Disabled Images in E-mail Disable Interest

Image blocking continues to be an issue for e-mail marketers. MarketingSherpa recently reported that only 33 percent of those surveyed have images turned on by default. This is a vast difference from 2006, when the figure was a still concerning 55 percent.

It’s surprising that so many e-mail marketers, even those working for large companies, haven’t taken steps to make their messages more useful when images are off. Here’s a quick critique of one e-mail, with tips for how small changes could have made it more effective when images were disabled.

Let’s start at the inbox, looking at the AutoPreview/snippet copy and the preview pane.

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The “From” and “Subject” lines are pretty good. The “From” line is branded and the subject line is engaging. But the additional copy that appears in the AutoPreview/snippet lines could be better. You can see for yourself by choosing “AutoPreview” in Microsoft Outlook.

Ritz-Carlton is following what used to be standards and best practices. Its “view online” message and “white list” request are at the top of the e-mail. But this doesn’t work so well for optimizing the AutoPreview/snippet copy, as these messages appear there as well (see the three lines under the “From” address and “Subject” line in the inbox view above).

AutoPreview/snippet copy can boost open, click, and conversion rates. Ritz-Carlton would do much better to leverage this prime real estate with some additional benefit to pull people into the message. When images are blocked, leveraging this text copy to get the open becomes even more critical.

Also in the above screen shot you’ll see the preview pane. It’s great that the headline (“Stay Connected – Join Our Email Community”) is in rich text. A portion of the first line of the e-mail text is also visible. But aside from these elements and the “view online” and “whitelist” copy, everything else is an image and doesn’t appear.

Usually, the “view online” link doesn’t get many clicks, so this isn’t an effective way to address blocked images.

Also, alt tags aren’t an acceptable way to compensate for images being blocked. You can see why here.

Outlook adds its own message before the alt tag copy when images are blocked – it says “Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.” As you can see in the image in the right column, the alt tag (in this case “Welcome”) appears after this copy. When the image is smaller, the full Outlook message is truncated and the alt tag doesn’t even appear. Either way, the alt tag is not a useful substitute for the image rendering.

A look at the e-mail with images turned on (below) shows us what we’re missing.

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It’s a shame that the “Ritz-Carlton” brand at the top left was an image. Due to branding guidelines, many companies use images to control the font. But for e-mail, having the brand appear in a non-approved font would be preferable to having it not appear at all, because it’s an image.

It’s also a little puzzling why an image appears above the headline box and to the left of the body copy. It looks pretty when images render, but is there really a lot of value here? Do these really need to be images?

If a recipient opens the e-mail full screen (or scrolls down in the preview pane view), the story gets a little better (see below).

The body copy is rich text, so it appears even when images are disabled. And Ritz-Carlton is using a bulletproof “Join” button, which renders even if images are turned off. And yes, readers can click through on the button without enabling images in Outlook.

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If you don’t know what your e-mail messages look like with images blocked, find out. Don’t just focus on the full screen view; look at what appears in the preview pane, as well as the AutoPreview/snippet copy. Small, inexpensive changes to the way your e-mail messages are designed and coded can have a huge impact on your results when images are blocked – and even when they aren’t.

Until next time,


Jeanne is off today. This column originally ran on July 26, 2010 on ClickZ.

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