A Conversation with Yoast on the Overlap of SEO and Accessibility

WordPress Accessibility Day Gold Sponsor Yoast. Yoast's mission is SEO for everyone! Yoast helps website owners get more traffic from search engines by helping them optimize their sites and content. Yoast is strongly commistted to making the web better one website at a time!

Yoast is one of our generous sponsors this year. WordPress Accessibility Day Organizer Amber recently had the opportunity to sit down with Marieke van de Rakt, Head of Strategy, Taco Verdonschot, Head of Relations, and Willemien Hallebeek, Manager of Content at Yoast to hear more about their company’s approach to accessibility and discuss some of the overlaps between accessibility and search engine optimization (SEO).

If you’re not familiar with Yoast, they’re best known for their WordPress plugin, Yoast SEO, which helps people to optimize their content for higher ranking in search engines. Their mission at Yoast is “SEO for everyone” and as accessibility is a key part of making your website work for everyone, supporting WordPress Accessibility Day aligns with their mission.

How SEO Aligns with Accessibility

In many ways, Google is like a non-sighted user of your website and doing things that are good for accessibility can also make your website rank better in Google. Examples of elements the Yoast team shared that can impact both accessibility and SEO are:

  • Readability: having content that uses short sentences and can be read and understood easily.
  • Include headings in your text to organize content.
  • Provide alt text on images to describe them if they cannot be seen.
  • Removing sliders or moving parts that slow down your website or make it so people don’t know where to look or click.

If you want to learn more about making your website more accessible, there’s an entire section of articles on accessibility on Yoast’s website. If you’re just getting started with accessibility, Willemien recommends reading these articles from their blog:

Yoast’s New Inclusive Language Feature

Yoast Premium includes a new feature that helps you check your language for inclusivity. This could be a great tool to use to help ensure you’re using language that is not offensive to people with disabilities or other groups of people.

Currently, the analysis is only available in English, but there may be other languages coming soon. The tool is able to catch context-specific phrases (such as warning about the use of the word “seniors” when referring to older people, but not seniors in high school).

Marieke mentioned that she has seen Google tweeting about inclusive marketing and language. She said, “Google wants to have an audience that’s really large and wants you to write in a way that’s inviting and welcoming to as many people as possible. So, it could really benefit your SEO as well to write in a way that’s open and inclusive for everybody.”

Accessibility Improvements Needed in WordPress

When asked what accessibility improvements they would like to see in WordPress, Taco highlighted the need for the writing experience to be better on mobile phones.

Taco has been with Yoast since 2013 and the mobile WordPress admin experience hasn’t improved much since then.

He said, “I’m not sure if you have ever tried to publish anything on a website on your mobile phone – which is the main access to the internet for a lot of people around the world – but it’s nothing short of horrible. Making it easier to publish from a mobile phone or a tablet, especially given that such a big part of internet users rely on their phone or tablet for internet access, would be a great, great optimization for WordPress.”

This is a great point and we agree would do a lot for accessibility.

Special Yoast offer for WordPress Accessibility Day Attendees

Want to up your website content and SEO game? Yoast has generously offered 2 free months of Yoast Academy to WordPress Accessibility Day attendees! For more details and to get the coupon code visit their sponsor page.

Yoast Interview Video

For the full conversation, watch the video or read the transcript that follows.

Video Transcript

[Amber] Alright, so we should be live now. If you are just tuning in I’m Amber. I am one of the co-organizers of WordPress Accessibility Day.

And I’m super excited to be here today with some team members from one of our amazing sponsors, the Yoast Team. And I’ll let you all introduce yourself and then maybe tell us, in case anyone’s been living under a rock, what Yoast is. If someone isn’t familiar with Yoast.

[Taco] So Marieke, you do the honours?

[Marieke] Should I kick it off? Hello everybody.

Really exciting to be here. My name is Marieke van de Rakt. I used to be one of the owners and I also used to be the CEO of Yoast, but Yoast has been sold about a year ago to Newfold Digital.

I’m still with the company. I am now the Chief Growth Officer. So I do all kinds of things that are related to growth.

If you don’t know what Yoast is, I think Yoast is most famous for our WordPress SEO plugin, which makes sure that your website ranks high in Google. That’s basically what we do. So and Taco, who are you?

[Taco] Yeah, hi, I’m Taco. I’m the Head of Relations at Yoast in that role responsible for support, but also talking to people in general, preferably at WordCamps and other WordPress events. Um, I’ve been with Yoast for just over nine years and it’s been fun since. Willemien.

[Willemien] Thanks. Yeah super excited to be here too.

I’ve been with Yoast now for about like seven years. I’ve been part of the Marketing Team and a big chunk of that was as a Manager Content. So I’m responsible for the content on Yoast.com. And yeah that’s super fun. And in that role, of course, we’ve written about accessibility and also made sure our own content is accessible.

So yeah. In short.

[Amber] Okay so what made you all interested in sponsoring WordPress Accessibility Day?

[Taco] Yeah so since I was kind of responsible for that, let me, let me take this one. Um, our mission at Yoast is SEO for everyone. And there is no everyone if your website is not accessible.

So it was an easy sell, basically. We want to support those who make WordPress accessible. And support those who need WordPress to be accessible.

[Marieke] And you know, if it’s accessible, it’s also usually SEO friendly. So those two things go hand in hand. So even, even for people that don’t necessarily care about making their website accessible should do it anyway if you care about ranking high on the search engines.

These things are just, well they go well together.

[Amber] Yes, there is a lot of overlap there. Could you maybe highlight some areas where you think making accessibility improvement or where we’ve seen proof that making accessibility improvements to the website, can help with better search engine ranking?

[Marieke] Well I think you should, you should see Google as, well Google is not a real person it tries to mimic a human being, but it can’t. So if you help Google to understand it um, you probably are also helping people to understand it and also people that are visually impaired, for instance, because Google kind of is that as well. Google is not that good in images, or at least not in images without text, which is an example, I think for which is good for SEO and good for accessibility.

The other one is readability. If sentences are really really lengthy, it gets hard for everybody to read it especially if you have to listen to text, if you use a screen reader. And that goes for Google, as well.

Google is not that good in reading really lengthy hard sentences. So that’s another example. Do you have examples Willemien or Taco?

[Willemien] Ah yeah. I would say headings is a good point, because headings describe your content so it describes what the paragraph is about. And it also helps assistive technology to help comprehend the text better.

And that counts just as much for Google as it, as it counts for assistive technology. So I think headings is a great example and alt text for images just like Marieke said. Yeah, I think in general all the things that provide context or descriptions, that that’s just good for accessibility and SEO.

[Amber] And there’s a lot too with page speed now, right where that matters? And I feel like I see a lot where if there’s a whole bunch of things flying in and like crazy Javascript happening, that can be challenging for certain users with if they have traumatic brain injuries or if they get dizzy um or even low vision people. And I feel like there would probably be an overlap there as well, by removing some of that where it would help your SEO I think. Make your website go faster?

[Marieke] Yes and let people do what you want them to do on the sites. So, we were, we were never a big fan of the slider things that come into your website, or all the moving parts, because people don’t know where to watch.

They just don’t know where to look on your site and what to do. So those kind of stuff aren’t good for your conversion or getting people to click on where you want to click, either. So that’s not a good best practice at all.

Not for search engines optimization, but also not for, well just don’t do that.

[Amber] Yeah for sure, distracting.

[Taco] Yeah I was reviewing a website just the other day and since it is Autumn they had falling leaves as Javascript loaded.

[Amber] Really?

[Taco] Which is not only horrible as a user who can see, but it threw images with alt text on them across the screen, have them moving all the time. And it was like 12 megs ofJavascript.

So in accessibility, and SEO and site speed and everything, it’s just horrible and don’t.

[Amber] I feel like I haven’t seen things falling down a page since like Myspace, like snowflakes. So, I was crazy me to think that somebody did that in 2022.

[Taco] It still exists, yes.

[Marieke] Ah people like to stand out, only sometimes they choose the wrong ways on a website.

[Amber] This is the wrong way to stand out, yeah. Um, so I have really gotten a lot out of the different articles and resources that you all on, have on your website, as I’ve kind of tried to improve my SEO knowledge. And I noticed somewhat recently, that you have a bunch about accessibility, as well. Um which I’ll post a link for people in the recap post.

But if you go on Yoast. com and you just search accessibility or there’s a tag, says like /tag/accessibility, there’s a bunch. And I was wondering if there are any articles that you all would want to highlight or that would be helpful for someone to read if they were trying to learn more about that overlap between accessiblity and SEO?

[Willemien] Um, yeah I think the, the most important one is the, how to improve the accessibility of your website. The title is quite descriptive, of what it is, what it is about. So I would recommend to read that one, definitely, because it just gives you like some of the major points, that you should definitely have on your website to make sure it’s accessible.

Then we have a nice one about social media, because that’s sometimes not, you know people don’t, website people think earlier, oh yeah we have to also think about accessibility. Social might be a bit newer, so we have one on improving your social channels to make sure those are accessible. And we have one on how you can use the block editor in WordPress, to also check some accessibility things, in your post.

So that’s, I think that’s also a super nice one. They’re all quite, you know, straightforward, just tips, very practical. So definitely a recommendation to read those. At least those.

[Amber] Awesome, great. And I’ll definitely make sure to post links to them.

I know I definitely found a lot, so it’s helpful. So I’m really curious to hear more about, I know Taco and I chatted about this a little bit at WordCamp US about your new inclusive language feature that’s part of Yoast SEO premium and I’m embarrased to say that I have not tried it yet, but I keep wanting to. And I’m hoping maybe, for people who haven’t heard about it could you share a little bit about that?

And how, I’m hoping or assuming it might help people write in language that is more disability friendly?

[Marieke] Yes.

[Amber] If they are writing about disabilities in their content. Is that true?

[Marieke] Yes, yeah. And what we did is we, and so we researched quite extensively because this is a hard topic and also we’re not native English speakers and this, this check is for English and we’re going to extend it to multiple languages, but this is very language specific.

What is offensive in one language is not offensive in the other one. I saw that, because I didn’t know in English that certain things weren’t, you weren’t supposed to say that, because I’m just Dutch. And in Dutch, it’s, we have other things that are offensive.

And so, but we made, we made some checks about people with disabilities as well, and how you should not approach them or describe them, and make sure that you have text that is inclusive. So what we do is we check all kinds of phrases that could potentially be offensive or not inclusive and then make you aware of that when you use a certain phrase or something. I think it could be a really good first step, because you can never, you can’t, we can’t just say, oh your writing is inclusive, because um, you never know what, what somebody is writing about.

And our technology is not capable of really grasping that. But we can say that we didn’t detect anything that could potentially be offensive and that’s a really good first step. And I think it would help, especially if you are not a native English writer to, to turn that check on and see whether or not you are, in fact, doing the best you can in writing something that’s inclusive, which is something that Google cares about as well.

Google has already sent some Tweets about, about that. And Google wants to have an audience that’s really large and wants you to write in a way that’s inviting and welcoming to as much people as possible. So, it could really benefit for your SEO as well, to write in a way that’s open and inclusive for everybody.

[Amber] Yeah I didn’t realize that Google was kind of looking at language, or is it mostly, do you think, bounce rate that would trigger that? So if something is offensive it might have a higher bounce rate and then it won’t rank as well or?

[Marieke] I think Google, Google is really good at reading text as well.

So they will have similar analysis as we have. And and I think also, would red flag some terms or words that you are using. I don’t think it’s in the algorithm yet, but they are talking about it more and more and I think, um, I think it will be something that will be on everybody’s agenda because we as a world should do better and Google is definitely in that conversation, as well.

But we never really know what Google does, because they never tell us. So this is also me with a crystal ball thinking about Google.

[Taco] Well and if you’re US based and you go to about. google, you will also see that they’ve listed quite a few articles on inclusive marketing, for example. So inclusivity defintely is something that they are starting to be more vocal about. So it’s not just a crystal ball Marieke.

[Marieke] No, no it’s not, but I, so if I say something now and then someone else said, but Marieke from Yoast said that, and then I. . .

[Taco] True.

[Marieke] I have to like, defend myself on Twitter again.

[Willemien] Hmm it also ties in nicely with healthful content update, I think.

[Marieke] Yeah.

[Willemien] We want to make healthful content, by people, for people and then make it accessible to everyone.

[Marieke] Right, for everyone.

[Willemien] Inclusion, yes for everyone. So I think it aligns nicely with what, yeah the other things they do.

[Amber] Yeah, so does it just, does it just catch words? Or is it able to detect phrases too?

[Taco] The latter, so. .

[Amber] The latter, so phrases?

[Taco] Yeah, yeah, um because sometimes it depends on context, whether or not something is inclusive or not. Things I’ve learned is that the term, seniors, referring to senior citizens, is not quite okay.

[Amber] Really?

[Taco] Whereas if you are talking about a senior in high school, that’s obviously okay.

So it is context dependent, and we’re doing a pretty job to keep that context in, yeah, in mind when giving the, the tips.

[Amber] That’s neat. And so can you tease, what languages might be coming next, or not yet?

[Marieke] I think they are talking about Dutch, because that’s our native language which makes it easy, easier for us. I don’t know if we talked about anything else yet. So Eng, Eng, English, that word, is our main language so that’s a no brainer to do that first.

I think Dutch would be a good second. Spanish is our second language I think, so that would be on our list as well. So do Spanish.

[Amber] Yeah, I think it’s really neat, I think and it’s cool that you guys are expanding beyond and kind of going, because I really do think a lot of just making good websites that people want to use, there’s a lot of little nuance things that go into it and it’s neat to have tools that can guide you into that. [Marieke] Yeah, you learn, you also learn a lot from our checks.

[Amber] Doing it?

[Marieke] Yeah, well yeah. I learned a lot about inclusivity and um about um how we, what words I should not use and why. So we had this awesome, he did a PhD, I think, in this, in this field and he came to work with us on a project basis, but he did a wonderful job in researching this entire field.

And I’ve learned a lot in just looking at what he did. [Amber] Yeah, so do you feel like doing this has maybe changed some of the ways that you communicate internally as a company, even? [Marieke] We are really aware.

[Willemien] Or maybe, became even more aware.

[Marieke] Yes, but also I think.

[Taco] Yeah, yeah still I’ve learned a lot from just the checks and testing the feature and all of that, because often time, the devil is in the details. And in a second language those details are just that much harder.

Um, so yeah, I keep learning from our own plugin.

[Amber] That’s great. So I’m curious, is there anything, cause you, you guys have what would be maybe a bigger company in the WordPress space so I’m assuming you have a sort of diverse employee base.

Is there anything that Yoast is doing to better support people with disabilities either on your website or in your own company that maybe other companies could learn from?

[Marieke] We talked about this today. And then, I think, if we look at what we are doing, we are doing a really great job, because we look at every individual and make sure they get what they need.

So, if we have someone who is not able to work behind a desk all day long, but is working with Yoast, then we’ll just figure out how to make that work. So maybe she or he could do other tasks or something like that. So I think we do a really great job in that.

The only thing is we have grown and we should have more policies in place. So something we learn, because if we have those policies, rules and agreements then um, then if, if if, that that will make it more secure even if someone leaves, so perhaps if I leave the company and my ideas on how I wanted to do human resources, they shouldn’t go away. We should make agreements and policies about that.

So that’s something we should do ourselves now.

[Amber] Getting more things in writing.

[Marieke] Well we are getting this big that we need to, to make sure that those things are also really good in writing.

So we have, I think we have everything in place. We have buildings with stairs, but if someone is not capable of walking stairs, he or she could work everywhere, could go to lunch and go to the bathroom. That’s all taken care of.

I think we did a great job, with that, because we used to have our Canteen on the third floor. That was not accessible. It’s now on the first floor.

That’s better. So we’ve, we’ve been thinking a lot about that and now we need a policy.

[Amber] I think documenting things actually is not just a big company thing, because all the time in my tiny company, and it went from me as a freelancer in bringing in other people.

It was something I had to figure out how to do. If you want to get rid of it being your responsibility, you have to write down how to do it right.

[Marieke] Yes.

[Amber] So I feel like that thing of needing it documented never goes away, and it probably applicable no matter the size of the company.

[Marieke] Yep, yeah and I think so, it, it’s a good thing. Taco said that if you have people wanting to work with you.

And you can send them over your policy on accessibility, that’s a great thing to do for someone who is perhaps wondering or that that could be the one thing that pulls them over to work with us. So we need to put that policy in place.

[Taco] Yeah. I mean, that, that’s it. We are doing it all, except that we are not talking about it probably enough from an hiring perspective.

[Amber] Mm hmm

[Taco] So I think what we are currently, well we’re in the running in diversity and inclusion, well competition, here in the Netherlands.

And we are one of the three nominees in the LGBTQIA+ category. Um, and this is the first time that we participate and a lot of the questions we had to answer was like, but of course we do this. How can anyone not think about, you know, being inclusive or having this diversity.

But we’ve always done that, because we believe that’s the right thing to do and we’re now learning to be slightly more vocal about it. So that it actually, well, it’s hopefully attractive for new employees and senior developers who are looking for a job.

[Amber] They might be hiring comment, right there.

[Marieke] And maybe, and diversifying our our group. So that, that would be great. So I think we have a pretty diverse group, but but we can do better than we are currently doing.

And these kind of things making it more accessible, making it more inclusive would diversify our company even more.

[Amber] Yeah, for sure. I think the more diverse your product team is the better product that you’re probably going to put out that works better for everyone.

And touches on all the different possible uses that could be out there.

[Marieke] Yeah, for sure.

[Amber] Um, so I don’t know if you got a chance to think about this a little bit. I did send some questions over to you all in advance, but, if you were to choose a key area for accessibility improvement in WordPress, what would it be?

[Marieke] Taco?

[Taco] Yeah, so um I was there, I just joined Yoast when MP6 the current admin theme was introduced.

That was in 2013. And it hasn’t improved since. And I’m not sure if you have ever tried to publish anything on a website on your mobile phone, which is the main access to internet for a lot of people around the world.

But it’s nothing short of horrible. So I think that, making that more accessible, making it easier to publish from a mobile phone or a tablet, especially given that such a big part of internet users um, is relying on their phone or tablet for internet access would be a great, great optimization for WordPress.

[Amber] Yeah, that really is. I can only imagine. Did it get worse with Gutenberg? I mean we use the block editor.

I like the block editor, but I almost wonder if that would be more challenging on a phone then TinyMCE? [Taco] In my experience, it’s slightly easier.

[Amber] Okay

[Taco] But getting to the point where you actually can write a post, is challenging enough as is.

[Amber] Oh wow.

[Marieke] That’s a really good point. A lot of people don’t have a desktop or a laptop.

And for them to use WordPress, that should, that should be made available. Yeah.

[Taco] And there is an app for both of the main systems: so iOS and Android.

And that does quite a bit in making that more accessible. But just out of the box, just your WordPress site is a, well there is room for improvement.

[Amber] Yeah, that’s great.

Um, are there, before we wrap up, are there any other thoughts that you’d be interested in sharing with the WP Accessibility Day audience?

[Marieke] We haven’t talked about our readability analysis yet and I think that’s the the feature I’m most proud of. But also, um I think the feature that will really help people to write a text that’s accessible.

Um, writing short sentences, making sure that you, that you write in a way that, that it’s easier to understand, that makes it so much easier for everyone, I think. And so I really love that feature. And maybe you want to talk a bit more about that Willemien, I don’t know?

[Willemien] Yes, it’s just super nice. It will give you direct feedback only: you should use more headings, you should make your paragraphs shorter, this sentence is too long, because it highlights the long sentences, for instance. Or you use passive voice too many times, so your text becomes yeah harder to understand, because passive voice is harder to understand.

So yeah, again it’s very practical and yeah. We use, we use it ourselves, of course.

[Marieke] Especially from, from a mobile phone.

If your readers have a mobile phone, it’s so hard to read a text that’s not readable. So that’s a good thing, and we have that analysis in so many languages. I never know how many, but like .

[Taco] Twenty something. . .

[Marieke] Twenty something, yeah.

[Amber] Wow

[Marieke] Only not in Danish.

[Amber] Not in Danish?

[Marieke] We’ve had a lot of questions from Danish people. Danish is rather small language area.

So it wasn’t on our um . . .

[Taco] On the initial roadmap, yeah.

[Marieke] No.

[Amber] But maybe coming soon.

[Marieke] Yeah.

[Amber] Readability, actually there’s a Web Content Accessibility Guideline, it’s a AAA Guideline, but it basically says that if your content is higher than the 9th grade, so it’s Americanish like, about the 9th grade, then you need to provide an alternative, an alternative that is, in order to meet that AAA guideline. And I’m noticing a lot of government and higher end on their websites, they’re really trying to focus on readability and get under that level or, um.

Like medical professionals that are trying to give out like health information to the average patient. So readability is really key.

[Marieke] We have those laws I think in the Netherlands and in Belgium as well, that you have to write something that’s .

[Willemien] Yes, no more than B2 level

[Marieke] Yes

[Willemien] Not higher than B2, I think.

[Marieke] Yes, but it’s really hard to, because we’ve, we’ve thought about that. Then putting that in our analysis, that you could say, oh no you’ve done the AAA stage or something, but it’s really hard because they didn’t make their guidelines as specific, so that you can really measure it in a text.

We should look into that, though.

[Amber] Yeah, that’s where the, for us at least on the accessibility front the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are very like measurable and so that makes it easier for us.

[Marieke] Yeah

[Amber] To do that so.

Well. . .

[Taco] Super quick. I mean, when we are talking about readability, what we often hear and I know that I’m going to trigger Marieke a bit, is that Yoast is, Yoast plugin says that people have to dumb down. . .

[Marieke] This is triggering Willemien.

[Taco] And now I’m going to stop talking.

[Marieke] So, don’t have to write, you don’t have to dumb down your text.

So I did a PhD and my PhD thesis is okayed by our readability analysis. You can, because writing short sentences has nothing to do with not being able to write about a difficult topic. It’s just, it should, if the topic itself is difficult the text, the readability of your text, shouldn’t make it more difficult.

So even, especially when you’re writing about something difficult, make sure that people actually understand and that’s what I wanted to say. I’m going to rant about that. It’s really, really, it’s really possible to write something about a really difficult topic, and then do it in a way that a lot of people understand.

It’s hard, but it’s doable and I think it pays off, especially for web text. This was my rant. Thank you Taco.

[Amber] Yes so if anyone takes anything away, from this: go check your text for readability, that’s in both the free and the premium versions of Yoast.

[Marieke] Yes

[Amber] And you can get a separate little, I don’t know if you guys call them just like a stoplight, that’s kind of what I think of it: green, yellow, red or orange.

[Marieke] That’s what it is.

[Amber] Um, but for readability and I think it’s, it’s something that I use as well. So it’s very helpful. But, well if anyone wants to learn more about Yoast or try out your products, what’s the best way for people to get more information, or where should they go?

[Taco] Yoast. com. Our website is absolutely the starting point for everything you want to learn about SEO and accessibility.

Um, and if you want to do more courses and learn more about SEO, we also have a Yoast SEO Academy, with a lot of free courses on it as well. So, yeah, just sign up for that and get started learning.

[Amber] Well thank you, all of you for joining me and chatting with me about SEO and accessibility.

And for everyone, just a reminder, WordPress Accessibility Day is November 2nd through 3rd, it’s a 24 hour conference, so there should be talks that work no matter what time zone you are in. And it is free to register. And registration is now open.

And thank you again, to Yoast for sponsoring and help making it possible.

[Marieke] Great

[Willemienj] Thank you

[Marieke] It was really fun being here.

[Taco] Thanks so much for having us today.