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Whilst websites adapt every day to be as accessible and usable as possible, email hasn’t quite benefited from the same level of attention in this area. Instead, marketers have frequently chosen to ignore these developments in all other areas online and continue to do things the way they always have.

Email as a marketing channel is being creatively abused like no other, and it is time for change.

As email marketers, we have a responsibility for compliance, just like websites. It is no longer acceptable to deliver wholly image-based emails to inboxes. It is in our best interest to be as 'best practice' as we can, because it does have a direct correlation with improved performance.

I want to take you through a couple of examples and show you what I mean.

Firstly, here is the latest email I received from Easyjet:

Easyjet Email Creative HTML

On the whole, I applaud Easyjet for making the most of every text area in their emails. Everything that can be text, is text. This means that users with screen readers or users that have images switched off by default are still able to clearly navigate the email, seeing all of the content much like a well-constructed web page.

So this email is ranked highly in terms of accessibility? Well, yes and no...

The potential is there because structurally this email is perfect, but where Easyjet fail, is in fact where it is easiest for them to get things right. I'm referring to the text size. The introduction paragraph that starts "Book now for" is difficult to read, but the sections below that starting "Choose from over 30,000 hotels" is almost impossible to read in text just 9px in size. I find it very difficult to read, and my eyesight is just fine.

Any users that don't have perfect eyesight will not be able to read this. Terms and conditions should not even appear in such a small font, so as a general rule keep the text at a minimum of 10px for terms and conditions and elsewhere go for 12px. This will ensure that everyone reading your emails will be able to clearly view the content.

Next up is an email I recently received from ebuyer:

ebuyer Email Creative HTML

I'm sorry for picking on you ebuyer, but rest assured you're certainly not the only offender. Every single element of this email is an image except for the final line of text (links to unsubscribe and view terms and conditions). There is no alt text on any of the images so if I have images switched off or I am using a screen reader, I won't see any of the message.

Surely that's not good for the recipient or the company, right? What's the use in spending thousands of pounds a year on email if a significant proportion of your audience cannot see your message?

That truth is, persistently emailing this standard of html out to your prospects and customers is nonsensical. And this is what I mean when I say that email is being abused. Daily, I see too many emails that are nothing more than large posters sliced up and sent out as an email.

I can't see where the consideration is for users. There are thousands of large companies out there doing exactly this and I am calling for all offenders to change.

If the above sounds familiar, then take note. Changing might take time and it might cost you a small slice of your marketing budget, but in the long run I promise you it is better for both you and your customers.

Philip Storey

Published 18 May, 2010 by Philip Storey

Philip Storey is Global Head of Strategic Services at Lyris, London and is a contributor to Econsultancy. He can be found on Twitter

6 more posts from this author

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George - Planet Anarky

Good article - and interesting you should cite EasyJet's email, as I reviewed EasyJet's checkout/purchase process on my blog and also took a look at the confirmation email that came out the back. The result? Largely good, but INCREDIBLY small text in some parts. The review's here if you want to take a look: http://bit.ly/aW3F7o

about 6 years ago

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fetion

 I have images switched off or I am using a screen reader, I won't see any of the message.

about 6 years ago

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Clerkendweller

Being "creatively compliant" is of course a lot more than accessibility and usability alone.

about 6 years ago

Ed Stivala

Ed Stivala, Managing Director at n3w media

Absolutely agree with the sentiment of this article Phillip but when you state "a significant proportion of your audience cannot see your message" I wonder if you could post the data that underpins this claim?

I assume that it will vary by campaign and audience but I would be interested to understand what you consider to be a significant proportion? Also to add weight to the argument do you have figures on what % of global email users actually have images switched off?

about 6 years ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Managing Director at EnchantSmall Business

Hi Ed.

Whilst we're not able to see exact details on user preferences in the email client to determine whether they have images blocked, we know that Yahoo!, Google Mail and Hotmail all block images by default, and in some scenarios even alternative text will not display.

Therefore, we know that unless those users have accepted images from that specific sender before, they will not see images at all. Not only that, emails mostly or entirely made up of images have a negative impact on deliverability.

In essence, I'm trying to outline the problems that creative complacency creates for businesses and their customers, hopefully getting the message across to CRM Managers, Campaign Managers, etc rather than designers in the hope that I can convince some to make positive changes.

about 6 years ago

Ed Stivala

Ed Stivala, Managing Director at n3w media

Hi Philip

Thanks for the feedback. I think we have a shared idea and agree about what needs to change. From my perspective though clients (CRM Managers, Campaign Managers and so on) are motivated to accept an idea when it is underpinned with data. That can of course be extrapolated in some instances, but in my experience there needs to be some basis in hard data. 

For instance, most of our clients undertake b2b email campaigns, so delivering to Yahoo!, GMAIL and Hotmail accounts is not even close to being on their radar. But general deliverability is :) Perhaps this could be tested with some A/B testing to understand exactly how much deliverability is improved and if there is a material gain to be had.

Maybe this all hinges on what are we asking for? Does it cost more / take longer to create emails in a less graphic orientated fashion? If not then one could argue why don't designers just get on and do it. It becomes a message for creatives rather than the campaigner owner. 

If it is going to cost more / take longer. Then (IMO) the only interesting questions are how much and what will be the return on doing it. At which point we need actual numbers rather than a subjective perspective. 

about 6 years ago

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Kriti Jaising

Hi Philip,

Great article. we have seen so many articles and blogs on the best practice of email designing and how a well designed email can improve the response rate and ultimately conversion.

We send email campaigns so that our subscribers can read it and take the desired action and if they cant see what we sent then the purpose of launching the email is defeated.

So your point well taken about the font size and judicious use of content & graphics.

And i also agree with Ed's point that the email designers should also know and understand what works. 

about 6 years ago

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email marketing

I agree with Kriti and would love to see the answer to Ed's question on the percentage globally of email users having their images turned off? That would change the design alone.

about 6 years ago

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Email Marketing Mgr

I had always gone down the path of "Best Practices" for email campaigns.  That included balancing the text and graphics.  I finally conducted A/B testing regarding using images vs the mix of images/text.  The heavily image design had the same as far as the deliverables, open, click rates but what surprised us is it had higher sales compared to the text / image balanced based on "Best Practices". 

We used the alt tags and made sure the top navigation was in text not images. The main body section had all images.  The pre-header, header and footer sections were text.

The point is that each will need to conduct tests to their audience and see what works for them.

about 6 years ago

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Casey Munck

I appreciated the article, but what is your proposed solution? I'd love to have some insight as to what TO DO instead of just what NOT TO DO. Thanks!

about 6 years ago

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