how a screen reader (tool for people with special needs) might read the website I'm developing. Of courses I wasn't all that great in the beginning, but it's something I've gotten better at and now believe is at my foundation.

Web Semantics

Because there are so many facets to understanding the Semantic Web, I'll give you the brief: Web Semantics is a way in which computer applications can understand a web page’s code syntax and the relational value it represents. It's really the binding factors that bring a more structured foundation to the World Wide Web.

Why is this important?

Without it, the web would have no foundation and be mostly a jumbled mess of non-structured information.

Who benefits and why?

We as a society do. Semantics makes it possible for search engines like Google to understand what your website is about and how to rank it according to keywords and key-phrases. The more semantic detail your website has the better rank your site will have according to the keywords and key-phrases a specific page is optimized for.

Semantic Markup — Code Hierarchy & Structure

This brings us to fine-tuning a website with semantic markup — in layman's terms "Code Hierarchy & Structure". Giving a webpage a code hierarchy and structure really takes the guesswork out for robots that search and index the content within your website. You guessed it; the less guesswork, the better chance your site will have at achieving a higher ranking with its targeted keywords and key-phrases. Outlining a well-structured code hierarchy is like giving instructions to search engine robots and telling them what is important on you web page. Code Hierarchy is definitely an important factor in search engine optimization (SEO).

Anticipating Special Needs

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Separate from the marketing benefits semantic markup gives a web page and website, is being able to properly communicate with those who have special needs. It’s often forgotten, that people with special needs use the Internet too. So it goes without saying, it's important for web developers to anticipate how the content they are coding for will be perceived by those who use technologies like screen readers. Because this is more of an informative and not a tutorial, I won't get into the specifics of code needed. We’ll just say that not all agencies pay close attention to this very important detail.

In the end, a web developer has a lot to anticipate. They have to understand how to create a web page that is built using semantic markup. They have to anticipate how search engine robots might index the content they code for. Last but certainly not least, they have to be sensitive to those with special needs so that they can digest the same content in the same way as it was intended.

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