In this episode, our hosts, along with two very special guests, talk about the ways in which accessibility and SEO intersect, and what our rapidly evolving online world has in store for us in the next few years.
Mentioned in This Episode
- Stroopwafel Liqueur
- Google: Accessibility Not A Direct Ranking Factor
- Why Your Podcast Needs Transcripts
- A Conversation with Yoast on the Overlap of SEO and Accessibility
>> CHRIS HINDS: Welcome to episode 10 of the “Accessibility Craft Podcast,” where we explore the art of creating accessible websites while trying out interesting craft beverages. This podcast is brought to you by the team at Equalize Digital, a WordPress accessibility company, and the proud creators of the Accessibility Checker Plugin.
In this episode, our host, along with two very special guests, talk about the ways in which accessibility and SEO intersect, and what our rapidly evolving online world has in store for us in the next few years.
For show notes and a full transcript, go to “accessibilitycraft.com/010.”
Now, on to the show.
>> AMBER HINDS: Hey, everybody, it’s Amber. I’m here today with Steve.
>> STEVE JONES: Hello. Welcome, everybody.
>> AMBER: And Chris.
>> CHRIS HINDS: Hey, how’s it going?
>> AMBER: And we’re super excited because we have two special guests today. Do you all want to introduce yourselves?
>> MARIEKA VAN DE RAKT: Oh, maybe it’s fun that I introduce you, Joost, and that you introduce me. That would be great.
>> JOOST DE VALK: I’m good with that. Let’s do it.
>> MARIEKA: OK, so we’re here together, Joost and Marieka. And Joost is the founder of Yoast SEO. I think everybody knows the Yoast SEO plugin. We have almost 30 million users now. And Joost has passed on and is doing different things now because he’s no longer the head of Yoast, and he works for Newfold Digital, and does a lot of investing with his lovely wife.
This is your cue.
>> JOOST: So we’re joined by my lovely wife, Marieka, who is the founder of Yoast Academy, which might actually be important, and did a lot of different things throughout the creation of Yoast, the company, including something that we’ll probably end up talking about today, our readability analysis, which she came up with, which was later taken over by the entire SEO industry.
She has a Ph.D. in sociology/criminology, which is very useful when you’re talking about accessibility, that you know a lot about criminals.
The math in it is actually quite useful sometimes. So it all works out.
Together, we have four wonderful children, and that’s about all you need to know, I guess.
>> MARIEKA: Yes.
>> AMBER: And you all are here today because you invested in our company, Equalize Digital, and we’re very excited, so we were, like, we should have you on and have a guest episode, which we’ve never done before. [laughs]
And we’re going to be talking about accessibility and SEO. But first, I can take the blame for the beverage. I said I wanted us to try and find something that was Dutch, but also we’re recording this at 8:30 am my time, and I don’t really know if I want to drink a beer.
So I did a bunch of research and I found Stroopwafel Liqueur. I don’t know, you might have a [crosstalk ], Chris.
>> MARIEKA: And it’s Dutch. [chuckles]
>> AMBER: I said it right this time?
>> MARIEKA: No, it’s Dutch, but we’ve never tried it before. So that’s interesting.
>> AMBER: So tell us what a Stroopwafel is.
>> MARIEKA: Stroopwafel is kind of a cookie with caramel inside. And I think you’re supposed to put it on your cup if you drink coffee or tea, and then the caramel kind of melts, and that makes it really good. Well, if you want to have fresh Stroopwafels, you go to the local market and then they sell it. They were even selling it at the garden shop in our hometown.
So it’s really Dutch.
>> AMBER: OK. I also ordered Stroopwafel Cookies, the Dellman’s [phonetic] brand that, Joost, you told us about. It’s a good thing Chris gave me two because I tried to put one on top of my cup and it sat there for a few minutes [laughs], and now it is in my tea, so I might have to fish it out here in a minute. And luckily, I can taste the one that is not soup.
>> CHRIS: Oh, my goodness.
>> STEVE: I think it’s a little funny. So in lieu of drinking beer in the morning, we’re going to do some vodka. Is that what [laughs]…
>> AMBER: Yes. I don’t have the bottle. Steve, what does this actually have in it? What does it say?
>> STEVE: I haven’t read the ingredients, but it says, “Vodka with natural and artificial flavors and caramel color.”
>> MARIEKA: That’s just vodka.
>> STEVE: Yes [laughs]. So vodka.
>> AMBER: Well, it’s OK. So we can all smell it.
>> STEVE: Vodka with some food coloring and sugar, probably.
>> CHRIS: Yes. I mean, what I’ll say is, when I was pouring this out of the bottle when I first opened the bottle, my nose was probably a good 2 feet away from the lip of the bottle, and I immediately smelled caramel and that kind of impressed me, but I don’t…
>> MARIEKA: It really smells like Stroopwafel.
>> STEVE: Yes, it smells like the cookie.
>> MARIEKA: I’m going to taste it.
>> CHRIS: yes. Shall we taste?
>> AMBER: All right. Yes, I’m going to taste it, too.
>> CHRIS: Mmmm.
>> STEVE: So is that straight? Are you guys tasting it straight?
>> AMBER: Yes.
>> CHRIS: I’m tasting a little bit off of a shot glass. And I’m going to pour some of this into my coffee next and have it in my coffee.
>> JOOST: It’s actually not bad.
>> AMBER: OK, so this is clearly not straight vodka because it’s sweet.
>> STEVE: Yes, very sweet.
>> AMBER: It doesn’t feel like you have to cough after you drink it. [laughs]
>> MARIEKA: You know, I think somebody put a Stroopwafel on the vodka, and then it melted just like in your tea. And that’s this. [chuckles] That’s what they ended up with.
>> AMBER: So it tastes like a good Stroopwafel to you?
>> MARIEKA: With vodka.
>> CHRIS: Yes. I will say I was a little worried when we bought this, that it was going to be, like, mostly rocket fuel with a little bit of Stroopwafel flavor, but it turned out the alcohol is not hitting me too hard.
>> MARIEKA: No.
>> AMBER: It’s sippable. Like, I can see having it…
>> JOOST: It’s only 14.7%. I mean, it’s not, like, very alcoholic.
>> CHRIS: Yes. So it’s like wine almost.
>> AMBER: All right, I have to try my cookie now because I want to compare it to the taste of the cookie.
>> JOOST: And also, Stroopwafel [phonetic] are actually the best export product the Netherlands has ever been.
>> MARIEKA: You’re not pronouncing it right. You’re saying Stroop [phonetic] waffles.
>> JOOST: Yes. I know. [laughs]
>> MARIEKA: We’re not going to go…
>> AMBER: That American way.
>> JOOST: It’s like me introducing myself, “Oh, hi, I’m Joost.” [phonetic] But yes.
>> AMBER: It’s like, really caramelly and chewy in the middle. I thought it was going to be harder.
>> MARIEKA: No.
>> STEVE: Oh, the cookie?
>> AMBER: Yes.
>> MARIEKA: And if there’s fresh, it’s better.
>> AMBER: I wish I had taken my one-off…
>> JOOST: Yes, fresh Stroopwafel are absolutely the best.
>> AMBER: And you guys used to give these away at shows for Yoast? As Swag? [laughs]
>> MARIEKA: Yes. It wasn’t the best idea. It was really hard to get food to different countries. They have all kinds of rules and regulations. So we ended up with piles and piles of Stroopwafel that we couldn’t get to events because we weren’t allowed. [laughs] So it wasn’t the best thing.
>> CHRIS: Sounds like a good problem to have.
>> MARIEKA: And then we gave it away.
>> JOOST: Yes. Until you have thousands of them, Chris, and not a couple of dozen.
>> AMBER: Yes, I was going to say that sounds a little bit like us at the end of Girls’ Scout Cookie season when we failed to sell them all. [laughs]. And we have all these cookies, and then somehow everyone just keeps eating them. And I’m thinking, “I don’t know if you should be eating a box of Girls’ Scout cookies every single day.”
>> JOOST: No.
>> AMBER: All right, so before we move on, the last question is, I always like to ask, would you drink it again?
>> MARIEKA: I would. I’m going to take the bottle home.
>> STEVE: I mixed mine in…
>> JOOST: We’re going to finish this. Yes. Now I’m quite sure.
>> STEVE: I mixed mine in some chai tea, and it just tastes like caramel.
I don’t really even taste the alcohol that much.
>> AMBER: Yes, I got to pour mine in my… although my tea probably tastes Stroopwafel because my cookie fell into it.
The other thought I had about it was, it might be good for, like, if you were making, like, a syrup or something either for a dessert or to pour on actual waffles or pancakes or something.
>> CHRIS: I would 100% pour this on top of a nice vanilla gelato or a vanilla ice cream.
>> MARIEKA: Right. I was thinking that as well. I’m going to do that tonight.
>> JOOST: I agree. [laughs]
>> AMBER: All right, so it is unanimous. Everyone should go buy Stroopwafel Liqueur and try it. It is good.
All right, so we’re going to talk about accessibility. And I had already sort of started to write show notes before we decided to ask you guys to come on. And I had planned to call this episode “Accessibility is more important than SEO,” which is extra fun, considering SEO is your game.
So I’m curious what your thoughts are about that title, and if I should not use that title?
>> MARIEKA: Well, I think you should use the title. I think you’re right in terms of what’s more important in life. Websites should be accessible for everybody. That’s just something that’s good for the people.
I don’t know whether I would agree if we think about a business sense. But in the end, I hope accessibility will be more important than, say, an SEO.
What do you think, Joost?
>> JOOST: Yes. I think to an extreme, I love the title, and at the same time, it’s not like they’re opposite ends of a spectrum. They’re really not. I mean, 99 times out of 100, improving a site’s accessibility will also improve its SEO. And there are very few cases where you might have to choose between SEO and accessibility. Choosing accessibility is never really going to hurt your SEO.
So I would say that they’re not opposites and that you can really strive for both and should strive for both, which is also why investing in you all made sense [laughs]. Because it’s a natural extension and next evolution of what we’ve been doing.
>> AMBER: Yes. So for our listeners who might not be aware of the overlap, I think it’d be worth us talking a little bit about some of the ways that it overlaps. And maybe, Steve, you could jump in here to start us off with some of the technical ways.
>> STEVE: Sure. [chuckles]
>> AMBER: I’m putting you on the spot.
>> STEVE: Right. [laughs] So the intersection, right? The intersection of SEO and accessibility. I mean, some of these things are pretty simple. So page titles, headings, having appropriate headings, pages that can be scanned easily. Anchor text. Anchor text is something that touches both SEO and accessibility.
Readability. We talked a little bit about readability. The Yoast Plugin does a readability scan and so does the Accessibility Checker. So those are kind of really crossing sections there.
Descriptive links, transcripts. I mean, transcripts could be highly beneficial for SEO. I mean, you’re adding a lot of text content to the page that isn’t there without a transcript.
So you have a video that you put on a website. If there’s no transcript there’s not a lot of SEO juice on that page. So if you add a large transcript, there are lots of keywords in there and just a lot more for the search engine to crawl and the index.
Off the cuff, that’s a little bit of the cross-section. Anything to add to that?
>> MARIEKA: Yes, I think you’re entirely right. I think Google is just like someone who can’t see. That’s just how you should look at Google.
So if you’re building a website for people that have problems with visuals, then you’ll be doing good things for SEO as well. Well, sometimes we say Google is a little bit stupid, so we have to help them. And I don’t want to say that blind people are stupid at all. But Google is a little bit blind and needs help, in the same way, to explain things to people that can’t see.
>> STEVE: Yes, that’s a great way of putting it.
>> AMBER: Yes. Google is probably the most frequent blind crawler or user, or visitor of any website out there. And maybe, I guess, the other search engines too.
>> STEVE: Right. And when you start to consider bounce rate too. Like, if your website is not usable for somebody on a screen reader, they’re probably going to bounce real quick. And if you’ve ever seen somebody that uses a screen reader exclusively, they navigate websites about a thousand times faster than we do, and they’re bounced real quick. And the same with the algorithm. If the algorithm can’t understand the page, it’ll bounce.
>> MARIEKA: Yes. So about readability, I would say that that’s important for every user, because it’s hard to read text from a screen. Even if you are a good reader, if your text is better structured and your sentences aren’t too long, it’s just easier to grasp the meaning of a text.
I would always say if you want to write a good text, read it out loud to someone. So if you write a good text for a screen reader, then you’re writing a good text for everybody. So that’s what I do. If I write a text, I’ll read it out loud and see if I understand my own writing.
>> JOOST: You see how awesome it is to share an office with her?
>> MARIEKA: I talk too much myself a lot.
>> AMBER: Yes. There’s a reason why I’m currently sitting in my living room instead of in my office, which is just a little bit around the corner from Chris’.
>> CHRIS: My voice tends to carry a little bit.
>> AMBER: Especially on sales calls. [laughs]
>> CHRIS: Well, just to echo what some other people have said. And I was actually having a conversation with a guy who runs a pretty prominent website in the student loan refinancing space, and they get around, I want to say, a quarter of a million visitors a month. And he was saying, “I’m sorry, I just don’t see how accessibility is going to help me meaningfully.”
So we got into a conversation during the proposal and the presentation, where I basically had the privilege of respectfully disagreeing with him. And we were just talking about, well, let’s think about the proportion of your potential user base. Because we know that up to 20% of individuals have some sort of disability.
Now, the caveat there is, there are people with disabilities that don’t really impact how they browse or use the web. But let’s say even conservatively, maybe it’s 5% or maybe it’s 10%, that’s a 5% to 10% gain on the on-page or the visitor metrics through SEO, with more people being engaged. And that’s actually a huge jump when you’re talking about the scale that that guy was at.
So I was saying, “Imagine you have 25,000 more people engaging with your service a month because your website is accessible that you would otherwise be excluding, what would that mean for you? What kind of results would that create?”
Marieka, you were saying there’s a clear business case for SEO, and with the way that SEO dovetails with accessibility, I think that’s the beauty of that combination. By extension, there can be a business case for accessibility that can be pretty substantial, especially at scale.
>> MARIEKA: Yes. And SEO [crosstalk ]…
>> JOOST: Yes. I think, actually…
>> MARIEKA: Oh, sorry. Joost, you can talk.
>> JOOST: I think, actually, that’s the reason why it will become even more important over time. As you’ve seen, Google has focused on page speed over the last few years a lot, and adding that as a ranking factor because they want to give the best user experience to their users.
Now, the same portion of people that has these disabilities is a user of Google, because everyone uses Google. So it makes no sense for Google to send people to a website that they know is inaccessible.
Actually, if you look at how this worked and how they’ve done this over the years, they’ve slowly ramped up their whole site-speed story. And I think we’re coming to the culmination of that more and more, where they’re adding a few core web vitals metrics or they’re changing core web vitals metrics because they can change stuff better.
I think they’ll start doing the same with accessibility. It’s already in their Lighthouse tests. It’s already in a lot of things that they make you look at when you test your site. It makes total sense for them to actually start looking at it more and using it for more things because it is in the interest of their users to do so.
So I think that in the end, it’s a matter of time. If it’s not already something that the algorithm, which most Googlers don’t even know what it does anymore because it’s in part machine-learned, might already take into account. When you have the choice between a hundred websites that rank for a specific term, and you know that one of those websites is not accessible, why would you even rank it?
>> STEVE: Yes.
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>> AMBER: Well, and I think circling back to, “Is accessibility more important than SEO”, I think there are definitely cases where a website might have good content, it might have the meta tags or things like that in place that allows it to rank well. But bringing people to your website does not equal a conversion. Sure, they can read your blog post and your blog posts are ranking well, but if they can’t click the “Add to cart” and follow the checkout process, or they can’t submit a form because your fields aren’t labeled, then what does bringing all that traffic to your website even do for your business? Nothing.
>> STEVE: Yes. And I think to touch a little bit on what Joost was saying was, one thing to watch out for is definitely like you said, in Lighthouse, they’re measuring accessibility. And I think when you start to see Google measuring something, it’s probably a matter of time before they start weighing it.
>> MARIEKA: Yes. They tell us that this is important. So they give clear hints that this is the way SEO will go.
>> STEVE: Yes. So the mechanism…
>> JOOST: Yes. And they also say that they can’t really measure it well yet. I’ve dropped a link that we can send people to in the show notes on an interview with John Mueller from Google, where people ask him this question, and he immediately says, “Accessibility is super important, but we can’t really measure that yet.”
It’s super important to look at, what is he really saying here. And I think that it’s a hint of things to come, but it’s also, like, they might not even need to, because it’s such an indication of website quality overall.
>> AMBER: Well, I’ve had thoughts about the Webaim Million, which, for people who aren’t familiar, Webaim is an organization that focuses on accessibility. And every year, they scan the top 1 million websites for some accessibility problems, and they publish a report on what’s out there, and how many of them have obvious accessibility problems.
Can they find everything? No, automated tools can’t find everything, but they can find a lot. And, you know, he says, “We don’t know how to measure that yet.” “Yet,” that’s a very key word. And I think it’s only a matter of time before they do start doing it. Because there are examples, like the Webaim million, where they’re bulk scanning huge numbers of sites and being able to identify key indicators of whether it has accessibility problems or not.
>> JOOST: I think they can already see that because they have a lot of data like that and they actually share it. So in the Chrome UX report, they already share a lot of that data and they do run some of those tests.
>> MARIEKA: That’s just not a ranking factor yet?
>> JOOST: No, they haven’t announced it as a ranking factor yet, which is also a distinction that is very… I think that once they do actually incorporate it, if they make that conscious decision to incorporate it as a ranking factor, they’ll probably announce it too, because, let’s be honest, it would make them look good. But they might not even need to, because, in so many ways, it already overlaps with so many things that good SEO already does.
All the things Steve mentioned earlier, like all the different things that incorporate both good SEO and good accessibility, I would add one more that he didn’t mention that I was thinking as he was saying it, and that’s, like, using all the HTML elements for what they’re supposed to be used for.
>> STEVE: Semantics.
>> JOOST: I was super happy the other day. Apparently we’ve introduced a new HTML element search, which is specifically for search input fields. And I love it. I mean, it’s super simple. It’s the simple stuff that makes life easier to build a website. And we used to do that as, input type equals search, which is fine as well. But this is actually a bit more indicative of something.
All these things together matter, and they are about making better websites. And good websites are accessible to everyone.
>> AMBER: Yes. We just recorded an episode where we were talking about tables, because I audited a website and it had a table that was built with divs. And, like, that’s another perfect example. People try to get into that zero spot on… I don’t know if they still call it “the zero spot” in Google, but where it’s showing like a snippet. Or I’ve seen instances where Google pulls tables from websites to answer someone’s question, and the people always ask box. But if you don’t have your content tagged in that way, then it’s probably not going to pull that.
>> JOOST: No. To do that, it needs to actually be tabular data in a table. Google really, really looks for specific things like that. It’s also very hard to get featured snippets from something else than just a paragraph of text. So it’ll not grab that from a caption or a…
>> AMBER: Oh, like a span or a div, it needs to actually be in a P tag [phonetic]?
>> JOOST: Most of the time it is. So there’s loads of overlap between what is important for one is important for the other. And I think that that’s healthy.
>> MARIEKA: Yes. The entire mission of Google is to make the world’s information usable and findable for everybody, so that’s…
>> JOOST: I think it’s universally accessible and useful.
>> MARIEKA: Yes. “Accessible.”
That’s their mission. So then this is important. And for everyone who thinks SEO is important, you want to rank outside the audience you’re currently having, so that could be that you need to open up your website in a way to attract a broader audience.
>> AMBER: Are we in the land of making predictions? Does anybody have any thoughts about when Google might actually say, “This is a ranking factor?” Or what might precede that?
>> MARIEKA: Joost always thinks that things happen way sooner than I would anticipate them. [chuckles].
>> JOOST: I’m a techno optimist.
>> MARIEKA: I’m just a normal person.
>> AMBER: I mean, it is interesting to also think about, which we haven’t talked much about; you know, none of us are lawyers, but there’s a lot of laws out there as well that require website accessibility. You know, like, I know in Europe there’s a lot that’s going to come into play in 2025 requiring accessibility. I don’t know if any of that impacts Google. If Google is, like, “Well, all these laws are starting to happen, so maybe we can also jump on this bandwagon.”
>> JOOST: Well, it’ll impact them a bit in that they will actually probably help people with doing that a bit because it makes sense for them to then recommend the right things. I must be honest, though, in most European countries… So we’ve had guidelines like this in the Netherlands for quite a while already, and nobody abides by them, which is super annoying.
>> MARIEKA: Joost, even had a website on that.
>> JOOST: Yes, which was like –
>> MARIEKA: [laughs] Like 10 years ago.
>> JOOST: – On Dutch… Literally more than ten years ago already.
>> AMBER: But the laws don’t have teeth, right? So what’s the difference?
>> JOOST: No.
>> AMBER: GDPR comes with very big fines.
>> JOOST: Yes. And the funny thing is, in Germany now, these laws come with fines, and everyone can sue for them. And that is actually changing how people are behaving around it.
I’m not the biggest fan of a “sue everyone” kind of culture, because it mostly creates more jobs for the lawyers and not for anyone else.
>> CHRIS: Essentially… And not to interrupt, essentially what that is, is the government is outsourcing the enforcement of the law to private citizens. At the end of the day, that’s what that is.
>> JOOST: Yes. And I think that that’s not necessarily the best way to go at it. But I do think that it’ll have an impact. Because it raises awareness more about, “Hey, this is actually something that you need to think about when you build a website.”
I think that one of the things that I would love at some point to happen is for people to have a checklist when they deliver a website. This should just be our marketing collateral, maybe.
>> AMBER: Oh, like, you know, also just install Accessibility Checker then. [laughs]
>> STEVE: There you go.
>> JOOST: Before you bring that website to your client, or before you say, “Hey, I’m done with this website,” make sure that people can actually get to it, and that it’s accessible and indexable and that search engines can get to it, and that you’ve built it properly.
I hope that at some point we’ll get to the point where web developers will consider that standard good practice.
>> AMBER: Well, so we actually have one of those which we do give out to people. If you’re a listener, reach out to me. We probably need to figure out a better way to put it on our website. But the thing that’s interesting about that checklist is that we have it broken up by phase, and we have accessibility items under discovery, under content, and under design. Like, it’s not just on the web developer.
I mean, the broader conversation of web developer, like, the person who builds the ultimate thing and guides the project, right? But there is a lot of stuff that can really help when you’re asking your client to create content in a Google Doc or wherever it is that you get the content from the client. That then, if you just want to be able to quickly copy and paste it in, they need to pay attention to some things. So, you know, it’s like across the whole phase of building a website.
>> JOOST: Yes. And I can see that. In content discovery, there’s probably a lot of overlap there as well between accessibility and SEO. Like, “What do we need to write about and why?” Which are the kinds of questions that people have.
>> STEVE: We’ve even had some discussion about features for the accessibility checker, like, on having a pre-published checklist, and adding to the pre-published checklist. Like, “Have you done these things?”
>> CHRIS: Or even restricting the ability to publish if there are problems present for certain user roles. Like if you have contributors, only an editor can publish something with known problems versus a contributor.
>> STEVE: Right, correct. Yes.
>> CHRIS: So I have a question. Because it’s not every day you get to have Joost and Marieka trapped on a call with you for an hour.
>> MARIEKA: With Stroopwafel Liqueur.
>> CHRIS: With Stroopwafel liqueur.
>> AMBER: We did bribe them.
>> CHRIS: With all of these things happening around language-learning models as this new frontier and searches coming out, what role do you two think having a properly built indexable website is going to have on that front? And I’d be curious to hear Amber and Steve’s thoughts as well. Like, is it still going to matter as much if all the content is being served through a chat interface?
>> AMBER: Well, is the chat interface even accessible?
>> CHRIS: Well, of course, that’s the first question.
>> MARIEKA: Yes.
>> JOOST: I’d hope it is. [inaudible]
>> MARIEKA: There’s a lot going on in the SEO world with all these new things.
>> JOOST: Yes. I think, honestly, it’s too early to draw conclusions, even though I’d really like to. But I’m going to give my off-the-cuff, like, what I’m seeing right now.
The problem with all these things is, what are these large language models trained on? And is your website in their data set or is it not? And do you want it to be? I think for a lot of brands…
>> AMBER: Do we want it to be?
>> JOOST: Well, so that depends. For a lot of brands, it might make sense to want your data to be part of the Chat GPT training set, because then people can know about you and it can know about you.
The other way around, if you make money from your content, you might not actually want it to be in that training set, because then suddenly that training set is giving answers from content that you didn’t want in there.
The problem is, the law is not, like, really subtle in this area. It’s very unclear how this all works, but the first court cases are already starting to come up, where publishers are suing creators of large language models, but also other models for using their materials without paying for it.
I think this is going to have a very serious impact on some of these economies. But what the outcome of it will be, I don’t really know yet.
There’s one thing I will say. Google still says that if content is generated by AI, you need to classify it as such. And people misinterpret that, I think. Because I think the main reason why Google wants content that has been generated by an AI classified as such is not because they want to derank it, but because they want to prevent themselves from throwing it into their AI model again. Because otherwise, the AI model is constantly being trained on content generated by the AI, and that doesn’t necessarily create a better model at all.
>> MARIEKA: That’s what we’ll up with. If this goes on and on, then we’ll just… Everything will be…
>> JOOST: Yes. And there’s one thing in this that I’m super worried about. Every time I’ve asked a large-language model chat interface, either Open AI’s, Chat GPT-4, or Bing Chat, or any of the others, to generate content for me, it does something called hallucinating, which is coming up with things that are not true.
>> MARIEKA: But could be true. [laughs]
>> JOOST: Yes, but sounds feasible enough that it could be.
>> AMBER: That people believe it.
>> MARIEKA: So in Joost’s case?
>> JOOST: Yes. So for me, when I did this to Bing the first time, it said that I was an investor in Rank Math [phonetic], which I’m obviously not. It also said that I’d spoken at Moscon [phonetic], the big conference organized by Mars [phonetic] every year. I’ve never spoken there. It’s feasible that I might speak there at one point, but I’ve never spoken there.
When I used another model later on to generate a bio or intro for a speaker that was coming on stage at the conference that I was at the time, it said, she holds a bachelor’s in marketing. And I showed it to her, Lily Ray [phonetic], a well-known SEO, and she said, “Well, this is all fun, but I don’t have a bachelor of marketing.”
The thing is that that model, at that time, thinks it’s reasonable when you say, “Hey, write me an intro for a speaker at this conference; her name is Lily Ray, et cetera.” And then the model goes up and looks up some facts about there. But the model is also just generating text, and it’s just predicting the next logical word to be there. And if you’re announcing someone at a search conference, it’s logical to say that someone has a bachelor of marketing, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
What goes wrong with all these things is that there will be facts in those pre-generated snippets that we use that we forget to check, and then we put them out there. And then suddenly the models get trained again on that data, and then there is a reference out there for something that’s wrong. And that’ll happen more often than you want to happen, and that’s going to create, well, you know, robocop-like situation.
>> STEVE: I mean, I, for one, am apprehensive about submitting to our AI overlords. But I will…
>> AMBER: I tried to train it on Accessibility Checker, because I went in the very beginning, and I was like, “What WordPress plugins are there for accessibility?” It didn’t say ours, and I was mad. [laughs] So then I spent a bunch of time trying to teach it, but I haven’t circled back to see if it actually works. Like, if someone else goes, will it?
>> STEVE: I mean, I take…
>> AMBER: No?
>> JOOST: No, they’re not self-learning yet.
>> AMBER: Oh, OK.
>> STEVE: And I take it a little bit further too. Like, is the information that it’s returning even factual? Two, what kind of biases are cooked into these too, right?
>> MARIEKA: We wrote about that as well. In Yoast SEO, we have a new inclusive language checker, because it’s trained on all this information that’s being old and perhaps a bit traditional. So you’ll get content that’s in the same way. So you need a readability checker because it doesn’t write nice sentences either. And you need an inclusive language checker, and you need a brain in order to fact-check.
>> JOOST: Yes.
>> CHRIS: Yes.
>> AMBER: Yes. Well, and that’s what I was going to say, to your point, Joost, about it learning things. Or, you know, taking stuff, making stuff up, and then thinking that it’s correct [laughs]. I see a lot of this sort of circling back to accessibility and just the accessibility community and what I hear from people with disabilities in the community about their experience and how there’s a lot of incorrect information, or very harmful information about people with disabilities out there.
So I think there’s also a concern that these kinds of AI-generating tools could continue that and create more information that it says is true about people with XYZ disability or using language that isn’t inclusive to talk about them or their experience that’s not real. And I mean, I think that could be harmful, and it could make the typical person who has typical abilities who encounters this think that that’s really true of people with disabilities, which is a concern, I think.
>> MARIEKA: Yes, that’s my concern as well. And we’ve seen that with other AI models. I know… Was it Amazon, Joost? They did AI training on their former applicants or job applicants to predict who they should hire. But they hired a lot of white men in the ’80s and ’90s. And the AI just took out the white male candidates, because it learned…
>> AMBER: They matched the people who’ve been working out there for a long time?
>> MARIEKA: [chuckles] Yes. So…
>> JOOST: Yes. So it’s very much garbage in, garbage out. And one of the things that I fully expect will become law, I hope, quickly, is that when you have a large language model, you actually need to explain what’s in it. Because otherwise, if you don’t say, “Hey, this is based on this training set,” then what can you really trust that thing to do? I mean, the conclusion at that point is that you can’t really trust it to do anything, which doesn’t mean that it can’t do smart things for you.
So I think that Chat GPT is very useful to do simple tasks. A friend of mine described it as a hundred interns. The steam-powered engine was 100 horses. This is very much 100 interns, but you need to check everything that they do.
I asked in post status WordPress community Slack for feedback on, like, “Hey, which news sources do you listen to? Which podcasts? Which newsletters?” And I just copy pasted the entire answer, threw it into Chat GPT, and said, “OK, I’ve just asked this, can you make a table out of this for me with these columns with, like, the URL, the name and the podcast, newsletter?” And it returned a perfectly healthy table with all the info in there in a couple of seconds, which would otherwise have cost me like 20 to 30 minutes to compile myself.
I think for that sort of work, these things are insanely useful. For writing quick descriptions based on a text that you give them; if you say, “Hey, summarize this text for me,” it’ll do that, and it’ll do that fine. And for stuff like that, it is super useful. But to use it to generate text that you’re going to use somewhere and then not very thoroughly check it would be completely unreliable.
>> STEVE: Yes. And in the first case, you’re providing the data to it, telling it what to do with the data. In the other way, you’re asking it for the data back.
>> AMBER: I will say… Oh, sorry, go ahead, Steve.
>> STEVE: As companies that create software, I’ve had a little bit of concern with how, moving forward, we protect our intellectual property. Like, if we were to start writing something… Most of our stuff is open source. So it’s not that big of a deal.
>> MARIEKA: Yes. So it’s not a problem anyway. [chuckles]
>> STEVE: Right. But with GitHub Copilot, how do we know it’s not stealing our code?
>> JOOST: Yes. So our software and maybe even our content is open source, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t hold copyright and we don’t want attribution when they use it. And these models don’t do that.
>> MARIEKA: Well, Bing does a little, right?
>> AMBER: So Chat GPT can write code, which is interesting. And that made me wonder, does it provide attribution or does it violate GPL? Because technically, you’re required to provide attribution if you borrow something from someone else.
>> CHRIS: I think that’s the subject matter of some of these lawsuits. Not the code specifically, but the failure to provide attribution when it’s just wholesale ripping content off of websites that it’s scanned or modeled on.
>> AMBER: What I will say about the coding thing, I’ve played around a little bit with that, and it does a good job of using semantic HTML if you ask it to make you something [chuckles]. So if you’re not super familiar with accessibility and HTML, maybe you can go ask. I bet it gave you a table that was actually coded as a table and not divs.
>> JOOST: Yes. I mean, if you specify it in the prompt, I think one of the most important things that you have to realize when you’re doing this is that you’re talking to a computer. So the more specific you are in your prompt, the better the output will be geared to what you actually need. So if you ask it to write code and you say, “I want accessible output,” it will give you accessible output.
>> AMBER: So there might be some use there. But I will say you probably still need to check it, just like you would with content, especially if it starts using ARIA. And we’ve talked about this before on this podcast, but one of the best rules of ARIA is not to use ARIA. There are cases when it makes sense, but there are other cases where we’ve seen, here’s a link and someone’s put a role of button on it because it happens to be styled like a button. [laughs]
STEVE: Yes. Just make it a button.
>> AMBER: Yes.
>> JOOST: We never make mistakes like that.
>> AMBER: Well, don’t put a role button in a link.
So I think you should still check it. But it might be a worthwhile place to get help with generating, like, HTML structure for something if you’re not super familiar.
>> JOOST: Yes. Well, it’s definitely going to make developers more efficient. I mean, it is a super fast way to write code. It has made me 30, 40% more efficient, certainly when I’m writing code. I’ve described some things that I wanted and I said, “I need a Cloudflare worker that does this,” and it just gave me the code. I copied it into a worker and it worked.
>> STEVE: Wow.
>> MARIEKA: But you’re an earlier adopter, Joost.
>> JOOST: I am, but I think a lot of developers will be, especially when it basically starts doing their job for them.
>> STEVE: Yes.
>> MARIEKA: Yes, that would be cool.
>> AMBER: Well, this has been super fun. We’re about out of time. So I am curious if anyone has any sort of last thoughts about accessibility and SEO?
I do want to shout out that Marieka and I did a live for WordPress Accessibility Day with some other members of the Yoast team last year. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes, because we had a really great conversation about more in depth overlap there.
But does anybody else have any last thoughts before we sign off?
>> STEVE: I would like to ask a question, maybe to kind of wrap it all up. So we talk a lot about SEO ranking, right? About how important it is to maximize the users that are coming to your website? So what if SEO ranking was not a factor in accessibility? Should we still put this much effort into it? Should we still do it? And why? Is it the right thing to do?
>> AMBER: Yes. We didn’t even touch on the whole point of, “Some people think you should not say that you’re doing accessibility for SEO reasons because that.”
>> MARIEKA: Oh. Because it’s important, regardless.
>> AMBER: Because it’s important even if it doesn’t help your SEO. [laughs]
>> MARIEKA: I think that was what I was trying to say at the beginning, that I think it’s more important because it has to do with human beings. And you should make a website that everybody can visit. But I also think that Google wants to do that. Google can be evil sometimes, but in its heart, Google wants to rank websites that are accessible for everybody.
So I think accessibility is more important than SEO. It’s just true?
>> JOOST: No, I don’t disagree. I think you’re right. It is more important. If you’re not making websites for every customer or visitor that you can get with your website, then why are you making it? So yes, you should always.
>> CHRIS: Yes. I mean, accessibility goes back to Close to the inception of the Internet. Based on my reading, they started having conversations about accessible content very early on.
The other thing that I’ll say, just as a counterpoint to that, and I’m going to quote a friend of ours, Anne Meek Boville [phonetic], for this, and I hope to have her on a future podcast episode as a guest as well, just to talk about selling accessibility to large organizations because that’s something that she does a lot in her work.
Basically, to paraphrase her, she just says, “I don’t care how we get the thing accessible. I don’t care if I’m appealing to your sense of greed or your sense of fear; whatever it takes to get this over the line, I am going to achieve an accessible outcome.”
She throws expletives in there, which I’m not going to do, [laughter] but that’s the whole way she operates. And I got to say, I respect it, and it resonated with me when we were talking the other day.
>> JOOST: Yes.
>> AMBER: Yes.
>> MARIEKA: I don’t see SEO as having to do with rankings. It has to do with “get more people to your website,” and that means all kinds of people.
>> JOOST: Yes.
>> CHRIS: Yes.
>> AMBER: Yes. I mean, the thing is, we’re not making websites for ourselves.
>> MARIEKA: No.
>> AMBER: We’re making them for someone else, even if it’s just a personal blog.
When I started mine, I made it for my grandma [laughs] so my grandma could see pictures of my children. Or I made it for my children in the future, so they could look back and see, just read stories about themselves. But if it’s business, that’s the thing that I think is always interesting with business owners in talking about that is… The website should appeal to you; but really, who it should appeal to is your target demographic or your customers or people who can engage with your business in the way you want them to engage. And those people aren’t always people who look or have this exact same abilities that you have.
>> MARIEKA: Yes.
>> JOOST: Perfect.
>> MARIEKA: Is that our… That’s our perfect ending [laughs].
>> CHRIS: I think so. I think so. Full stop.
Well, hey, Joost and Marieka, thank you so much for joining us today, seriously. It was a great conversation.
>> JOOST: Thank you for having us.
>> MARIEKA: Yes, thank you.
>> CHRIS: All right. See you all later.
>> MARIEKA: Bye.
>> SPEAKER 1: Thanks for listening to Accessibility Craft. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe in your podcast app to get notified when future episodes release.
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Accessibility Craft is produced by Equalize Digital, and hosted by Amber Hinds, Chris Hinds, and Steve Jones.
Steve Jones composed our theme music. Learn how we help make thousands of WordPress websites more accessible at “equalizedigital.com.”