Email Accessibility: 4 Best Practices for Marketers

January 6, 2022

Email campaigns are an essential part of every marketer’s toolkit, but writing effective emails can be difficult. According to mailing list service Mailchimp, the average open rate for email campaigns hovers around 21% — for all industries, clickthrough rates averaged 2.62%.

For marketers, digital accessibility can improve those results. The best practices of accessibility improve every reader’s experience, and by removing barriers for the 26 percent of U.S. adults with disabilities, you can significantly expand your reach. Below, we’ll address several of the best practices to keep in mind when planning your campaigns.

1. Write clear, concise content

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) recommend a "lower secondary education level" for accessible content, which can make content easier to read..

Of course, simpler content can also improve conversion rates. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Avoid jargon. If you need to use complex terms, define them clearly within the email — don’t assume that your readers will research on their own.
  • Make sure your links are distinguishable from the rest of your content. Use descriptive link text that explains the purpose of the link. For example: Instead of writing “click here,” write “purchase our products here.” 
  • For longer emails, break up content with subheadings and lists.  
  • Use popular, simple fonts. More-accessible font options include Times New Roman, Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, Helvetica, and Calibri. 
  • Make sure your font is large enough to be legible. For emails, normal text should be between 11 to 14 point.
  • Avoid using font appearance (such as bold and italics) to convey meaning.

Read: Writing Clearer Content That Benefits Accessibility Expands Your Audience

2. Write descriptive subject lines and subheadings

Most people won’t read every single sentence in every email they receive. In one Nielsen Norman Group study, only 16 percent of internet users read word-by-word when browsing. The rest of the test group “scanned" web pages for important information.

By providing descriptive subject lines and subheadings, you can help users find info that interests them. The key word here is descriptive: If you’re using a subheading, make sure it provides helpful context. For example, a subheading that reads, “4 Facts About Our New Non-Stick Pan" is more useful than a subheading that reads, “4 Facts.”

Use subheadings in their standard sequential order. Don’t write extremely long subheadings, and don’t try to use every type of heading on every page.

Read: Structuring Your Website for Accessibility: Avoid These Header Tag Mistakes

3. Use color and images carefully

Marketing emails usually include visual elements to grab the reader’s attention. Even if you offer a plaintext version of your content, you should consider how color and images could affect your readers.

Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Avoid using images or colors alone to convey information. For example, you shouldn’t advise users to “click the red button,” since some readers won’t be able to identify a visual element by color alone.
  • Avoid using images of text. Provide text alternatives for all non-text content. HTML emails support image alternative text (also called alt tags), so follow the best practices for writing effective text alternatives.
  • Make sure your emails maintain an appropriate color contrast ratio. Color contrast describes the difference in light between text (or other foreground elements) and background elements. Per WCAG, normal text must meet a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1, while large text should have a contrast ratio of at least 3:1. 
  • Avoid using flashing graphics. Content that flashes more than three times in any one second period may confuse users or trigger photosensitive seizure disorders.
  • Avoid pairing reds and greens so that people with this common color-vision deficiency don't have an extra barrier.
  • Wherever possible, use responsive designs. Review your emails to make sure they deliver an equivalent experience on small screens and in different display orientations. 

Read: The Basics and Importance of Color Contrast for Web Accessibility

4. Use semantic HTML to make emails accessible for different technologies

Semantic HTML allows assistive technologies to function in a predictable manner. Emails can — and should — use semantic HTML wherever possible.

For example, the lang attribute defines the language of the content. If the user accesses your email with a screen reader, the software will use the language to follow appropriate pronunciation rules. HTML tags can also provide readers with additional navigation options.

Read: Leveraging HTML for Web Accessibility

When planning email campaigns, make sure your website is accessible

Remember, high click-through rates won’t matter if your email campaigns lead readers to an inaccessible website. For optimal results, test your website for conformance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA and fix any accessibility issues as early as possible.

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers free, confidential WCAG compliance summaries for websites, along with resources for adopting the best practices of digital accessibility.

Receive an industry accessibility analysis of your website

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