Consumer Email Behavior: Using Images in Email Marketing

This is the first in an ongoing series where I will be sharing insights from a consumer survey from my firm. As the title suggests, I will be focusing specifically on the email behaviors of consumers. This survey was completed in May 2012 and features results from nearly 400 respondents.

Since most email clients turn images off by default, I’m often asked about the use of images in email messages. Because we live in such a visual world, where images and videos are seemingly everywhere, consumers are expecting to see images in your email creative. Moreover, with the popularity of reading email on mobile devices that are fully equipped to render HYML, the audience who requires text-only emails is shrinking.

It’s important to have a properly formatted email creative with a compelling template, as this will assist in driving audience engagement and potentially advocacy. Given that images are turned off, my firm set out to measure how many consumers actually turn them back on. We found that:

  • Fifty-five percent of consumers stated that they turn on the images in the emails that they receive, which rivals the 57 percent of consumers that state they check their primary personal email account on their mobile devices.
  • Far fewer consumers add sender addresses to their address book, which in most email clients will enable image rendering by default. Sixteen percent of consumers stated that they added an email marketer’s email address to their address book.

Follow these best practices to ensure that your subscribers can see and enjoy all of your images.

  • Size and weight. Talk with your email service provider (ESP) to understand the limits of image size and weight, as some ESPs will compress images that are too big, which will ultimately degrade the quality of the image.
  • Use image alt tags. For those who don’t turn images on, ensure that your images have a descriptive text alt tag that acts like a call to action. For example, if there is an image of a red sweater that has a star burst offering 15 percent off sweaters, an ideal alt tag to the image would be “15% off sweaters” not “red sweater image.” Use alt tags that evoke the purpose of the image. If you can’t figure out what that should be for an image, then perhaps you shouldn’t be using it.
  • Link to hosted version of the email creative. This is standard in most email marketing applications, but be sure to include a link at the top of your email template that simply says, “View email in your browser.” I often see emails that say, “Problem viewing images? Then Click Here to view in your browser.” This is too verbose and also in some email clients such as Gmail, the first words in the email creative get previewed and appended to the subject line. In this example your subject line would read, “Buy Our Best Products Now for 20% Off…Problem Viewing.” Simply offer a link to view the email in a browser.
  • Avoid using entirely image-based email. As mentioned, ensure call-to-action images have alt tags and are additionally supported by text. Don’t put important disclaimers and required CAN-SPAM language in images. Rely on HTML tables and embedded tables with different colors to highlight any important calls to action, such as “Buy Now buttons.”
  • Test, test, test. See which images are working and which aren’t. Most ESPs offer a click-overlay heat map that visually shows you where users are clicking most. Test different images with dynamic content approaches. Vendors such as Movable Ink provide an easy-to-use technology that is ESP-agnostic to insert dynamic images that can change and expire content after the email has been sent.

It has been said that “A picture is worth a thousand words,” so ensure that you’re using those image-based words effectively and doing all that you can to make them render correctly.

Until next time,

Email Images image on home page via Shutterstock.

This column was originally published on July 30, 2012.

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