Email marketing is low cost, requires modest effort and can generate significant conversions. It’s a true no-brainer for outreach to your current and prospective customers.
But while the industry has made great strides in developing systems to find and gather information on people who are interested in your message, a large chunk (approximately 15%) of your potential audience has been completely ignored — people with disabilities such as blindness/low vision, colorblindness, dexterity issues and deafness.
Based on our observations and experience, accessibility is not only inadequate when it comes to email marketing – it isn’t even in the conversation. The result is that people with disabilities may not be able to navigate or read your emails. But that doesn’t mean you are hopeless or powerless. In this article, we’ll share some basic things you can do to improve your emails immediately and perhaps inspire changes that are long overdue.
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Why Accessibility Matters
So often, email marketing strategy is brutally laser-focused on conversion rates and other similar statistics. And while the numbers are obviously crucial, there’s more to consider.
- Seize market opportunities. Up to 15% of users have a disability, so make sure your emails are readable so they have the chance to convert. This is a no-brainer since it costs you nothing to grow your audience.
- Legal considerations. Access to electronic information has become a common cause for litigation. Avoid any risk by taking steps to provide access to your content proactively.
- Brand impact. Does your organization welcome all people and act as a good citizen of the online world, or does it take large groups of people for granted? The answer to this question may impact how people feel about your brand.
- Viral opportunities and risks. In 2015, the National Football League became a viral punching bag and looked idiotic when it aired a “color rush” game featuring teams in full-color red and green jerseys. The result was that colorblind viewers — which happens to include a whopping 8% of all men — were unable to tell one team from the other. It’s safer and smarter to make it part of your company’s culture to consider the accessibility implications.
HTML and Text Emails
The main purpose of HTML is to present information within a web browser such as Google Chrome and Microsoft Internet Explorer. A decade ago, most websites were likely unreadable to people with disabilities.
But in recent years as momentum toward accessibility compliance has increased, people with disabilities have begun to experience the web more and more like everyone else. Unfortunately, emails are not experienced in a consistent way like websites are in a browser. Instead, they are completely unrestrained. There are dozens – if not hundreds – of possible email programs people may view your message.
One way to be sure is to provide a thoughtfully-created text version of the email. It can become easy to overlook the text-only version of the email since HTML emails are preferred by most users. But keep in mind that the text version provides a predictable, readable experience for users with disabilities every time.
Guidelines You Can Use
The fact of the matter is that you will spend most of your effort on the HTML version of your emails. In some cases, the tools to create HTML emails are getting better at supporting accessibility concerns, but most marketers are not aware of what they can do. Many of the guidelines are surprisingly simple choices that make a big difference.
We’ve included some basic guidelines below so you can get started today.
Step 1: Review Your Message Content
Your content should be written in a way that can be consumed by assistive technology such as screen readers. This isn’t actually very difficult. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Copy is clear, succinct and consistent
- Headers are used to separate chunks of text
- The hierarchy of the headers is consistent
- Links to the same site/file are not named differently
Step 2: Review Your Message Design
Your design options may be limited based on the tool you are using to generate the HTML emails, but follow these guidelines whenever you can:
- Make sure your text and design elements meet accessible color contrast guidelines. People with low vision or colorblindness rely on contrast.
- Keep call-to-actions large and clear of other content. For users with motor-skill challenges, small and embedded links can be difficult to click.
- Minimize the use of images. This is especially important for any calls-to-action in the email.
- Underline your links to clearly indicate they are clickable. This is especially true for links within paragraph text.
- Do not rely on mouse hover. Mouse hover effects can seem glitzy, but keyboard-only and assistive technology users cannot see them.
- Make sure the text is large enough on screen. Unlike web browsers, email programs do not always allow the user to adjust the font size. For someone with vision challenges, this can be a problem.
- Be careful using tables. Tables are a staple of HTML email design due to the fact they hold the layout together predictably. But they have to be coded correctly so that screen readers do not treat them as tabular data.
Pushing the Industry
By making simple changes to your HTML emails, you can help to start putting accessibility in the conversations around email marketing. We also encourage you to reach out to your vendor and ask them about their future plans to support people with disabilities. Hopefully, changes will come one customer at a time, one email at a time — and the result is that everyone will have access to the same information equally.
Still not sure where to start? If you have any questions about creating more accessible HTML emails, please contact us. We are always looking for new challenges and opportunities to collaborate with clients on user experiences that promote access to all people.
By Mike McClure
Director of Design + Development
Mike has been involved with user experience work since the early nineties. His experience spans the gamut, from strategy to UX development and front-end coding, to accessibility and animated guided tour videos.View Mike's Bio
By Tony Johnson
Senior Front-end Developer
Tony has spent well over a decade building interactive applications. He collaborates in the full life cycle of projects – bringing a unique blend of technical savvy, creativity and strategic thinking to our user experience consulting services.View Tony's Bio