During my 8+ years working in web usability and accessibility, I’ve frequently been party to or witnessed numerous conversations relating to the “business case” or “cost justification” of usability and accessibility efforts. In my opinion, the conversations usually don’t go well – particularly on the side of the usability/ accessibility advocate. Here’s how they usually go:
- Executive: “Why should I make my website accessible?”
- Accessibility Person: “Because your website will be more usable to people with disabilities.”
- Executive: “I’d love a more accessible site, but I need more concrete justification before I can get budget”
- Accessibility Person: “But but but ACCESSIBILITY!!!!!!!!11”
OK, I realize I’m exaggerating a little bit. There lots of examples of business cases for usability and business cases for accessibility and these business cases are often cited as justification for making a more usable and accessible website.
The problem I have – particularly when it comes to the web accessibility business case is that they are often so weak. I’m somewhat reluctant to come to conclusions as to why these business cases are weak other than to say that typically:
- They often overstate the impact of accessibility for the full user population. In other words, their claims imply that accessibility will lead to a more usable website.
- They often base their claims on outdated information. One area this often happens in claims that accessibility increases SEO.
- They often overstate stats & figures when making their argument. This is seen most when discussing population sizes and buying power.
During my career I’ve been fortunate enough to work for clients at Fortune 100 companies with US Alexa ranks better than 100 and with traffic of more than 2.5 million page views per day. We’re talking places that have hundreds of developers, scores of project managers, and an entire floor used to house the servers for their website. Presenting a business case composed of “cooked up” facts and figures will do more harm than good when you’re speaking to clients because they’ll say to themselves “Have I hired the wrong guy? Does this person really understand what it takes to manage a site like ours?” and they will ultimately conclude that you don’t.
What Makes a Business Case
I am of the opinion that a good business case for web accessibility will present clear facts and data which are independently verifiable. Such a business case would use data that the analysis of which any reasonable person would come to the same conclusions. It would discuss only accessibility and its impact on the organization’s bottom line. Before we dive too far into that, we need to set the stage about what we’re talking about.
Fundamentally, profit is defined as the difference between income (in other words the price charged) and the costs associated with producing and marketing the product. Profit is actually much more complex than that, but it serves our purpose well to use the following:
Profit = Total Sales Revenue - Development Costs
More specifically, website income is profit derived from one or more of the following:
- Products or services sold directly on the website
- Donations received directly through the website
- Ad revenue from ads displayed on the website
- Sales leads originated from the website
As it relates to the “business case” for web accessibility, claims are often made which assert that an accessible website will being more users (via SEO), and increase conversion rates, primarily through improved general usability.
Understanding website costs is really quite simple. The costs of building and maintaining a website are:
- Wages & benefits paid to all staff who work on the website (designers, developers, content creators, project managers, marketing staff, etc.)
- Services provided by outside vendors (offshore development, design firms, etc.)
- Hardware and software for the servers and for the staff
- Office space
- Misc. expenses such as fees paid to payment gateways, advertising, etc.
Threats to Profit
Profitability would seem be pretty easy to guarantee. If you know all of your sources of income and cost, all you need to do is increase your revenue and keep costs down, right? Unfortunately, there are a large number of business risks which may derail that strategy:
- adverse economic conditions
- debt & access to credit
- regulation and compliance
- emerging markets
- social acceptance and corporate social responsibility
Accessibility’s Role in ROI
With the above information we can begin to understand what we need to know in order to form a strong business case. Our business case needs to answer the following questions clearly in order to address Accessibility’s role in ROI:
- Will it increase our income?
- Will it allow us to sell more products or services/ Will it get us more donations/ Will it get us more sales leads – in other words, will it lead to conversions?
- Will it drive more relevant traffic to our site, inducing the visitors to click more ads on our site?
- Will it save us money?
- Will it make our website staff more efficient?
- Will it cost less to get work done by outside vendors?
- Will our costs relating to hardware, software, office space be diminished?
- Will we pay less in misc. expenses?
- Will it help us mitigate risk?
- Will it put us ahead of our competition?
- Will it shield us from adverse economic conditions?
- Will it help us eliminate excess debt?
- Will it help us gain more free access to credit?
- Will it help us comply with regulations?
- Will it help us break into emerging markets?
- Will it shield us from corruption and mismanagement?
- Will it help us avoid harm to brand?
- Will it help shield us from litigation?
Taking a look at the above, we can see clearly that accessibility can play a role in affirmatively answering some of those questions. Some aspects of accessibility can improve SEO. Conversely, we see a number of questions cannot be answered with accessibility. Having a more accessible website isn’t going to provide better access to credit.
Putting the business case together
Simply having a list of questions you can answer “yes” to is not enough. Accessibility itself has a cost. Hiring new staff or outside consultants, buying new tools, and training existing staff adds cost. Can we say, using real data, that the amount of new income, amount of cost saved, and amount of risk mitigated is enough?
I guess you’ll have to wait until Part 2!