Google: Accessible Search

Google recently unveiled it’s Accessible Search, which prioritises the search results to favour pages that are more easily used by partially-sighted and blind users. Good work, but it was too much to expect that they would listen to their own advice and ensure their own pages conformed to any standards or took account of any accessibility guidelines.

The Science Bit

It works by adding to the technology currently employed on their standard search by taking a look at the (X)HTML that makes up the 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.

Currently we take into account several factors, including a given page’s simplicity, how much visual imagery it carries and whether or not it’s primary purpose is immediately viable with keyboard navigation

Google Accessible Search FAQs

Practising what you Preach

Whenever a company mentions that it’s even thinking about accessibility, usability or standards, the first thing a developer will do is to view their source code. So, after I’d used the search, I checked the source and they let themselves down from the first line: no doctype.

Adding a doctype is basic. A page won’t validate without it or achieve Double-A compliance because it will fail the checkpoint (3.2: Create documents that validate to published formal grammars).

The Future

That said, it is a big step in the right direction. From my experience, companies seem too focused on improving their placement in the search results rather than ensuring their site is easy to use.

If the extra features became part of Google’s main search it would mean they would start taking accessibility and usability much more seriously, which will bring improvements to everyone’s online experience.

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3 Responses to “Google: Accessible Search”

  1. Dan Champion says:

    “If the extra features became part of Google’s main search it would mean they would start taking accessibility and usability much more seriously”

    If the accessible search clearly rewarded accessible, standards-based design, that would be very true. But at the moment it clearly does not, so it’s not.

    There will need to be much stronger evidence that the effort involved in producing accessible sites is rewarded in the Google rankings. Hopefully Google will commit to developing whatever accessibility algorithm they are using, to the point where it does reliably reward accessibility. Then I’ll join you in effusive praise.

  2. Emma says:

    Agreed, things could be made more weighted to more accessible pages, rather than those that just work well without images.

  3. JacKP says:

    Come on, I think you’re both being a bit harsh on them. It’s not like it’s made it past the labs stage yet. Okay, it’s not perfect, but I don’t think they’re claiming it is.
    In the absence of a way to automate accessibility testing, they’re being careful not to say that they’re testing against WCAG, but are looking for ‘indicators’ that a site is likely to be accessible. Maybe it’s not perfect, but sometimes when I search for some information “cooker parts in edinburgh” for example (go on, I dare you, try it), it doesn’t always return precisely the most relevant information. And no-one’s criticising their search algorithms, which admittedly are pretty good but still will sometimes return a turkey.

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