Everyone wants their newsletters to be opened, read and engaged with, by millions. Some people think this happens by creating a work of art within. This is incorrect, though, because in most instances people can’t see the inside of your email before they decide to open it.
So, if the artwork doesn’t help with opens, does it at least have an effect on engagement?
Well, it can make a big impression, but only if you do it properly. In this article we’ll discuss the best ways to use images in your emails, and hopefully the click-throughs will flow!
It’s All About the Pixels – Designing for multiple screens
So let’s get straight into it. For desktop viewing, due to email client restrictions, it’s best to use 600px as the max width for your email. This, of course, also goes for any images you may want to use horizontally across the email.
Just keep in mind that if you use the entire width, the image should still be able to scale down to a mobile size without changing too much.
Speaking of mobile, you need to keep in mind how your readers will be viewing their emails. These days more and more people will be looking at your email on a mobile device, so plan accordingly. In fact, we’d recommend a mobile-first approach. This basically means designing your email to look good on mobile first, and then thinking about the desktop design after.
Lead by Design – Simple design ideas to keep in mind
You don’t need a degree in design to create a good-looking email. But there are a couple of design tips to keep in mind when thinking about your image ‘real estate’ within the overall newsletter.
Firstly, beware the top two inches. As this is the first part of the email that users see, you need to engage them, so it’s best not to fill it entirely with an image – there are certain email clients that won’t show them by default (more on that later).
As mentioned above, though, you could use a horizontal banner with engaging text to entice readers. But it’s best to keep it simple, perhaps just colours and words, so that when it’s resized it still looks good.
Another design rule to keep in mind is the rule of thirds. We recommend that no more than one third of your email should contain images. Oh and this doesn’t mean a whole third, but spread out over the entire email.
Going back to the design degree, you may be like me and have little-to-no skills in design, but it doesn’t mean you can’t create something that looks good! There are DIY services out there that make it easy for you to design images for your emails and Snappa is, of course, a great option. Apart from offering many templates and icons, these services also offer predetermined canvas sizes to help make it easier when designing specific elements, such as an email banner.
One final design idea to keep in mind is that of columns. It’s often best to keep things within one column if you’re creating a simple email with mostly text. Although, with the templates available in most newsletter services these days, you can also use two- or three-column designs as long as they are responsive. Your columns will then comfortably re-organise to sit on top of each other when shown on a smaller screen.
Heavy-hitters – Image size counts
Another thing you need to think about when adding images to emails is their file size. These need to be as small as possible, otherwise they won’t get past the size limits enforced by email clients. Make sure images are no larger than 1MB but try aiming for 100kb or less for each image (unless you are using animations).
A good way to reduce your file sizes, while maintaining as much quality as possible, is to run it through tinypng.com (works for jpg images too). You simply drop your images onto the page and it will crunch them down to a smaller size (you won’t even notice any difference in terms of quality)…all for free!
Blocked But Not Forgotten – Designing around image blockers
These days most email clients have automatic image blocking on, which may, or may not, be disabled by the user. As this occurs often, it’s important that you plan your design to still communicate your offer to readers. There are a few ways to do this.
First up, do NOT create a completely image-based email. This is literally the opposite thing to do if you want to get around image blocking. If blocking is turned on, you’ve just sent an empty email to someone.
This same advice goes for call-to-actions within your email. Do not place them within images, as they will be missed if image blocking is on. It’s best to use formatted text links for these.
For people that have followed our suggestions, it is true that your images could still be blocked. In this case, another way to make sure your message still hits home is by using ‘alternative text’ or alt text. This is text that is displayed if your image doesn’t load. It should be informative, and not simply a description of your image.
For example, if you want someone to check out a new product in your store, but the beautiful product image didn’t load, you can still say ‘Check out our new tote bag’ with your alt text. This gives the reader information and a call-to-action. Some email editors may even allow you to add styles to your alt text, making it stand out more.
Tight fit – Videos vs. GIFs
Obviously it’d be great to share your viral ‘cute animals’ video with your subscribers, but embedding videos in emails isn’t a great idea. The reason being that most email clients just don’t allow it. Also, often video files are quite large (if you don’t embed them) and may end up sending your hard work straight to the spam folder.
One way around this is by having a static image overlaid with a play button, which then takes a user to the hosted service (YouTube for example). There is another way, though: using animated GIFs.
GIFs offer a lightweight alternative to video content within your email, and can be created in a variety of ways. GIFs are great for showcasing how a product works, or showing different angles, or simply creating something eye-catching. Just be sure not to make them too large (under 1MB is recommended) and, like images, don’t overuse them.
Back on Track – An introduction to open rates
Even though we discussed above that open rates aren’t really influenced by images, it turns out there’s still an interesting relationship between the two.
The way open rates are tracked is by loading a single pixel graphic. When this pixel is loaded, it’s registered that the customer opened the email. Now using the information we just discussed about image blocking, perhaps you can see where an issue might occur?
Yes, if image blocking has occurred, or a customer has chosen to receive the text-only version of your emails, then that pixel will never load. This results in one less open being reported. All of this is to say that you should take open rate reports with a grain of salt, as they may not always be a true representation.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article, but hopefully there’s a few useful takeaways. Your email can be both beautiful, and functional, yet you need to make sure that function beats form for those who will never see your images.
Unfortunately we can’t control how email clients show what we send, so we need to work with them. If you keep the above ideas in mind, it will help to ensure your emails aren’t the ones that end up in the spam folder black hole, never to see the light of the inbox.