Does Inclusive Language On Your Website Help Your SEO?
As a small business, the team here at CubeSquared Digital all still work hard to be as inclusive as we can. It's part of who we are and we endeavour to present that side of us to the world.
We're a small part of the Disability Confident scheme here in the UK (read more about that here) and we are incredibly proud of the work we do in this area.
Not only that, we take pride in our client base and how we strive to help and support their small businesses, no matter what they do, where they're from, their gender, how able they are, who they choose to love or what they believe. Whether we know any of that information or not, everyone is treated the same.
We believe not only is it good business, but it's the absolute right thing to do, but from a technical perspective, does this ethos impact our business and does it effect our search engine optimisation?
In other words, does having inclusive language on your website help, hinder, or make no difference to how you rank and how people engage with you online?
We thought we'd take a look and see what we can discover.
WHAT IS INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE?
It's probably a term we've all become more aware of in recent years as we, as a society, become more polarised and more extreme views are amplified, but what does 'Inclusive Language' actually mean?
Simply put, inclusive language is the use of words that makes EVERYONE feel welcome. They don't express or imply sentiments that are derogatory or aim to exclude anyone, including those already marginalised groups.
For example, this would include words or phrases that are seen as racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, transphobic; you get the idea. This can come in the form of slurs, insinuations or flat-out insults.
It can also happen innocently and without malice by referring to, for example, webmasters or 'policemen', instead of 'police officers', which is why it's important to take some time to look for it.
When it does occur, they're not only hurtful to people, but can also reinforce systemic biases. We really don't think we need to be any more divided as a society than we are right now.
Words that aren't inclusive, or hit any of those divisive targets, will mean that some of your audiences won't feel they're part of your community and leave. That's a potential customer leaving and never coming back. If you sell products or services, it's money you'll now never see.
Likewise, if they're offended, then they'll also be gone, never to return, no matter how good your product or service is. This in itself is bad for your business and could impact your bounce rate (more on that here) which WILL impact your SEO.
SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT INCLUSIVITY?
If you own a business with any sort of online presence, SEO is going to play a part in how you manage your website and the work you do.
You'll no doubt spend time agonising over the right keywords and phrases, the content you create and the overall user experience all play into managing how your business is presented online.
So having inclusive content on your website and within your overall SEO strategy is definitely good for your visitors and your SEO. There's absolutely no evidence (that we know of) that it actually works against you.
DOES GOOGLE CARE?
Let's start with something written by Google themselves taken from their Accessibility website.
Not only that, Google's CEO Sundar Pichai says:
“When we say we want to build for everyone – we mean it. Accessibility is written into our mission statement and core to our values as a company. We don’t think a problem is solved until we’ve solved it for everyone. Technology’s great promise is to give everyone the same power to achieve their goals. As long as there are barriers for some, there’s still work to be done.”
Whilst we understand that accessibility and inclusivity aren't the same thing, the play in the same ball park.
As these quotes illustrate, Google definitely SAY they care, but do they really in terms of SEO?
Let's take a step back before we answer that and ask different question.
What is Google's raison d'être? Sure they have lots of business irons in the fire, but, at their core, Google's search engine is looking to help users find the most relevant and accurate results based on their queries.
If Google is presenting them with your website based on their search term, they come and visit but feel excluded, they'll leave and chances are, they won't be back. That isn't good for your SEO. Why? We're glad you asked.
Google's algorithm is incredibly sophisticated and the whole ecosystem behind it goes beyond just picking sites based on their keywords.
One of the other things it also looks at is behavioural patterns. This helps them to understand the experience people are having with your website beyond just find them a site that's relevant.
If they come to your site and immediately leave (which could actually be for any number of reasons), Google will think that people haven't found what they're looking for and your site isn't useful to that query or search terms. This can result in them decreasing the ranking of your site. That's not good for your business or your SEO.
Conversely, if you're content is inclusive, welcoming to all and accepting of everyone by including inclusive language, they're more likely to stay and spend more time on your site.
More visitors means more sales, more leads, more shares, more links and more of all the other good stuff that you're trying to achieve online. This ALL helps your SEO, so yes, Google does care about inclusive language, even of that care isn't as overt as their pledges.
To further reinforce this, a few months ago, SEO search advocate John Mueller tweeted this (and he should know about SEO and, incidentally it's this tweet that inspired this whole blog!).
MAKE A STAND BY STANDING OUT.
This whole 'inclusive language' thing might sound like quite a niche aspect of SEO and, to some extent, it might be, but that can also be an advantage to you.
If you're being inclusive but your competition isn't, that's something that helps you stand out. A recent (2022) survey by WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind) looked at the home page of the top million websites. They found that 98% of websites aren't built with accessibility in mind, albeit in the USA, but still!
Whilst everyone else starts playing catch-up, you can step up and stand out by making sure yours is both inclusive to all and accessible by all. Visitors will love it and, if it's part of your business model, so will advertisers. Again, all good for those all-important hits, likes, shares and, ultimately your SEO ranking.
SQUARING THE CIRCLE
In this difficult economic climate, we all need every possible advantage. If it means rewording your website to be more inclusive, then it's really a small price to pay. Even if you ARE fully inclusive, then take another look at your website to see if that's fully incorporated.
If you didn't design it yourself, then do the images reflect the multi-cultural world we live in or is everyone in the pictures only one race? It's easy to overlook, but just as easy to fix.
Not only can inclusivity have a positive impact on your SEO, but on the overall user experience too. How can it not be anything but a good thing to include everyone and not offend anyone?
If more people feel engaged with you, more people are going to come to your website, more people are going to read your content, more chance they'll share it with their contacts and the greater the audience you'll have. All of which can boost your rankings.
After all, don't we all need every advantage we can get in this world?
Do you make inclusivity part of your own SEO efforts? What have you done to make your website more inclusive? What difference did it make? Let us know in the comments below, we'd love to hear all about it.
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Blog photo courtesy of Brittani Burns on Unsplash