How to Create More Accessible Email Content for Maximum Reach
According to the World Health Organization, around 15 percent of the world’s population lives with some form of disability (1). If you want your email marketing campaigns to be more inclusive, you must ensure your emails are accessible to everyone on your list. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense.
Accessible email content helps your business engage a wider audience and build a more diverse customer base. Ultimately, if you ignore accessibility, you could be alienating a significant number of potential customers.
Why Accessibility Matters in Email Marketing
There are five main reasons for making your emails more accessible:
- Screen readers and other assistive technologies can read emails designed with accessibility in mind. This means that people with vision, hearing, mobility, and cognitive impairments can understand your messages and interact with your content.
- Accessible emails create a better user experience for everyone, which means you can engage a wider audience and drive more conversions.
- Accessible emails are easier to navigate, meaning that your readers can find the information they need quickly and easily.
- Creating more accessible emails shows that your company is committed to inclusion and equality, which can help build customer trust and loyalty.
- In many countries, it’s a legal requirement for businesses to make sure their content is accessible to everyone. Failure to comply with disability rights legislation exposes you to possible legal penalties.
10 Ways to Make Your Emails More Accessible
Creating accessible email content is easier than you might think. Use the following 10 tips to ensure that your emails are accessible to everyone:
- Use Descriptive Subject Lines
To make it easier for people of all abilities to scan your subject line and understand what your email is about, keep it short, use plain language, and clearly describe the content of your email. If you use any emojis, place them at the end of your subject line — not all screen readers read out emojis, so don’t use them as a replacement for text.
- Structure Your Email Content Logically
For people using screen readers, content is read aloud from left to right and top to bottom, so the structure should be logical and easy to follow. Break up your content into sections that follow a logical order and use headings and subheadings so it’s easier to scan.
- Choose an Accessible Typeface
Select a font size of at least 16 pixels to accommodate screen reader users, those with low vision, and mobile users. To help dyslexic readers — who account for around 10 percent of the population (2) — use a font size of at least 14 pixels, and stick to sans serif fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, or Century Gothic. Serif fonts can make it harder to distinguish between letters and words.
If you want to emphasize a key part of your message, choose bold text, not italics or underlines. Only links should be underlined.
- Use Straightforward Language
Using plain language ensures that more people can understand your content, including people with learning disabilities and anyone learning English. Long sentences, complex words, and passive voice are all barriers to clear communication. For example:
Our product was developed to ameliorate the lives of those living with vision impairment.
Here’s a simpler version of the same message:
We built our product to help people with low vision.
Which version would you prefer to read?
Businesses can test their emails for readability by using the Flesch-Kincaid grade-level formula. The formula measures how hard it is to understand a piece of text, and the result is a number from 0 to 18. This number tells you the grade level required to understand the text. For example, a score of 10 shows the text is suitable for 10th-graders. You can test your content using this formula with online tools such as the Flesch-Kincaid calculator (3). For accessibility, experts suggest aiming for a grade level of 8 or lower.
- Format Text for Readability
Emphasize important information with bullet points and lists and use subheadings to guide the reader through your content. Also, use left-aligned text. Text that is justified (straight vertical margins on both sides) creates gaps between letters and words, making it difficult for people with dyslexia to read.
You can also improve readability by using the correct line spacing. Ideally, the line spacing should be around 150 percent of the letter height. So, if your font size is 16 pixels, multiply 16 by 1.5 and get an appropriate line spacing value of 24 pixels.
Line length is also important for readability. Most accessibility experts suggest using between 45 and 75 characters per line of text.
- Consider the Color Contrast Ratio
The contrast ratio is the degree of difference between the background and foreground colors. The foreground is typically the color of text or graphics, and a poor contrast ratio can make it hard for people with low vision to read the text. People with color blindness — which affects around 8 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women (4) — can also have difficulty reading content with a poor contrast ratio.
The WebAIM tool (5) from the Institute for Disability Research, Policy, and Practice at Utah State University is one tool you can use to check your contrast ratio. For accessibility purposes, aim for a contrast ratio of 4.5 to 1 or higher.
Also, to help dyslexic readers, use pale background colors like cream or light gray — not bright white. Avoid placing type on dark backgrounds; this impairs readability for anyone, not just people with vision issues.
- Include Descriptive Alternative Text
Not all people can see images, and some people block email images from loading. If you use images, make sure you add descriptive and informative alternative text — or alt text — which describes the image. This helps screen readers to identify the image and tells people who cannot view — or don’t want to view — the image what the image contains.
- Optimize Links
Using a different color for links isn’t always the best way to make them stand out, as people who are color blind or have low vision may not notice the difference. Instead, add an underline to any links you use.
Also, use descriptive text in links to avoid confusion. People using screen readers often scan a page for links to find relevant information, so avoid vague language like “click here.” Instead, use descriptive words that tell users what the link will do. For example: “Visit our FAQ page.”
- Optimize Call-to-Action (CTA) Buttons
It can be tough for people with motor control issues or who use eye trackers to click tiny CTA buttons. To make your buttons easier to click, make them large — at least 44 by 44 pixels. To improve accessibility, you can also:
- Make the CTA text bold.
- Add an arrow pointing to the CTA button.
- Use lots of white space around the button.
- Make sure the button text has a high contrast ratio to the background.
- Cater to Different Screen Sizes
Most email marketers understand the importance of creating emails optimized for multiple screen sizes. Without responsive design, emails can be difficult to read, and devices like screen readers can have a hard time navigating the content. Creating emails that work with different devices is a good start, but all the other accessibility issues included in this guide need to be addressed, too.
Making Email Content Accessible for All
Striving to create accessible email content doesn’t mean that you have to change your entire email marketing strategy. You can start by making a few small changes to the content you create and then monitor the results. The suggestions in this guide should help you get started.
Making your emails more accessible not only helps people that need extra support but also creates a better user experience for all your subscribers. Ultimately, creating more accessible emails will give you a competitive advantage and maximize the reach of your campaigns.