Don’t Pay $6 Million for SEO

By Bryson Meunier, Natural Search Associate Director

How much is SEO worth? $19.95 a month? $300k a year? Anyone think it’s worth $6 million dollars?

I know McAnally is raising his hand, but I’m guessing most of us think that’s a little too much to pay for keyword research, accessibility and digital public relations—no matter how advanced. At the very least it’s more than 99.9% of companies are paying right now for the practice. And that .1% that paid $6 million did so unwillingly, after being sued by a blind person’s advocacy group. All because of a few missing alt tags.

I’m speaking, of course, about, who recently agreed to a $6 million dollar settlement for having a site that’s not accessible to the visually impaired. They were sued in 2006 by the National Federation of the Blind for having a site that was not accessible to blind people and settled for a legal precedent that could make accessibility more important than ever.

Accessibility is one aspect of having a search engine friendly web site, as search engine spiders often mimic simple users in order to index content that many people can access, regardless of visual impairments or updated software.

Many companies are looking to build a visually appealing user experience, sometimes to the detriment of accessibility. They often deprioritize or entirely omit tasks like creating Flash files with text equivalents or assigning alt tags to images and other technologies that can take a lot of time and only offer benefits to a relatively small minority of users who use screen readers to browse the web. This precedent could change that.

The accessibility aspect of SEO has always been important in terms of making sure web site content was able to be indexed by search engine spiders. It now helps to avoid litigation as well, and might be another reason site owners and SEOs can give for prioritizing accessibility recommendations that are often time-consuming to implement. The cost benefit analysis looks entirely different when a six million dollar penalty is introduced.

As attorney and legal blogger H. Scott Leviant offers on his blog The Complex Litigator, accessibility lawsuits will become more common, and companies would do well to make their web content accessible sooner rather than later:

"Other companies have decided to avoid litigation (probably to foster more goodwill with consumers)," he added. "Following Target's settlement, I think it is likely that online retailers can expect a rapid surge in litigation of this type."

Is your content accessible? If not, what are you waiting for? Chances are, whatever it costs to implement will be less than the cost of not doing it and getting sued. Get some good free tips in the accessibility section of Google’s Webmaster Central blog, which includes a two part contribution by visually impaired Research Scientist, T.V. Raman.


Dave McAnally said...

Actually I'd agree 100% with you Bryson. 6 million dollars is an egregious and preposterous price to pay for SEO and accessibility services.

5.9 million is a much more appropriate price considering the weight of this lawsuit!

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