A website is useful only if it can be accessed. No matter how aesthetically you have set the layout, how specific your content is, or how smooth your operations are, a user will not experience any of it if the site cannot be seen.
The Internet is for everyone and hence, your site should be too. Accessibility and availability are the two parameters that ensure this. Being the true gateway to UX, these aspects are taken care of in the designing stage itself. It doesn’t matter if you perform web design London or New York style; your site should be open to all.
As a brand, you need to consider your audience from all walks and parts of the world. Every single person visiting the website should have their needs met, irrelevant of whether they are a part of your target group or not. The experience should always be seamless. So, what are accessibility and availability? And how does it affect your brand?
Accessibility, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, is “the fact of being able to be reached or obtained easily” and “the quality of being easy to understand.”
In simple terms, accessibility is based on the concept of inclusion. Your website should be open to all kinds of users so they can reach and understand it easily. Building an accessible web design entails removing any barriers to navigation for people with different resources.
A user may have a technical disadvantage while coming to your site. Factors like out-dated systems, low Wi-Fi and device compatibility need to be considered. Even a person who is not so tech-savvy should be able to cover the essential areas with ease.
Websites that reflect true accessibility make prudent use of HTML headers, manage their colour scheme, create contextual text links, establish ARIA landmark roles, and inculcate the ARIA mark-up in web applications.
The level of accessibility on your pages can be checked through various parameters. There are online tools available as browser extensions that provide accessibility and quality assurance for your pages. Accessibility Bookmarklets check the site for ARIA landmarks, headings, lists, images and forms. Axe is an API toolkit that tests the processes against all accessibility parameters. Similarly, third party pages can be used to address specific issues. Sites like HTML Validator, CSS Validator and HTML Tidy check your coding veracity to establish cross-browser compatibility.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, abbreviated as WCAG, have been set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to help you design a website that improves accessibility. While all areas are not covered, it does provide a base to create an internationally accepted platform and build from there.
Apart from being morally inclusive, accessibility gives you a broader audience, leading to a more significant consumer base. The opportunity for pushing your product rises significantly. This has a dual benefit of increased product sales and ad spaces. The higher traction also gives you a competitive advantage through multiple outlets.
So, how can you make your website more accessible?
- Use alternative text, known as alt-tags, to give a description of the images if they can’t be seen. The more descriptive the alt-tag, the better.
- Include a title tag that offers a snippet of what the page is about. A short and precise title tag helps visitors using screen readers.
- Keep your navigation buttons simple enough to be managed solely by a keyboard. Avoid animations to make the layout compatible with screen readers.
- Stick to the default HTML tags. A simple approach to keep the elements as they are defined dissipates any confusion your audience might have.
Web availability is to deliver as expected. Whenever a user punches in your URL or clicks through a link on a third-party website, your pages should show up with the relevant content. Site availability is also known as “uptime.” This uptime is decided depending upon the web servers you choose to host through.
Availability is given such importance because it directly correlates with the reliability of your brand. If a user is redirected to a dead page or unable to open your website on demand, he or she shall deem it unusable. Since negative experiences are more memorable than positive ones, usability may form a part of your brand image for such visitors.
Uptime maybe the scale on which availability is calculated but it is the downtime that plays a crucial role. Understanding a Service Level Agreement with your host should be based on the reverse calculation from the offered uptime percentage. There are free tools available in the market that helps you reach the exact downtime down to the second.
While web design deals with making your website more aesthetic and usable, it needs to stand on the foundation of availability. Accordingly, the design phase must factor in how your redirect pages like 404 shall appear to maintain the user’s confidence in your company.
In what cases can your website be down and unavailable?
- The changing process of any elements, colours or layouts, including the addition of new components, can create downtime. The web design should redirect the user to an alternative page or provide another means of contact in such scenarios.
- Maintenance of your server can be planned ahead of time. Make sure that the visitor is informed when the site shall be available again.
- Sudden attacks and natural disasters can render your site unusable. Keeping a plan ready to minimize and respond to such situations is your best bet.
It goes without saying that performance plays an equally crucial role in determining site availability. Slow loading pages with excessive content and high graphics can allow the user to declare the site unloadable. The main goal of web design should be to lend a smooth experience without such unnecessary lags.
While web availability can be measured in absolute terms, web accessibility is somewhat of a precedent. Nevertheless, both are co-dependent in terms of web design. Any uptime would be irrelevant without the right consumers visiting your website and vice-versa.
The right approach to these elements comes from inculcating their parameters at every stage of development. You can take an iterative stance and build upon your experiences as a starting point.
Following the core principles of web design, accessibility and availability are audience-centric concepts. If you can understand, analyse and implement in line with how your users behave, you can offer a virtually round-the-clock open website.
As the times are changing, companies are concentrating more and more on how a website looks rather than how it functions. Even considering these components in your design can keep you one step ahead of the curve.