Everyone wants their emails to look spiffy, and what better way to do that than to use some awesome images?
If you use images the wrong way, however, you might be risking your deliverability. Especially with cold email campaigns.
Let’s look at best practices for images in email and how to use them properly.
Images in Email: Best Practices and Actionable Tips
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand why images can damage your campaigns. So it’s time for a quick history lesson.
Ever since email marketing has been a thing, people have been sending spam. Of course, that very quickly became tiresome, so spam filters were invented. These appliances scan your email as you send it and as it’s received, which means you’ve got two gatekeepers to get past.
The thing is, spammers are always coming up with sneaky ways to fool the filters, at least briefly. So what happens is a sort of arms-race progression where spammers figure out a new trick and use that until the filters get updated to account for it. Then they come up with a new trick, and so on.
Images were one of those tricks. Spam appliances very quickly began scanning emails for particular words and phrases, and tossing offending messages into junk folders.
Spammers began putting their text inside images. Since spam filters can’t actually parse the content of an image, this was an extremely effective way to sneak right past them.
To combat this, spam appliances look for specific context around images to try and determine whether or not it’s a spam message.
Watch Your Image-to-Text Ratio
One big red flag is if an email has a big image and little to no text. Because spammers try to dodge the filters’ text scans by putting their text in an image instead, this is a quick way to damage your deliverability.
Make sure that if you’re using images, you’re also using a bunch of text. The vast majority of your message should be text. Keep your images to a minimum and don’t lean on them to communicate your points.
Keep Them Small
Avoid file-size-heavy formats like PNG for your images. You want them to load as quickly as possible, because if your message takes forever to open, people are just going to close it and move on, leaving your stylish campaign behind.
Use JPG format to conserve file size and make your images load much faster.
Realize They Might Not Load
Everyone’s email clients are different. Some of them won’t load your images, especially if you’re sending cold campaigns. There’s not much you can do about that, so the smart move is to plan for it.
Image alt tags are the best way to do that. In the context of email, an image’s alt tag is the text that appears when the image fails to load (or, in some cases, when you hover your mouse over the image). You should tag your images with a description that makes it clear what would be there if it had loaded.
For example, if you’ve got a headshot in your email signature, a tag like “headshot” or “profile picture” or something doesn’t really come across as professional. If, instead, it was “<Your Name> Portrait”, it’ll be very clear that your smiling face was meant to appear there.
Place Them Effectively
For each image in your email, consider why you’re adding it. Everything should have a purpose, and be placed optimally to achieve that purpose.
If you’re including your logo, don’t toss it in randomly. Place it somewhere you’d expect to see a logo – a top corner or in your signature, for example.
This becomes even more important when you’re determining where to place a call to action button. That’s an image, too, and you should follow CTA best practices.
Consider the Message
What messages does your image send? You might think your hero image is awesome, but take three steps back and really think about what it conveys. A picture is worth a thousand words, and you don’t want any of those words to be negative.
If it’s a stock photo, is it obviously a stock photo? If that’s the impression you’re going for, then you’re set. One major no-no is using photos that have watermarks.
A watermark is the semi-transparent logo or text that many stock photos have placed over them to prevent people from just saving and using them without paying for them.
A photo with a watermark is an immediate disqualifier for any email that hits my inbox, because that comes across as incredibly unprofessional.
If you’re using a vector or illustrated image, does the vibe of it match your company’s positioning and branding?
Select your images with care and an eye for what messages they might send – not just to you, but to someone else interpreting it differently.