A lot of people assume copywriting is easy. It isn’t. As you and I are keenly aware, there’s an art to writing web copy that resonates, conveys personality, and is also optimised for SEO. And it gets even harder when you add writing for accessibility into the equation. Web accessibility is becoming increasingly important to clients. And that means it’s becoming an increasingly important skill for copywriters. Accessibility is no longer something only developers need to worry about, meaning you need to start thinking about how accessible your writing is. More importantly, you need to start learning how to write more accessible web copy if you want to get a leg up in the increasingly crowded copywriting market. The good news is that it isn’t hard to do. So, where can you get started?
1. Keep it Simple, Silly
Clear, concise copy stops your readers from falling asleep and it helps communicate what you’re writing about. However, it has another major upside: it’s great for improving accessibility. Little wonder we’re starting here!
You’re probably familiar with the Flesch Reading Ease score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. When writing for accessibility, you should aim for 50+ on the former or lower than 10 for the latter. Yes, it won’t always be possible, and neither of these measures is foolproof – however, it should be your goal to get as close as possible:
- Use shorter sentences/paragraphs and simpler vocabulary
- Avoid metaphors/idioms
- Clearly signpost
- Use bullet point lists
- Remember, a picture says a thousand words
Another good idea is to skip the preamble and get straight to the point. Clarity is king, and a long lead-in can distract readers before they’ve reached the real meat and potatoes.
Just remember: simplifying doesn’t mean treating your readers like idiots. There’s a fine line between being clear and concise, and being condescending. Nobody likes being talked down to, least of all people with disability! Unfortunately, there’s no scale to measure this for you. This one comes down entirely to feel. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion either – the more people you can get to look at it, the better.
2. Be Descriptive with CTAs and Anchor Text
As a copywriter, your first instincts are probably to work hyperlink and CTA buttons in seamlessly with the rest of your copy, with link text flowing on from the body. Unfortunately, this can make navigation difficult for people who live with a disability.
That’s because many people with low vision use assistive technology like screen readers or text-to-speech to read web content back to them. Without visual feedback, it can be difficult to distinguish buttons and hyperlinks from the rest of the text.
And that’s where copy comes in to save the day. “Click Here” and “Learn More” are improvements, but they’re still vague. Find out more about what, exactly? What will happen if you click it? While readers can infer the meaning from context when writing for accessibility, it’s best to be explicit:
- “Click here to contact our team”
- “Click here to see our product range”
- “Learn more about our conditions by clicking this link”
Sure, it’s clunkier and goes against your copywriter senses. But it conveys considerably more information, making it much more useful for users with disability!
3. Include Clear Instructions
Many websites will have forms for users to enter information. When it comes to accessibility, it’s important to include written instructions with each of these forms so that users don’t make mistakes when filling them in.
This is because in some cases, screen readers may omit important information from forms. Do you know how most sites use asterisks to denote mandatory fields? Yeah, some screen readers don’t play nice with them. To ensure readers who rely on these devices can still use your site, include a copy that clearly tells users information like which date format you use, what file types you accept, character limits and more. All of this can reduce mistakes and make it easier for people with disability to use your site seamlessly.
4. Structure is Your Friend
As a copywriter, you’re aware of how formatting influences the readability of your writing. Structure and formatting make it easier to navigate and understand how the information in your copy is related and linked. It should be no surprise that good structure is crucial when writing accessible copy.
In addition to making liberal use of H2, H3 and H4 tags when writing web copy, you should also think about hierarchy and how information is laid out. Related ideas and information should be clustered together with appropriate subheadings to signpost topic changes.
Finally, copy should be structured so that you can pick out the important information with a quick scan. That using bullet point lists and block quotes to highlight the parts of your copy you want to stand out. Not only does it make your site more accessible, but it also makes it more readable to boot!
5. Up your Alt Text Game
When writing web copy, many will recommend cramming alt text full of keywords to get some of that sweet, sweet SEO juice. When writing for accessibility, however, alt text needs to be written to convey information.
That’s because alt text conveys visual information to readers who can’t see images, whether that’s due to visual impairment or a bad internet connection. For these users, alt text is a substitute for the image itself, helping them understand what the image is showing and improving their understanding of the site’s contents.
Of course, not all images need paragraphs of description. Equally as important as alt text is choosing which images have it, and which ones don’t. Images generally fall into two categories:
- Functional images convey information, so alt text will need to be as descriptive as possible. For example, alt text for a graph should include the type of graph, the data source, as well as the salient data points or trends.
- Decorative images are purely aesthetic, meaning that readers don’t lose much information without them. In these cases, alt text is not required, and can even reduce accessibility by causing information overload.
A good rule of thumb is to imagine the site without the image in question. Ask yourself: are you missing crucial details without the image? Or is your experience unimpacted? It’s not foolproof, but it’s a good start.
Continue Reading: Web Content Copywriting for Newbies
Accessible Web Copy in Summation
Whether you’re freelance or with an agency, doing a job for a client or for your own side hustle, the goal of any copywriter is to create copy that resonates and connects with people. Can you really say you’re doing that if your copy can’t be read by a large chunk of readers?
At the end of the day, measures that make web copy more accessible to people with disability make things easier for all readers. This is the curb-cut effect: when something designed for people with a disability ends up making life easier for everyone, and not just its original target demographic.
And really, isn’t the ultimate goal of any copywriter to have their copy reach as wide an audience as possible?