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Images in email marketing - tips 

How you treat images in marketing related emails can really make or break a campaign.

Back in the days of plain text emails, copy was king. Nowadays, we're able to to relay much of what we once had to explain through the written word with the use of images; but there are many traps for the unwary.

Here's a few quick tips on the use of images in emails to help you have them work for you to improve response rates rather than against you.

Keep images light

As with web pages, keep the image light in terms of kilobytes. Nobody will wait 30 seconds to see the image load. In fact, I think most people won't even bother waiting 10 seconds. Even if you're embedding the image in the email itself rather than referencing it on your servers; people won't take too kindly to a 500kb image slowing things down when receiving email. 

My preference is to use images under 25kb.

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Use as few images as possible

While adding a stack of images to a newsletter isn't such a bad thing in that application, in a blurb that's purely marketing related, it can be. Every image adds weight to the email or is an added call back to the server and given the short attention span of users, every second counts. Try to use one image only.

Optimize all images

While a 25kb image is okay, if you can optimize/compress it further, do so. Most graphics software offers compression features whereby you can reduce the image kilobyte size without any apparent loss of quality. In many cases a 25kb image can be optimized to 15kb - and a 10kb saving is substantial; particularly if you're referencing images back to your server rather than embedding them.

Image height and size

Users run all sorts of resolutions - mainly from 800x600 upwards these days. Additionally, if using a desktop email client such as Outlook; often they won't open an email, but read it via the preview window. Given the size of the preview window, images should be kept to under 470 pixels wide and 150 pixels high. 

Image placement

In my opinion, the reason for using images in email marketing is to grab attention, therefore they should be placed at the very top of the communication rather than halfway down where they may not be seen initially by people using the preview window.

Image blocking issues

Many email services and software allow for users to block images and some have this as a default setting. That's where the image sizes I mentioned also come into play - particularly height. If the image you use is very high and it winds up being blocked; the textual copy may be pushed a long way down the page and not seen; again, this is particularly relevant to people using a desktop email client and preview windows. If you do need to use images that are quite high, another workaround is to not include the image size in the coding - that way, the blocked image placeholder area will be quite small.

Animated gifs and email

Many email clients will display animated gifs, with one (big) exception - Outlook 2007. This version of Outlook no longer uses IE's rendering engine - it uses Word; so only the first frame will display. If you're going to use animated gifs, make sure the first frame sums up what you're attempting to relay.

Include plain text

Related to the image blocking issue, it's important to not rely totally on images for your blurb. Additionally, some folks just don't react to images and prefer a little more detail - include some text about your offer below the image. The other advantage of including text is in relation to spam filters. An email that consists solely of images or a single image will likely attract a higher spam score.

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Use alt text

If your image is blocked, all is not lost - use the ALT image tag - the alt tag or text attribute briefly describes what the image represents. For example, an alt tag for your blurb might be "New model now in stock". It just gives the reader an idea of what the offer is about. Here's what the code looks like for an alt attribute:


<a href="http://www.example.com"><img border="0" src="http://www.example.com/email-marketing.gif" alt="Email marketing image tips">

Link to a full version

Given the plethora of email services out there; there's all sorts of variations on how each treats images and some can really mangle an email, so make sure you include a link to an online version of your email near the top of the message. Something as simple as:

"Problems viewing this email? Click here".

The link doesn't have to be in large font, but it should be directly under the header message.

Test, test and test again

Testing is becoming an increasingly important part of email marketing - different browsers, email clients and services will render the way an email looks different. It can be a really painful process, but well worth the effort. Set up mail accounts with Yahoo, Gmail etc. and run test sends before mailing to a live list. Also check how the email views in different browsers - most importantly, Internet Explorer and Firefox. If you can, install different email clients on your computer and test how emails look via various applications.

A handy feature of some email marketing software and services is the inclusion of rules for various programs and services - they'll allow you to view how your marketing blurb will look without needing to install various clients and browsers or having test mailing accounts all over the place. So if you're in the market for a list management application, make sure that's a feature on your "gotta have" list.


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Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
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