Image-only email marketing campaigns - just don't!

#email design  #Email Marketing  #images in email 

As more and more well-known multi-national companies seem to be turning to email marketing for lead and customer communications, it seems that regardless of their huge budgets they're overlooking some classic best practices that are crucial in getting their message delivered and acted upon. Subject lines, content, copy, and choice of ESP all play huge roles, but by sending all-image email campaigns to their subscribers, these companies are sabotaging all their pre-send efforts.

When I say 'huge companies' I mean it - I subscribe to emails from Dell, Apple, Futureshop, HomeDepot, Fred Perry, Club Monaco to name a few, and they're all guilty of sending out 90-100% image-only email campaigns. What's puzzling is that these huge companies clearly have large online marketing budgets, and should know better... but they don't.

As 100% image-based email messages (no text, minimal HTML, just a flat image that's sliced into smaller sections to enable faster loading) get delivered to an inbox, harsher spam filters, both proprietary (eg Outlook) and add-on (eg Spam Assasin) filters will view these emails as a likely source of spam. Viruses, trojans, and content can all be fed to a host computer via images, so it's a very necessary precaution to protect one's inbox with these filters.

According to a recent study by the EEC (Email Experience Council) more than 70 percent of companies struggle to create a deliverable email. After reviewing 1,000 emails, the EEC also found that 21 percent appeared completely blank when images were turned off or stripped by a variety of email clients. An additional 28 percent showed email copy but had no working links.

When a recipient receives an image-only campaign in their inbox with images set to 'off', they'll see nothing but a bunch of bordered squares with red x's. No content, no message to act on, nothing to pique their interest in your product or service. The chances of the message being deleted immediately are high, and that's assuming it even got to the inbox in the first place. Great-looking email campaign or not, if it's image-only there's a large chance it won't get read.

Some might argue that safe lists make these stats obsolete - if a true opt-in subscriber wants to receive your message, they'll add you to their safelist, thereby telling their spam filters to let your all-image campaign pass through unscathed. However, by default, most email clients (Outlook, Hotmail, etc) will not display images in an unknown email campaign to protect the viewer. The issue raised is - are you assuming all subscribers will immediately add you to their safe list and turn images to 'on'? Not likely. And if you haven't taken the necessary precautions to ensure that your message can get by even on the most strict spam filer settings possible by keeping text present, then you're losing possible open rates, click-through rates, and sales.

Rules of thumb:

  • Take the extra effort to create an email campaign that has the right balance of HTML text to images. Keep to the mantra that if images are turned to 'off', the recipient can still read your entire message and act accordingly.
  • Keep links as text links. Calls-to-action are the key to any email campaign, so ensure these can be seen and clicked regardless of supporting (and blocked) images.
  • Never assume that your recipients are savvy enough to add you to their safe list manually and promptly. Work for the lowest common denominator and make your email campaign work on every level.
  • Work with your ESP who will work with your ISP to ensure deliverability of your campaign. This will at least give you more of a fighting chance to have your campaign get to the inbox, regardless of content or images.
  • TEST TEST TEST. All email campaigns should go through some degree of testing. If you don't have the time, consider purchasing a rendering service such as ReturnPath/SenderScore, which (as previously noted in my Outlook 2007 posting) can mean the difference between an open or an unsubscribe. Just one sale made by a more compliant and spam filter-ready email campaign can pay for the ReturnPath license, so give it some thought

Source for EEC stats found here and here.

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