Accessibility is a term that gets thrown around a lot in web design, but what does it mean for email marketing? It comes down to some simple changes you can make in your content to remove barriers for subscribers with disabilities.
In this article, you'll learn some best practices for making your campaigns accessible and usable for all your subscribers.
Why accessible email matters
Accessibility refers to the basic practice of designing web content so that people with disabilities can access, perceive, and interact with that content.
We understand that you're busy, and this can sound like more work. So, does accessibility in email really matter? In short, yes.
About 15% of the world's population lives with a disability. That's one billion people. Of those billion people, 285 million are visually impaired and may use a screen reader to access web content. These assistive devices use page elements to navigate web and email content, and read text aloud. For those living with disabilities, accessible content isn't just about convenience, it's about necessity.
But accessibility isn't just for people with disabilities. Accessible content is more logical, more readable, and generally more usable for everyone. Think of good accessibility as good usability, which means you can also think of it as really, really good for business.
Here are a few basic best practices to ensure your campaign content is accessible to all your subscribers. If you're already familiar with web accessibility, this stuff should come pretty easily to you.
Use descriptive subject lines
This is the first part of your message to your subscribers, and it might be what determines whether they open your email or not. Your subject lines should be brief but descriptive, and give subscribers an accurate idea of what's in your email. Effective subject lines aren't just good for accessibility, they also tend to increase overall subscriber engagement.
Maintain a logical structure
You've probably heard of responsive design, and that's what we're talking about here. Depending on how they're coded, multi-column templates will sometimes resize on mobile devices or screen readers to display out of the intended order. It's important for all your subscribers to be able to view your content in a logical order no matter what device they're using, but it's especially vital for people who use screen readers.
If you use a Mailchimp template, we take care of this for you. All our templates are designed to be responsive so your content is always displayed in the correct, logical order. If you code your own campaigns, take steps to ensure they're responsive.
Your subscribers who use screen readers rely on page elements like tables and headers to determine the informational hierarchy of a web page or HTML email. This is how they scan and navigate through your content to access what's most important to them.
Use HTML headings attributes like
<h2> to identify important sections of your content, rather than rely on style elements like colors or bold text. Well-styled text might look nice, but that doesn't mean much to a subscriber who can't see it.
Use color contrast
Using effective color contrast in your campaigns is generally a good design choice, but it's especially important for people with color blindness. This doesn't mean your design needs to be black and white, but it's a good idea to stick to one text color and one contrasting background color. Your color blind subscribers might not see the exact colors you pick, but they won't miss the content of your message.
Look for an online color contrast analyzer, or assess your color scheme right from your account with Inbox Preview. Inbox Preview is a paid account feature that tests your campaign in different email clients. Use color blind view to get an idea of what your design will look like to color blind subscribers.
Don't hide information in images
Subscribers who use a screen reader, or have images blocked in their email client, aren't going to see information in images or infographics. Make sure the most critical content in your message is presented in text, and use images to complement that text.
If you include links to videos in your campaigns, offer a transcript for subscribers with hearing impairments in your campaign or on the page hosting your video.
Use Proper Alt Text for Images
Alt text, or alternative text, is a brief description of an image that's displayed when a subscriber can't view your images. Alt text should be short but descriptive, and highlight the relevance of the image to your message.
To learn more about alt text and how to add it to images in your campaign, check out this article: Add Alt Text to Images
Use meaningful link text
This one's pretty simple: when you add a link to your campaign, make sure the link text tells your subscribers what they're clicking on. You'll need to take context into consideration, but as a general rule, it's best to avoid vague link text. Instead of just saying "Click Here," add some context like "Click here to view our holiday products." This tells your reader what to expect when they click the link.
Include a plain-text version
Great news! When you send an HTML campaign through Mailchimp, we automatically generate a plain-text version of your campaign for your subscribers who prefer them.
Plain-text emails are simple, and don't contain any images, rich-text formatting, or embedded links. While these emails don't include any fancy design elements, many people who use screen readers prefer them since they provide just the core content of your message. You can also choose to edit the plain-text version of your campaign in the Campaign Builder.
If plain-text email by itself suits your needs, you can keep it simple and just create a Plain-Text Campaign.