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A Guide To Automatic Accessibility Solutions For Search Marketers



A Guide To Automatic Accessibility Solutions For Search Marketers

There is no easy workaround for making a website or mobile application meet accessibility conformance guidelines for everyone.

It’s unrealistic to look for a solution that automatically makes a website or web app functional.

And yet digital marketers try to inject search engine superpowers by promising increased conversions for a growing new target market of persons who use the web with assistive technology, by using automation they don’t fully understand.

Before purchasing automatic accessibility testing solutions, be sure you understand what they are, how they help, and what may attract ADA lawsuits.

You do what you do because:

  • Mobile applications live in every home and in kids’ hands.
  • There are 123 companies doing exactly the same thing and you’re going to outrank them, by golly.
  • ‘Raised by Wolves’ Season 2 has started and you no longer have time to fiddle around with title tags that Google is going to rewrite anyway.

I see you.

The most commonly asked question I’m asked is whether or not to use an overlay as a solution for web accessibility repairs. So in this column, we’ll explore:

  • Why do companies use them?
  • Are overlay marketing claims true?
  • Is automation for accessibility testing bad?

What You Need To Know About Accessibility Overlays

If you thought learning how to improve conversions by re-working information architecture and focusing on usability was aggravating, wait until you meet web accessibility.

Why is accessibility important?

This is the second most commonly asked question I’m asked.

You have only to consider yourself to find the answer.

Let’s look at you.

You don’t like being excluded or treated differently.

You want to be included and involved, participate, and conduct everyday actions without much fuss.

  • Maybe you can’t read this page without reading glasses.
  • Maybe you can’t see this page and need a screen reader to read it to you.
  • Maybe you’re sitting outside, and the glare of the sun is obstructing the screen.
  • Maybe your brain can’t handle ads inserted into articles that distract you, ruining readability and your ability to retain the information.
  • Maybe you hate long articles.

How difficult would it be to design web pages that are easy to read, understand and access with assistive software?

Do Overlays Fix All Accessibility Issues?

It’s not difficult to solve the most common accessibility issues on your own.

If you use WordPress, for example, many themes offer customization options providing everything from adding custom focus states to content adjustments for links so that they motivate clicks for sighted users and persons listening with screen readers.

If you’re considering paying for an overlay or widget because they sound miraculous, remember that accessibility overlays are not designed to know the unique needs of your target market.

Overlays check the same WCAG criteria that free automated tools like AXE, WAVE, and Lighthouse do.

Overlays can be expensive. They are marketed as the total solution for automatically fixing accessibility errors in web pages and web apps.

If you depend on a solution that works quietly in the background, how do know it found everything?

The rub is overlays and plugins provide no motivation to care about who accessibility enhancements are for or why.

Free automated testing tools bring back data on issues, provide hints or full details on where and how to fix an issue, and invite you into the process.

You can learn more about the importance of web accessibility when you are directly testing.

Maybe anchor text choices or alt text needs some additional discussion, for example.

You can dig in to fine-tune your baby if you are willing to get your hands into the code.

The Overlay Promise That Could Cause Legal Trouble

The ADP/San Francisco Lighthouse settlement agreement ‘HR and Payroll Software Leader ADP to Enhance Product Accessibility’ states:

 “For the purpose of this Agreement, ‘overlay’ solutions such as those currently provided by companies such as
AudioEye and AccessiBe will not suffice to achieve Accessibility.”

It’s important to know when a claim is utterly false.

Overlays have been banned at conferences and organizations like the IAPP are reviewing their official stance.

Accessibility specialists have signed a pledge to never use overlays after investigating the research.

Nevertheless, businesses still invest a large chunk of their budget on automated overlays claiming to automatically find and repair Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and Section 508 compliance violations to save them from an ADA lawsuit.

An accessibility overlay product promises to act as your own fairy godmother, ready to squash any WCAG bug and clean up the mess so that your target users have a blissfully perfect user experience.

Be careful.

Not every WCAG criteria can be fixed by the wave of an overlay magic wand.

Hands-On Accessibility Testing Demonstrates Commitment To Design For Persons With Disabilities

It takes more skill to know where, when, and how to meet WCAG or Section 508 requirements or add accessibility enhancements to improve the user experience.

There is often a close relationship between UX and accessibility because both camps want the same outcome.

Accessibility is now a requirement for many companies, built into their culture and marketed to customers as proof of their expertise and concern for meeting the needs of all customers and clients.

Spend some time looking at the explosive rise in job openings for accessibility specialists in every sector, all around the world.

There is a concerning shortage of developers trained to build accessible mobile apps.

An even smaller number of people are trained in SEO, UX, IA, and Accessibility.

Each area enhances the depth of understanding needed to advocate for inclusion.

When WCAG2.2, which is available for you to see now, is officially adopted in 2022, all automated tools will need to be updated.

So will accessibility audit criteria.

Mobile apps are programmed differently than HTML, CSS, JavaScript, or PHP.

Some of them cannot be automatically crawled at all.

Mobile app functions on iOS and Android devices provide better feedback when manually tested with screen readers turned on and still, the test experience is not complete.

Each individual customizes most accessibility settings.

Overlays should not meddle with accessibility settings already set up by users who depend on them.

Commonly Found Mobile App Accessibility Test Failures

The focus on design for mobile layouts isn’t new.

We’ve had years to prepare and learn how to create user experiences for smaller screens.

Google lit the fire by adding performance criteria to meet.

Increasingly, apps follow us wherever we go such as banking, shopping, school, and appointments.

Self-serve checkouts must be accessible to persons in wheelchairs,  who may be sight impaired or are simply intimidated by tech.

Small businesses and bloggers using WordPress themes may rely on visual content such as images, videos, and articles.

They choose plug-ins for added support.

This is where accessibility starts to fail.

Learn To Use Screen Readers For Accessibility Testing

The way screen reader users interact with the web is by listening and following audio instructions and descriptions for what the visual front end displays.

Screenshot from iOS, February 2022

If you want to experience listening to a website you are working on for search engine marketing, take your mobile device, go to settings, and choose accessibility.

For iOS, you will find Voiceover, which activates the screen reader.

For Android, you will see Talkback.

I recommend following their quick tutorials first so that you know how to operate the screen reader and quit when finished.

The most common accessibility problems are:

  • Missing alt text.
  • Missing field labels.
  • Duplicate links, especially non-descriptive ones like “learn more.”
  • Failure to magnify text.
  • Poorly structured headings.
  • Unidentified iframes.
  • Modals.
  • Sliders and carousels.
  • Log in pages.
  • Captchas with pictures.
  • 2-Step Authorization.

Mobile app testing with screen readers is performed manually to improve accuracy.

It cannot be assumed that an app functions unless the screen reader is turned on.

The same is true for screen reader testing with MAC and PC. It’s easy to activate MAC VO with Siri, by saying “OK Siri, turn on VoiceOver.”

The experience of hearing a web page or web application provides opportunities to make decisions to improve the design or fix bugs before you receive a complaint.

Android Talkback Settings Instructions from a mobile device.Screenshot from Android, February 2022

Benefits Of Using Automated Accessibility Tools

Automated crawls hunt for web defects, AKA bugs.

The process has been around for years and offered as browser extensions or built into web dev inspections.

Many software developers and QA engineers write their own automation scripts.

The difference is that automated crawls are not intended to automatically fix errors.

Unless a business permits testing projects in development with persons with disabilities, there is no demonstrable proof that a website or mobile app meets WCAG guidelines.

Emulation with software like BrowserStack and Polypane offers insights into browser rendering on mobile devices and layouts on various screen resolutions.

Tools such as these are valuable for QA testing.

Polypane display of a URL with 3 different layouts.Screenshot from Polypane, February 2022

Manual testing mobile apps can be done with automated testing tools for iOS and Android, with the caveat that each device has its own version of accessibility software built-in, and some automated tools may not function for hybrid apps, such as those created with Xamarin.

The accessibility test process should be backed up with recordings and test data.

Accessibility audits and follow-up regression testing provide an ongoing history that may be required in the event of an ADA complaint.

At the very least, knowing your webpages and mobile app intimately assists customer service representatives or simply someone who reaches out for ADA support.

Relying on a solution that you may not understand increases the likelihood that errors are out there, unchecked.

Why Invest In Accessibility

  1.  It’s the right thing to do for people.
  2. ADA lawsuits are expensive. And public content.
  3. Future technology advances include equal access.

Public ADA complaints do not help a company’s reputation and can negatively affect revenue.

When an unresolved accessibility issue is not addressed and escalates into an ADA lawsuit, the contents are available online.

Law firms tracking ADA lawsuits publish blogs highlighting cases and details.

The ‘P&G Website Not Accessible To Blind Individuals, Class Action Claims’ states:

“The P&G website’s screen reader allegedly fails to read the item description link and stops functioning abruptly in the middle of a sentence.”

Check your state and country for their web accessibility laws, even if there is no Section 508 legal requirement or audit required for a VPAT.

Solutions for error remediation are provided in most automation software, or at least, links to how to find them.

Since some of these automation tools are free or provide affordable trials and licensing, small businesses are not prevented from using them.

When errors are located, tested, and fixed during development cycles they do not reach production, thus avoiding an issue that could be raised on the social web.

Accessibility Investment Decisions

Inclusive design is difficult for some marketers to embrace.

It’s an additional expense passed on to clients.

You may need to educate clients on the benefits of meeting ADA compliance.

Accessibility reviews should be built into all digital marketing strategies.

When you see a breakout SEO pro from an agency giving talks about web accessibility, pay attention.

They understand that revenue comes from delighted customers whose experiences include content delivered exactly how they need them.

More resources: 

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Google’s AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility




Google's AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

An analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries by Bartosz Góralewicz, founder of Onely, reveals the impact of Google’s AI overviews on search visibility for online retailers.

The study found that 16% of eCommerce queries now return an AI overview in search results, accounting for 13% of total search volume in this sector.

Notably, 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.

“Ranking #1-3 gives you only an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews,” Góralewicz stated.

Shift Toward “Accelerated” Product Experiences

International SEO consultant Aleyda Solis analyzed the disconnect between traditional organic ranking and inclusion in AI overviews.

According to Solis, for product-related queries, Google is prioritizing an “accelerated” approach over summarizing currently ranking pages.

She commented Góralewicz’ findings, stating:

“… rather than providing high level summaries of what’s already ranked organically below, what Google does with e-commerce is “accelerate” the experience by already showcasing what the user would get next.”

Solis explains that for queries where Google previously ranked category pages, reviews, and buying guides, it’s now bypassing this level of results with AI overviews.

Assessing AI Overview Traffic Impact

To help retailers evaluate their exposure, Solis has shared a spreadsheet that analyzes the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.

As Góralewicz notes, this could be an initial rollout, speculating that “Google will expand AI overviews for high-cost queries when enabling ads” based on data showing they are currently excluded for high cost-per-click keywords.

An in-depth report across ecommerce and publishing is expected soon from Góralewicz and Onely, with additional insights into this search trend.

Why SEJ Cares

AI overviews represent a shift in how search visibility is achieved for ecommerce websites.

With most overviews currently pulling product data from non-ranking sources, the traditional connection between organic rankings and search traffic is being disrupted.

Retailers may need to adapt their SEO strategies for this new search environment.

How This Can Benefit You

While unsettling for established brands, AI overviews create new opportunities for retailers to gain visibility without competing for the most commercially valuable keywords.

Ecommerce sites can potentially circumvent traditional ranking barriers by optimizing product data and detail pages for Google’s “accelerated” product displays.

The detailed assessment framework provided by Solis enables merchants to audit their exposure and prioritize optimization needs accordingly.


What are the key findings from the analysis of AI overviews & ecommerce queries?

Góralewicz’s analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries found:

  • 16% of ecommerce queries now return an AI overview in the search results.
  • 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.
  • Ranking positions #1-3 only provides an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews.

These insights reveal significant shifts in how ecommerce sites need to approach search visibility.

Why are AI overviews pulling product data from non-ranking sources, and what does this mean for retailers?

Google’s AI overviews prioritize “accelerated” experiences over summarizing currently ranked pages for product-related queries.

This shift focuses on showcasing directly what users seek instead of traditional organic results.

For retailers, this means:

  • A need to optimize product pages beyond traditional SEO practices, catering to the data requirements of AI overviews.
  • Opportunities to gain visibility without necessarily holding top organic rankings.
  • Potential to bypass traditional ranking barriers by focusing on enhanced product data integration.

Retailers must adapt quickly to remain competitive in this evolving search environment.

What practical steps can retailers take to evaluate and improve their search visibility in light of AI overview disruptions?

Retailers can take several practical steps to evaluate and improve their search visibility:

  • Utilize the spreadsheet provided by Aleyda Solis to assess the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.
  • Optimize product and detail pages to align with the data and presentation style preferred by AI overviews.
  • Continuously monitor changes and updates to AI overviews, adapting strategies based on new data and trends.

These steps can help retailers navigate the impact of AI overviews and maintain or improve their search visibility.

Featured Image: Marco Lazzarini/Shutterstock

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Google’s AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny




Google's AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny

Google’s rollout of AI-generated overviews in US search results is taking a disastrous turn, with mainstream media outlets like The New York Times, BBC, and CNBC reporting on numerous inaccuracies and bizarre responses.

On social media, users are sharing endless examples of the feature’s nonsensical and sometimes dangerous output.

From recommending non-toxic glue on pizza to suggesting that eating rocks provides nutritional benefits, the blunders would be amusing if they weren’t so alarming.

Mainstream Media Coverage

As reported by The New York Times, Google’s AI overviews struggle with basic facts, claiming that Barack Obama was the first Muslim president of the United States and stating that Andrew Jackson graduated from college in 2005.

These errors undermine trust in Google’s search engine, which more than two billion people rely on for authoritative information worldwide.

Manual Removal & System Refinements

As reported by The Verge, Google is now scrambling to remove the bizarre AI-generated responses and improve its systems manually.

A Google spokesperson confirmed that the company is taking “swift action” to remove problematic responses and using the examples to refine its AI overview feature.

Google’s Rush To AI Integration

The flawed rollout of AI overviews isn’t an isolated incident for Google.

As CNBC notes in its report, Google made several missteps in a rush to integrate AI into its products.

In February, Google was forced to pause its Gemini chatbot after it generated inaccurate images of historical figures and refused to depict white people in most instances.

Before that, the company’s Bard chatbot faced ridicule for sharing incorrect information about outer space, leading to a $100 billion drop in Google’s market value.

Despite these setbacks, industry experts cited by The New York Times suggest that Google has little choice but to continue advancing AI integration to remain competitive.

However, the challenges of taming large language models, which ingest false information and satirical posts, are now more apparent.

The Debate Over AI In Search

The controversy surrounding AI overviews adds fuel to the debate over the risks and limitations of AI.

While the technology holds potential, these missteps remind everyone that more testing is needed before unleashing it on the public.

The BBC notes that Google’s rivals face similar backlash over their attempts to cram more AI tools into their consumer-facing products.

The UK’s data watchdog is investigating Microsoft after it announced a feature that would take continuous screenshots of users’ online activity.

At the same time, actress Scarlett Johansson criticized OpenAI for using a voice likened to her own without permission.

What This Means For Websites & SEO Professionals

Mainstream media coverage of Google’s erroneous AI overviews brings the issue of declining search quality to public attention.

As the company works to address inaccuracies, the incident serves as a cautionary tale for the entire industry.

Important takeaway: Prioritize responsible use of AI technology to ensure the benefits outweigh its risks.

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New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App




New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

A keynote at Google’s Marketing Live event showed a new AI-powered visual search results that feature advertisements that engage users within the context of an AI-Assisted search, blurring the line between AI-generated search results and advertisements.

Google Lens is a truly helpful app but it becomes unconventional where it blurs the line between an assistant helping users and being led to a shopping cart. This new way of engaging potential customers with AI is so far out there that the presenter doesn’t even call it advertising, he doesn’t even use the word.

Visual Search Traffic Opportunity?

Google’s Group Product Manager Sylvanus Bent, begins the presentation with an overview of the next version of Google Lens visual search that will be useful for surfacing information and for help finding where to buy them.

Sylvanus explained how it will be an opportunity for websites to receive traffic from this new way to search.

“…whether you’re snapping a photo with lens or circling to search something on your social feed, visual search unlocks new ways to explore whatever catches your eye, and we recently announced a newly redesigned results page for Visual search.

Soon, instead of just visual matches, you’ll see a wide range of results, from images to video, web links, and facts about the knowledge graph. It gets people the helpful information they need and creates new opportunities for sites to be discovered.”

It’s hard to say whether or not this will bring search traffic to websites and what the quality of that traffic will be. Will they stick around to read an article? Will they engage with a product review?

Visual Search Results

Sylvanus shares a hypothetical example of someone at an airport baggage claim who falls in like with someone else’s bag. He explains that all the person needs to do is snap a photo of the luggage bag and Google Lens will take them directly to shopping options.

He explains:

“No words, no problem. Just open Lens, take a quick picture and immediately you’ll see options to purchase.

And for the first time, shopping ads will appear at the very top of the results on linked searches, where a business can offer what a consumer is looking for.

This will help them easily purchase something that catches their eye.”

These are image-heavy shopping ads at the top of the search results and as annoying as that may be it’s nowhere near the “next level” advertising that is coming to Google’s search ads where Google presents a paid promotion within the context of an AI Assistant.

Interactive Search Shopping

Sylvanus next describes an AI-powered form advertising that happens directly within search. But he doesn’t call it advertising. He doesn’t even use the word advertising. He suggests this new form of AI search experience is more than offer, saying that, “it’s an experience.”

He’s right to not use the word advertisement because what he describes goes far beyond advertising and blurs the boundaries between search and advertising within the context of AI-powered suggestions, paid suggestions.

Sylvanus explains how this new form of shopping experience works:

“And next, imagine a world where every search ad is more than an offer. It’s an experience. It’s a new way for you to engage more directly with your customers. And we’re exploring search ads with AI powered recommendations across different verticals. So I want to show you an example that’s going live soon and you’ll see even more when we get to shopping.”

He uses the example of someone who needs to store their furniture for a few months and who turns to Google to find short term storage. What he describes is a query for local short term storage that turns into a “dynamic ad experience” that leads the searcher into throwing packing supplies into their shopping cart.

He narrated how it works:

“You search for short term storage and you see an ad for extra space storage. Now you can click into a new dynamic ad experience.

You can select and upload photos of the different rooms in your house, showing how much furniture you have, and then extra space storage with help from Google, AI generates a description of all your belongings for you to verify. You get a recommendation for the right size and type of storage unit and even how much packing supplies you need to get the job done. Then you just go to the website to complete the transaction.

And this is taking the definition of a helpful ad to the next level. It does everything but physically pick up your stuff and move it, and that is cool.”

Step 1: Search For Short Term Storage

1716722762 15 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows an advertisement that when clicked takes the user to what looks like an AI-assisted search but is really an interactive advertisement.

Step 2: Upload Photos For “AI Assistance”

1716722762 242 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above image is a screenshot of an advertisement that is presented in the context of AI-assisted search.  Masking an advertisement within a different context is the same principal behind an advertorial where an advertisement is hidden in the form of an article. The phrases “Let AI do the heavy lifting” and “AI-powered recommendations” create the context of AI-search that masks the true context of an advertisement.

Step 3: Images Chosen For Uploading

1716722762 187 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows how a user uploads an image to the AI-powered advertisement within the context of an AI-powered search app.

The Word “App” Masks That This Is An Ad

Screenshot of interactive advertisement for that identifies itself as an app with the words

Above is a screenshot of how a user uploads a photo to the AI-powered interactive advertisement within the context of a visual search engine, using the word “app” to further the illusion that the user is interacting with an app and not an advertisement.

Upload Process Masks The Advertising Context

Screenshot of interactive advertisement that uses the context of an AI Assistant to mask that this is an advertisement

The phrase “Generative AI is experimental” contributes to the illusion that this is an AI-assisted search.

Step 4: Upload Confirmation

1716722762 395 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

In step 4 the “app” advertisement is for confirming that the AI correctly identified the furniture that needs to be put into storage.

Step 5: AI “Recommendations”

1716722762 588 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows “AI recommendations” that look like search results.

The Recommendations Are Ad Units

1716722762 751 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Those recommendations are actually ad units that when clicked takes the user to the “Extra Space Storage” shopping website.

Step 6: Searcher Visits Advertiser Website

1716722762 929 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Blurring The Boundaries

What the Google keynote speaker describes is the integration of paid product suggestions into an AI assisted search. This kind of advertising is so far out there that the Googler doesn’t even call it advertising and rightfully so because what this does is blur the line between AI assisted search and advertising. At what point does a helpful AI search become just a platform for using AI to offer paid suggestions?

Watch The Keynote At The 32 Minute Mark

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Ljupco Smokovski

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