Accessibility is a term often used in web design, but what does it mean for email marketing? It comes down to simple changes you can make in your content to remove barriers for people with disabilities.
In this article, you'll learn best practices for making your content accessible and usable for all recipients.
Why accessible email matters
Accessibility refers to the basic practice of designing web content so 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 marketing 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 content is accessible to all your recipients. If you're already familiar with web accessibility, this should come pretty easily to you.
Use descriptive subject lines
This is the first part of your message to your recipients, and it might be what determines whether they open your email or not. Your subject lines should be brief but descriptive, and give readers an accurate idea of what's in your email. Effective subject lines aren't just good for accessibility, they also tend to increase overall engagement.
Maintain a logical structure
You may have 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 recipients 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.
People 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
Effective color contrast 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 recipients 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 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 recipients.
Don't hide information in images
People 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 to present the most critical content in text, and use images to complement that text.
If you include links to videos in your campaigns, offer a transcript for recipients 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 recipient can't view your images. Alt text should be short but descriptive, and highlight the relevance of the image to your message.
Use meaningful link text
This one's pretty simple: when you add a link to your content, make sure the link text tells your readers 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 subscribed contacts who prefer them.
Plain-text emails 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. A subscribed contact can update their preferences by clicking the update your preferences link in their email.
You can also choose to edit the plain-text version of your campaign in the campaign builder.
If plain-text email suits your needs, keep it simple and create a plain-text campaign.