How Important is Accessibility in Email?

By Elliot Ross, Email Evangelist at Taxi for Email - a SparkPost company

As every marketer is probably already all too aware, email open rates average at around 20% – that means for every five people who receive your email only one will open it. On the down side, 80% is a lot of wasted communication.However when you consider that there are around 15 trillion commercial emails sent a year, 3 trillion are being opened.

The big question for marketers is inevitably ‘how can open rates be improved?’

As email marketers we need to ensure that our messages can be read by anyone who wants to access them. They need to be easy to read and understand, regardless of disability or language. That is why accessibility considerations should be central to the email creation process.

Adhering to basic accessibility guidelines for the creation of email also has the added benefit of ensuring that the marketing messages don’t end up being overly complex. Which in turn could also have a positive impact on open and interaction rates.

Meanwhile creating emails in different languages should also not be seen as a nice-to-have for marketers. If you are a brand with a global footprint or global ambitions, multi-language emails could seriously improve open rates and may give you a significant advantage over your rivals.

Style rules

It is important that you, or your designers develop an accessibility mindset. This process is about marrying company branding guidelines with a set of basic rules to deliver accessible and effective emails.

In some instances it might mean tweaking design elements but in my opinion the benefits of higher open rates significantly outweigh the cons of potentially slightly diverting from brand design rules.

Take point size for example. It could be that your business has an established type point size which it may have stuck with for decades. However, if that point size is less than 14 pt when it comes to email marketing you may have a problem.

Text needs to be large enough so that everyone can read it. If your readers are squinting, zooming in or even worse popping off to get reading glasses, you may have already lost their attention and any chance of any interaction will be gone. So stick to a font size of at least 14pt, and think about line height so readers have enough space between lines to read clearly.

Ask yourself too, is your company typeface easy to read? Before you send out emails, test the font to see what it looks like and how legible it is on different screen sizes and devices (find out for example, what percentage of your target audience reads your emails on mobile, and if appropriate optimise emails for smaller screens). Simple, classic fonts work best. There is a reason why some typefaces are more widely used than others…

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Embedding images into content

For many marketers the jury is out on the effectiveness of embedding GIFs and videos into email newsletters.

From an accessibility perspective there is a very good case for not using GIFs at all. Firstly not all your readers will see them, as background images and GIFs aren’t fully supported in Outlook. Further a flashy GIF with fast-moving frames will not only annoy some of your readers, but it can actually trigger seizures in people who suffer from photosensitivity, especially when frames are fast paced and flashy.

If you are insistent that including GIFs will raise engagement levels then make sure you include ALT text to provide context. This helps readers with visual impairments understand the message of the image or GIF.

Other things to bear in mind include ensuring that links are clear and underlined – if you just colour them they could be overlooked by people with colour blindness or low-vision – and breaking up text with clear, bold subheads. If you 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.

“I don’t understand”

Creating email newsletters in different languages is something that many marketers should be aspiring to. Once you have optimised a newsletter to the point that it works effectively in one language, if you are a global company, explore localisation next.

By offering multi-language emails people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to read newsletters can receive and engage with them. At the same time even people who speak English as a second language, would have to make less effort to read their emails which might make them more inclined to open the email in the first place.

There are simple ways to translate content using online tools like Google Translate. Yet these are only partially effective and may end up creating content that is confusing to readers and possibly damaging to your brand.

At the other end of the scale you could invest in local translators, though this may create cost and efficiency issues. Employing 20 different staff to translate a newspaper into their local language is both expensive and time consuming.

Then there is also the issue of language losing meaning as it is translated. For example, the first James Bond film, Dr No, opened in Japan in 1962 with the bizarre title of ‘We don’t need no doctor.’ Then there is a notable global fast food brand whose tag line “Finger Licking Good” means “eat your own fingers off” in Chinese.

At Sparkpost we refer to the process of optimising email content in different languages as transcreation. We have a tool called Taxi, which helps your marketing and translation teams translate the context of your email, rather than just the content.  This ensures the content actually works in a local culture, thereby avoiding embarrassing mistakes, or strange sentences and structures.

Don’t forget to think about images too! They need to be optimised so that they work in local markets. An obvious short-cut is to make the images of people you use as diverse as possible with different ages, ethnicities and genders etc.

That said nothing beats offering bespoke images on a market by market basis. Visuals should reflect the real world and therefore help to make the newsletter as customer-centric as possible.

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Email is, in my opinion, the leading customer communication tool for marketers. No other platform can compete with its direct, dynamic, interactive approach. Yet as savvy marketers are all too aware their customers receive over 100 emails a day and they only have a limited amount of time each day to consume content. Marketers need to work as hard as possible to make their branded emails stand out but that they are also understood by all who choose to open them.

After all, for some, the reason why they haven’t opened the email might be not because they don’t want to find out what it contains or because they have meeting bloat, but rather that they can’t actually read or understand the email in the first place.

They may be one of the 2.2 billion people globally who the World Health Organisation considers to have a near or distance-based vision impairment. Or if the email is sent only in English they might be one of the 3.6 billion internet users across the planet for whom English is not their primary language.

Making emails accessible is the right thing to do from a company perspective yet it can also improve email delivery and open numbers. And in many businesses small margins like these can lead to big wins.

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