How accessible are the emails you send?

Most of us send emails on a daily basis and are regularly on the receiving end of an email marketing campaign too, but are the emails we send and receive accessible by everyone?

Emails flash up on our phones and computers so regularly that we almost don’t notice them. But for those who suffer from visual impairments, viewing emails is a luxury not taken for granted.

I’m not saying it’s impossible for those people to use email because of visual impairment and you should always regard those people as a massively important part of your audience.

When people talk about ‘accessibility’ in email marketing and web design, it is essentially about making a series of simple changes to your content in order to remove barriers that may prove to be stumbling blocks for those with disabilities and ensuring your content is accessible to everyone.

Why does it matter?

Quite simply, if you want your email campaigns to have the greatest effect, you need to make the content as open and accessible to as many people as possible.

Approximately 15% of people globally live with a disability. This equates to one billion people worldwide, of which 285 million are considered visually impaired.

All of those people may have to use a screen reader in order to access content.

How does a screen reader work?

Screen readers are essentially software programmes that enable people who are blind or visually impaired to read their computer screen or phone using a speech synthesiser or Braille display.

These software apps create an interface between the device and the user in order to provide audible narration or Braille display describing the content of, in this case, emails.

Best practices…

Regardless of whether you are only sending email campaigns to people with visual impairments or not, making them “accessible” is just as important to everyone.

It’s all about improving readability, usability, logic and improved accessibility is a good thing for everyone.

Your header is important

Subject lines are vital for grabbing attention. This is what determines whether someone will open or delete your message.

Keep subject lines short, concise and to the point. Always include relevant keywords and ensure they feature early on.

There’s also a really neat way of setting the preview text that appears as a text snippet when previewing emails – click here to find out more about why that’s useful.

Although it is tempting to be creative with your header, for it to be accessible it needs to explain what the content of the email is. Not only will your header help with accessibility it’ll also improve engagement.

Keep the structure logical

Making sure that your content flows in a logical way is very important, especially when considering all of the different apps and mobile device the emails you send will be viewed using.

When emails are built in a responsive way, it means they automatically re-size depending on what the screen size is.

While this works well for the readability and design the main benefit comes from how the content re-organises itself to fit on desktop, web and mobile.

Therefore, it is important that the structure of your email works in a logical way regardless of whether it is opened on a phone, tablet or computer.

Instiller does this automatically do for you when using our online designer feature. Even then, it is still important to consider how the content will flow though and ensure the most key information is up front to keep your audience engaged.

Fix the code

If your email campaign is HTML coded then there may be accessibility issues built into the very core of the email structure. These basic fixes will require a web developer or someone who is proficient in coding as it goes beyond the basic email templates.

Part of this can include ensuring you use the <h1> and </p> tags to make the content easier to digest. It helps the screen reader to understand whether it is looking at headings or paragraphs – this makes the email easier to navigate and more pleasant to read.

The same also applies to adding the <title> tag to the head section of the HTML, which ensures those using assistive technology have some context on what they’re reading.

Additionally, by setting the lang attribute on the <html> tag to the language of the content, it ensures screen readers are able to pronounce words correctly e.g. <html lang="en">

Ensure images have alt text

This is crucial for helping screen readers understand what an image contains and translate this to a user.

When designing email templates, you will be able to add alt text to images – “alt” means “alternative text”.

It is useful for all users, not just those who have visual impairments, as it means everyone can see what you’re trying to communicate even when the message hasn’t loaded properly.

You only need to add alt text to images that are part of the body of the email and that serve a purpose, for example, as the introduction for a blog article or as a promotional code.

If it is something that is just there for an aesthetic purpose to the email, such as a spacer gif, just set the image alt text to an empty alt="" and this will alert the screen reader to ignore these images.

This helps to make it easier for those with visual impairments to follow the flow of your email rather than being interrupted in this way.

Just remember that if your image doesn’t have alt text and contains important information, this will be lost if it doesn’t load or can’t be read by a screen reader.

Other considerations

As mentioned before, accessibility isn’t just about making your email campaigns available to users who suffer from visual impairments, although this is a large part of it. The reality is that it applies to absolutely all recipients of your emails.

If aspects of your emails are confusing, don’t work, cannot be read or don’t make sense, then your email will prove itself to be inaccessible.

When you are choosing your font, you are making a crucial decision in how legible your email is. Make sure you have your font at a size that most people can read.

A minimum of 14px is advisable as anything less can be tough to read. If the font is particularly skinny or light in colour, you may want to go up to a 16px size to ensure it is clear.

If you are emailing people known to have visual impairments (for example, if you are an opticians), then you may choose to increase the size further or have a link available where people can read your content in a bigger font.

Along with size, choose a font that is fairly generic and commonplace so it feels familiar to users and so that they are used to reading it; Times New Roman and Arial are popular and easy to read because they are evenly spaced.

Fonts that are too cursive or fancy may not be recognised by the device or it could be too illegible and your audience will just switch off.

Additionally, be aware of the contrasts between the colour of fonts and the background which they sit on. Text needs to be clear to read.

Some people struggle to read certain colours light colours on a white background. If the contrast is too high, or the colours merge together, your audience won’t take the time to try and understand it.

Making things as simple and clear as possible is key.

Want to see how accessible your emails are?

This is the place to start even if you think you’re emails don’t have any issues with accessibility.

Try running your email content through this tool over at accessible-email.org and if you want to see what others are saying have a read of this guide written by Litmus.

Most of all though, test your emails thoroughly in all of the different email apps and mobile devices and consider what the content is like to read for those that are visually impaired.


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