In Email Marketing, Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

By , Director of Deliverability for Adobe:

Remem­ber that old say­ing that “a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words”? That made great sense in the world of print, but in the email world, it may not hold up. The highly visual nature of the Inter­net makes it tempt­ing to fill your email mar­ket­ing pieces with col­or­ful imagery, but my advice is to use restraint.

Here’s the prob­lem. Our human minds love pic­tures and the right image can cre­ate a brand asso­ci­a­tion that is extremely valu­able to your busi­ness. Images can evoke a mem­o­rable emo­tional response and add impor­tant aes­thetic ele­ments. Unfor­tu­nately, in an effort to con­trol spam, Inter­net Ser­vice Providers (ISPs)  some­times focus on how you use images, and as a result, the way you use images can affect your emails’ deliverability.

Images can cre­ate a strong emo­tional response by remind­ing us of a brand of prod­uct, but they must be used care­fully or you may wind up in the spam folder.

Here are some gen­eral prin­ci­ples to make sure your email gets to its intended recipient.

Don’t Design Your Email Like You Would a Print Mailer

It may be tempt­ing to design your email like it was a printed brochure, flyer, or cat­a­log, but resist that temp­ta­tion! Most of the prin­ci­ples of design for print mail­ers will get you into trou­ble in the email world. The fact is that some ISPs default to NOT dis­play­ing images, so unless the user knows how to turn them on, they may never see your images. In fact, Lit­mus recently reported that “data analy­sis reveals image block­ing affects 43% of Gmail emails.” Your email needs to include alt text so that your pri­mary mes­sage and call to action are vis­i­ble, even when images are disabled.

Keep Them on Top!

If you limit your use of images to the top two inches of your email tem­plate, you will be pretty safe. Most peo­ple scan email for less than two sec­onds before decid­ing if they will read it or move on and a great image can con­vince them to stay. But don’t for­get that half your read­ers may not see your images, so be sure to have com­pelling text in those first two inches as well!

Don’t Send One Big Image

Your image may look great, but half your read­ers won’t see it and some ISPs will clas­sify you as a spam­mer if your email is just one big image. Try to main­tain a good bal­ance with 40 per­cent images and 60 per­cent text in your HTML.

Don’t Put the Impor­tant Mes­sage in an Image

As I have said, half your view­ers won’t see it, so put your impor­tant mes­sages in the text. Also, don’t use images to link read­ers to your web­site. Rather, use for­mat­ted text links to redi­rect your readers.

Use “Alt Text”

Be sure you’ve designed your email piece so that when the reader hov­ers over the image with their cur­sor, they will see a text descrip­tion of the image or what­ever mes­sage you want them to see. Even if the image doesn’t load, you can still con­vey an impor­tant mes­sage or description.

Keep Them Small

Keep your image files as small as pos­si­ble. Large files take longer to load and your reader may not wait around. You can also be flagged as a spam­mer if your image files are too large or you use too many images.

Images can help make your email more fun, read­able, and mem­o­rable, but they must be used appro­pri­ately or they can keep your mes­sage from reach­ing your customers.


Alyssa Nahatis

Alyssa Nahatis is Director of Deliverability for Adobe, where she’s responsible for leading the deliverability function for the company’s North American client base, including reputation management strategies and services, and deliverability operations.