By 2025, more than 4.5 billion people around the world will use email. No wonder it’s such a valuable channel for marketing and customer service. If you’re not careful, however, you risk leaving a sizable portion of your email audience behind.
Over a quarter of U.S. adults have disabilities — and everyone in your audience has a unique combination of abilities, needs, and preferences. How can you write, design, and deliver emails that include them all? Start by avoiding these seven email accessibility errors.
Creating More Accessible Emails: 7 Errors to Avoid
Create more inclusive emails by avoiding these seven accessibility mistakes:
1. Unclear subject lines.
Marketers sometimes use mysterious subject lines, hoping to entice readers to open the email. To write more inclusive emails, avoid this practice. Teasers like “It’s your lucky day…” or “Details inside!” don’t tell readers anything about the content of your email.
That can be annoying. Even worse, it can create access barriers for recipients with dyslexia, memory loss, developmental disabilities, or momentary distraction. A more accessible email starts with a clear, concise subject line.
2. Complex language.
Clear, concise writing should continue past the subject line and into the body of your email. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) recommend a “lower secondary education level” for writing. In other words, use language the average middle-schooler can understand.
3. Insufficient color contrast between text and background.
Don’t let brand colors dictate the look of your email. Think of readers who have color vision deficiency or low vision; they might struggle to read if your text color is too similar to the background.
According to WCAG, digital text should have a minimum color contrast ratio of 4.5:1. When in doubt, stick with black text on a white background.
4. Using color alone to convey information.
In addition to avoiding low color contrast, email designers should avoid using color as the only way to emphasize text or share information. Some of your readers won’t distinguish colors, so they’ll miss whatever point you’re trying to make. That’s a clear barrier.
This is one of WCAG’s Success Criteria (SC), too: SC 1.4.1, “Use of Color,” which states that “color is not used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element.”
5. Improper semantic HTML elements.
If you design emails using HTML, it’s important to use semantic elements — subhead tags like <h2>, for instance — to thoughtfully organize your content.
These elements don’t just affect the appearance of your email. They also allow assistive technology to navigate written content. For example, screen readers may use header tags to help users scan or browse content. That’s why it’s important to use header tags in logical order.
6. Videos without captions and transcripts.
If you post videos in your emails, include captions and transcripts (yes, both) wherever possible. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may use captions to consume your video content. People with developmental disabilities may go through transcripts at a comfortable reading pace. Lots of viewers would rather read than listen.
By providing captions and transcripts, you accommodate many viewers in many ways. That’s the goal of accessible design.
7. Unclear hyperlink anchor text.
If you don’t tell readers where links go, you can create a frustrating experience. “Click here” doesn’t tell readers anything about where they’re headed or why they might want to visit. This unclear anchor text causes additional problems for screen readers, which may support navigation through link lists.
When you write anchor text, be descriptive, clear, and concise. If you’re not sure what to write, try printing the whole title of the page you’re linking to. For example, you could write something like this: “Read more: Quick Guide to Accessible Hyperlinks.”
Additional Resources for Email Accessibility
The seven issues listed above are just a few examples of the accessibility errors that affect emails. For more comprehensive guidance, explore our Essential Email Accessibility Checklist. It’s available to download for free.