Open for business: meeting web content accessibility standards in ecommerce

As a website owner, it’s easy to make the assumption that all users will have the same (or very similar) experiences of on-site content. But while this may broadly be true, it might not be the case for the one billion people with disabilities that comprise 15% of the world population.

In June 2018, to help answer the needs of this diverse group, the World Wide Web Consortium released its Web Content Accessibility Guide (WCAG) 2.1 recommendation. A supplement to 2008’s WCAG 2.0, these guidelines form an excellent best practice resource for ecommerce businesses hoping to meet the needs of a user base with varying needs. Furthermore, while many of the WCAG’s recommendations concern user experience and interface, it has some useful advice for content creators as well.

Here are our top seven tips, drawn from the WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 guidelines, for online companies looking to meet web content accessibility standards.

1. Keep it literal

Browsers with cognitive difficulties such as language-related or communication disabilities may have trouble with complicated prose. To acknowledge this:

  • Keep copy easy-to-read across the board – about lower secondary education-level – and use simple, clear language
  • Keep overly complex interactive tools and forms to a minimum
  • Avoid metaphors, slang, jargon or non-literal turns of phrase, as these run the risk of causing confusion

2. Support with visuals

In the same vein as the above, readers who have issues comprehending written text – for example, those with dyslexia – may find supplementary image and visual content helpful.

  • For product pages, ensure that close-up details are reflected in product photography
  • Product and buying guides should be illustrated with visual content throughout (preferably linking to relevant products and category pages)
  • Simple symbols and icons within text can also help – for example, a graphic of a zip next to a bullet point detailing a bag’s zip

3. ‘Chunk’ written content

‘Chunking’ content – that is, dividing it into sections with line breaks, subheadings, visual cues, lists and colours – helps your audience maintain focus. This kind of content benefits everyone, but particularly those who may get disoriented when reading or struggle with concentration. In particular:

  • Structure prose in short paragraphs with an intuitive layout (e.g. reading top-to-bottom and left-to-right in Western countries, with longer copy generally following a beginning-middle-end pattern)
  • Include clear subheadings to help readers find topic markers in larger pieces of text

4. Embrace vertical video

Given Google’s recent recalibration to mobile-first indexing, developing device-optimised content should sit at the top of any brand’s to-do list. However, attention should also be paid to the particular device needs of disabled audiences.

This means opting for vertical video over landscape. Landscape visuals can cause issues for users who can’t easily alter their phone screen orientation (e.g. where the user requires a stationary mount for their screen), whereas vertical can be displayed in most setups.

5. Always include alt text

Many people with disabilities use computer systems which convert text to non-visual information – for example, braille or audio feed. For these machines, online images and videos are not easily readable. To cater to them, content creators should supply appropriate, relevant alt-text for all non-text content that is informational (i.e. not purely aesthetic).

6. Keep things human

When creating WCAG-compliant sites, the British Standards Institution recommends that organisations involve real people at all stages of development. This means employing human content creators well-trained on a common brief, then user testing with the relevant, intended audience (i.e. people with disabilities).

7. Leverage automation to ensure compliance

While meeting the web content accessibility guidelines isn’t compulsory, it is illegal to falsely claim that a site is WCAG-compliant. This means that content creators must be either highly vigilant, ensuring that all on-site content conforms to the guidelines, or use supplementary automated tools to assist the process.

At Quill, we have developed our proprietary Quill Cloud content production platform to address these types of complex brief requirements. The Cloud utilises automated workflows to simultaneously manage thousands of tasks across our network of 3,000+ freelance content creators around the world, while incorporating machine learning-based quality and compliance functions that can be calibrated to any brief or requirement.

For WCAG-compliant content, we can specify compulsory alt-text, set maximum sentence length for simplicity and veto certain words – for example, idioms, jargon and slang that may confuse some readers. With the help of these tools, Quill is uniquely positioned to create human-written, fully WCAG-compliant Performance Content at both speed and scale, with dependability and accuracy.

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