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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Accessible Search: Answers to common questions

From time to time, our own T.V. Raman shares his tips on how to use Google from his perspective as a technologist who cannot see -- tips that sighted people, among others, may also find useful. - Ed.

Since we launched Google Accessible Search in July, we have received lots of feedback along with many questions. I'll briefly summarize these with answers.

Q: Does Accessible Search filter out inaccessible content?

A: No. First of all, "accessible" is a very subjective measure; what's more, queries can vary widely with respect to how accessible the results are. As an example, if you are looking for information such as weather forecasts or reference material, like the definition of an unfamiliar term, the set will often consists of both accessible and inaccessible content. In these cases, Google Accessible Search promotes those results that have been measured to be more accessible. On the other hand, if the particular query is about videogames, the chances are fairly high that a majority of the best results for that query will be visually busy pages. So in the final analysis, we do not filter content in Google Accessible Search; we pick the best results exactly as we do with regular Google search, and then re-order the top results by their level of accessibility.

Q: The result set looks identical to regular search. Is this intentional?

A: The operational word in the above question is looks. Google Accessible Search does not in any way change the look and feel of Google search results. What it does is re-order results based on how accessible they are.

Q: How has Google enhanced navigating its search results?

A: Since Google Accessible Search launched, many people have sent feedback about the results page (both Google Accessible and regular search) being difficult to navigate with screenreaders. In response, we have updated the results pages in both cases to have section headers that can be used in conjunction with screenreader hotkeys to quickly skim through the page. Thus, once Google has responded to your search query, use your access technology's "move by section" keys to move between the section that displays sponsored ads and the individual results.

Q: How can I perform more complex searches?

A: Notice that http://labs.google.com/accessible has a link to Advanced Search in addition to the simple text box. Use this link to focus your search on documents in a specific language. The resulting search will continue to use Google Accessible Search for ordering the results.

Q: How can I compare regular search with Google Accessible?

A: Google Accessible Search is an experiment, and to be an effective experiment, people need to be able to easily compare the results obtained by using regular Google search versus Google Accessible. Notice that the top of the results page contains a pair of radio buttons labeled "Web Search" and "Accessible Search." You can easily repeat your search by pressing the appropriate radio button and clicking on the "submit" button.

Q: How can I make my site rank higher in Accessible Search?

A: Use our Webmaster Guidelines as a starting point. Once you've fully addressed these, I'd suggest reviewing your content to see how well it degrades gracefully. In addition to viewing the page in text-only mode (as the Guidelines suggest), also try the following additional checks:

- browse your site on a monochrome display;

- use your site without a mouse.

Update: Corrected to note that we *do not* filter Accessible Search content.


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