Last week Google Labs released its new accessible search for the visually impaired. It’s about time one of the search engines took accessibility seriously and I applaud Google. With an estimated 45 million blind people and 135 million visually impaired people worldwide let’s hope the other search engines follow suit and add their own accessible search.
First reported by Reuters in the article Google tests more accessible Web Search for blind the new accessible search uses the standard Google algorithm for determining search results, but goes further by examining the surrounding html code and taking usability issues into account.
Their Accessible Search FAQ says the new search is
…designed to identify and prioritize search results that are more easily usable by blind and visually impaired users.
The FAQ further says:
Google Accessible Search looks at a number of signals by examining the HTML markup found on a web page. It tends to favor pages that degrade gracefully — pages with few visual distractions and pages that are likely to render well with images turned off. Google Accessible Search is built on Google Co-op’s technology, which improves search results based on specialized interests.
The results do seem to improve the rank of sites that are more accessible. I’ve done what I can to make this site as accessible as possible and test searches have seen the site get a boost on terms for which it already ranked well. Sites at the top of the results do seem to be loading a little faster than those below them and often have less imagery.
It will be interesting to see if the new accessible search criteria make their way into the general search. While not likely in the foreseeable future, it could be argued that standards and accessible compliant sites offer better quality and perhaps do deserve a higher rank in the results. Many in the seo industry have been calling for accessibility issues to become part of the more general algorithm.
More likely the new accessibility considerations will remain out of the general search for the time being, though should Google find more people staying longer on accessible sites or clicking results to visit more accessible sites I wouldn’t be surprised to see the new technology find it’s way into the general search engine.
A round of applause for Google for the new accessible search and here’s hoping we see similar products from Yahoo, MSN, and Ask before long. If you would like to learn more about how to make your own sites accessible the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 are a good place to start your education. The guidelines are also recommended in the Google FAQ so it’s likely that by following them your site will rank better in the new accessible search.