How to design more accessible emails

According to the World Health Organisation, at least 2.2 billion people globally have a near or distance-based vision impairment. That means a chunk of your subscribers could be struggling to view your emails and understand the message if you haven’t made your emails accessible. In fact, if you’re not following email accessibility best practices, you could be excluding over 20% of your readers.

Our duty as email marketers is to give all subscribers a great email experience. Emails should be easy to read and understand for everyone, regardless of disability. That’s why accessibility considerations should be part of the entire email creation process, from start to finish.

The following will help you make positive changes to your emails:

Stick to a 14px font or above

It’s important to make sure that all text is large enough to be easy to read regardless of what device your subscribers use to open emails. If your reader has to zoom in, the copy can be cut off or lost, which can frustrate readers and can be quite damaging if your message gets lost. Try sticking to a font size of 14px or larger and think about line height so readers have enough space between lines to read clearly. 

Think carefully about your font face

Not every typeface is easy to read. So when choosing your email font, think about how legible it is on different screen sizes and devices. 

There isn’t one font that experts agree is most accessible, but the fonts that are best are unambiguous and simple. For example, how easy is it to tell the difference between the number one (1), capital “I”, and lower-case “L”? What about capital “O”s compared to zeros?

It’s also best to avoid custom fonts if you can. Custom fonts don’t always display correctly so try using a web safe font if your brand allows. If you choose to use a custom font, provide a fallback font with a similar X-height.

Avoid heavy text blocks

Steer away from writing large paragraphs of text. If the email looks too cluttered, then try separating it into a few nicely-spaced paragraphs instead. This will also make it easier for screen readers to read it correctly.

You can space copy out by inserting headlines that give context to what the main message is about. If you have large blocks of text, consider using bullet points to break down the copy and try to stick to plain language. Plain language is easy to understand and helps the reader understand what the message/what they need to do next. 

Add padding around your copy

Adding space between modules will not only make the content easily readable, but will also help create a seamless flow of content without making the message look cluttered. 
Add padding around your modules so they don’t take up the full width of the email. Copy aligned to the very edges of an email is difficult to read and can result in a lot of scrolling on mobile.

You may want to consider:

  • How much padding you want to add in between modules. 
  • Add white space or/and divider modules to give users more flexibility while building email campaigns.
  • How wide your email is.
  • Checking the default dimensions of the images you’re going to use in the modules. 

Avoid image-only emails

Structure your emails in a logical way – with a good balance between imagery and copy. Avoid image-only emails which don’t scale well for different screen sizes, and will be mostly blank for those recipients who choose not to load images. Too many images can also increase the chance that your email gets flagged as spam.

Tip: If your image is important to your message, include meaningful alt text. 

Enable smooth transitions between frames for GIFs

A flashy GIF with fast-moving frames will not only annoy some of your readers, but it can actually trigger seizures in people who have photosensitivity, especially when frames are fast paced and flashy. Make your GIFs a benefit to your email with smooth transitions and a slower pace.

Background images and GIFs aren’t fully supported in Outlook, so try to add the option for fallback static images to ensure messages don’t get lost.

Make your GIFs as accessible as possible by enabling smooth transitions between each frame, and make sure that your frames are animated at a slower rate.

Use contrasting colours across your template

Using good colour contrast is helpful to everyone reading your email, and it’s especially useful to those who have low vision, colour blindness, are looking at a screen on a sunny day, or simply forgot their reading glasses.

Try to avoid using saturated colours, and test your background colour against your copy using a colour contrast checking tool such as WebAIM.

Use headings and subheadings

Headings are meant to be scanned, both visually and with assistive technology. They are really important for screen reader accessibility, especially in long emails that contain a lot of information. 

Use headlines that give context of what the main message is about, which also helps recipients quickly scan your email for the information most relevant to them. Some screen reader users exclusively use headings and links to jump to the part of the email that’s relevant to them, make this easy for them by adding structure to your email.

Have specific title, header, and subheader elements in your template - screen readers can identify these are different areas of the email and treat them so rather than adding it all into a text field.

Use contextual links (and underline them)

Make your content easy to scan by linking text that describes what you’re linking to. A coloured text link that isn’t underlined could be overlooked by people with color blindness or low vision. Always underline your links and avoid copy like “read more” or “click here” - it’s not necessary.

Another thing to avoid is underlining any copy that isn’t hyperlinked – it can cause unnecessary confusion.

Use ALT text for images and GIFs

Having alternative text (ALT) is important for email accessibility supporting images that don’t load. ALT text provides context to an image or GIF – which is especially helpful when web clients disable images by default. This also helps any readers with visual impairments understand the message of the image or GIF.

By having ALT text, you are still able to get the message of the image across. A lot of users with disabilities use screen readers to access their emails. ALT text enables screen readers to provide a seamless experience for everyone.

Creating email everyone can enjoy 

Some of the above elements can be physically coded in your email templates so they only have to be built once, while others can be included when building your emails. And though there are many things that need to be tested before an email gets sent, we always recommend testing during the email build as well. Testing along the way helps stop mistakes early and cut quality checking that spends your team’s time. 

Contributing to a more inclusive world

Incorporating the above should not only generate better results for your business but it will also help you better connect with your audience. By putting yourself in their position and thinking about how they consume your emails, you can provide the best possible experience for them.

At B2B Marketing, we know we’re not perfect, and we need to keep these things in mind as much as anyone else. If you have any ideas for content to keep this discussion at the fore of our industry, please feel free to drop us a line at: editorial@b2bmarketing.net

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