The Ultimate Guide to Using Images in Your Email Marketing Campaigns

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Karolina Petraškienė
Content Marketing Manager
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Text is a critical element in every email, but too many marketers underestimate the importance of images and other types of visual content. Images are incredibly flexible and can be leveraged effectively in any email marketing campaign.

This ultimate guide to using images in your email marketing campaigns will cover some of the most powerful ways to integrate more images into your practices. While adding pictures can be intimidating at first, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Over time, you’ll naturally learn how to use images to engage with your unique audience.

The Benefits of Images for Email Marketing

Even the best copy won’t succeed without strong visual design, and images can lead to significantly better email performance. Visual content allows you to strengthen your message and include information that can’t be communicated through text.

First, your subscribers don’t always have time to read paragraphs of copy when scanning your emails. Images are essential for making messages easy to understand immediately. Readers respond far more quickly to images and other visuals compared to text.

Similarly, images lead to excellent retention, even when users only see them for a few seconds. A variety of images including screenshots, stock photos, and more can connect with your audience and increase click-through rate on your next email campaign.

Email Images: How Embedding Images in Emails Works and Using Email Background Images

This article covers only HTML emails that are sent via email service providers for promotional purposes. These emails include email layout, text formatting, coupons, images, sometimes even rich media elements.

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So, for building a beautiful HTML email, marketers use email service providers such as Omnisend, Mailchimp, and others. These platforms have email building tools – ready-made studios for marketers, so they could quickly design an email and include images they want. Usually, these email builders apply drag-and-drop method as well as WYSIWYG (a.k.a. what you see is what you get). So you can easily embed your image into the email by simply dragging the necessary content blocks and uploading the image you want.

See below an example of Omnisend Email Content Editor.

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In some email content editors, a.k.a. email builders, you can also find a built-in image editing functionality that allows you to edit images and adjust them to your email design right in the email content editor.

For example, within the Omnisend platform, you can use Adobe Creative Cloud Connected image editor. Since you don’t need to use any other apps for images, you can build faster, better looking newsletters.

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Using Email Background Images

Most ESPs have functionality of adding background images into promotional newsletters.

On the one hand, using background images can help your email stand out from other emails, it gives more email design opportunities.

On the other hand, not all email clients display these backgrounds equally. So for some recipients, your email can be viewed differently than you initially wanted.

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Whether it’s worth using them or not, you can decide after analyzing your audience and their email clients in your Google Analytics account.

Image-to-Text Ratio in Emails

It’s easy to eyeball an email and assume that it’s good enough to achieve the results you’re looking for, and most marketers take a relatively carefree approach to image size. Unfortunately, things aren’t always that simple, and fine-tuning image size can significantly alter email deliverability.

Spam filters use a variety of criteria to assess the relevance of each message. Emails that contain only images, for example, will likely be sent to Spam folder by most platforms. Optimizing image to text ratio is one of the easiest ways to increase delivery rate and therefore improve performance on all metrics.

There’s no “perfect” ratio to shoot for, but most marketers try to keep images between around 20% and 50% of the content. Going above 50% can trigger spam filters and prevent your messages from reaching inboxes. On the other hand, including more than 80% text will make your email unnecessarily difficult to read. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different ratios to see what leads to the best results.

Email Image Best Practices: Email Banner and Email Header Size

To keep your email consistency, every time you send email, it should be of the same email design (the layout might differ, but design elements like colors, header sizing, fonts should be the same).

Although the width of emails is similar within different email providers, it might slightly differ. That’s why all of them have their guidelines for images and you should follow them. Usually, you can find them in the knowledge base of your service provider.

The only rule is common for all email services. Image dimensions should be at least twice bigger than the image placeholder. That’s because image has to look sharp on high-definition displays that are commonly found on mobile devices (iPhone, iPad) and latest computers (4k displays, Apple Retina displays).

For example, at Omnisend, the width of all email templates is 640px. That means your image width should be at least 1280px to look great on all devices.

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The Best Format for Email Images

Digital images can be created in countless formats, although there are a few standard options for email marketing. This section will cover the pros and cons of PNGs, GIFS, and JPEGs along with some other possibilities.

PNG

PNGs, or Portable Network Graphics, offer excellent fidelity and a larger color palette than GIFs, which can only display up to 256 colors. Unlike JPEGs, PNGs compress files without affecting their resolution, maintaining the quality of the original image.

One of the key benefits of PNGs is their ability to act as transparent layers, making it simple to embed them on top of other content. For example, a PNG would blend in more smoothly over a background image compared to a GIF.

If an email includes screenshots, these can be reproduced perfectly using the PNG format. Lossy formats like JPEGs may lose some quality relative to the original. The main downside is that PNGs are often much larger than JPEGs or GIFs.

GIF

Like PNGs, GIFs are technically lossless, although some fidelity may be lost in the transition to an 8-bit color palette. Both PNGs and JPEGs use a 24-bit palette, allowing for a significantly wider range of colors.

The most obvious difference between GIFs and the other two formats is animation. You can use animated images in your emails and increase the interactiveness of it and show more products. One of the most popular ways of using it is to insert Youtube video (gif is made automatically), or introduce new collections in store. See an example below:

asos-newsletter

JPEG

JPEG is one of the most common image formats. As mentioned above, it offers substantial image compression, often reducing file size by 90 or more percent. Unfortunately, JPEGs are a lossy format, while both GIFs and PNGs maintain the quality of the original image (aside from potential color distortion in GIFs).

JPEGs compress images by grouping sections into larger blocks, and this process irreversibly reduces the quality of the file. Similarly, existing blocks may be further consolidated in each successive compression.

Personalizing Images for Email Marketing

Targeted experiences lead to 26.5% more orders, and personalization isn’t limited to text. It’s easier than ever to personalize images for each subscriber using a service like NiftyImages. Just including the reader’s name gives an email a personal touch that they may not expect in marketing content.

Adding names is the simplest way to leverage personalized images, but there’s also room to experiment with a wide range of other strategies. If you’re trying to get readers to visit a physical store, you could send a custom map of the nearest one based on their location.

Another popular option is to advertise specific products based on a recipient’s history with your brand. Product recommendation emails can be triggered by a variety of behaviors. The message below invites the recipient to complete their purchase while suggesting a few alternatives in case they changed their mind.

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Using Images to Develop a Brand Voice

In addition to personalization, users also look for brands with consistent identities that align with their core values. When used correctly, images can become a part of your distinctive voice. This requires attention to detail in visual design as well as a commitment to finding images that illustrate something unique about your brand.

Of course, a brand identity is important for more than just images in email campaigns. A cohesive voice can help you make informed decisions in every area of marketing. It’s much easier to build an engaging and unique tone once you understand what separates your brand from the competition.

Like personalization, your brand identity should be tied to customer research. For example, millennials and members of Gen Z are looking for something different than parents or retirees. That said, every brand sells to people in different demographics, so your identity should be flexible enough to appeal to a variety of customers.

If you’re primarily targeting younger customers, you might use sleek or futuristic images to emphasize that your brand is on the cutting edge. On the other hand, brands that focus on parents could look for images that illustrate the benefits of their products for families.

Your unique identity should be clear throughout the entire customer experience. If your social media and email campaigns are managed by two different teams, for example, they should update each other to ensure that both sides are working toward the same goal.

How to Find Email Images

Now that you know how to effectively use images in email marketing, you can start looking for images to integrate into your next campaign. While some images are restricted to certain kinds of use, there are a variety of ways to find images that are completely free to use for marketing purposes.

Stock Images

Stock images are the simplest way to add images to your marketing emails, and they’re available on a number of sites. With millions of images at your disposal, you should be able to find exactly what you’re looking for. You can also edit stock images by cropping, adding text, adjusting colors, and more.

People often think of stock photos as generic, but they can also look just as authentic as a picture taken by your team. For example, you could look for a stock image that features a “normal” person rather than a model. The first image below is much more natural than the second, which clearly looks like a stock photo.

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There are far too many stock image sites to cover in a single article, but these 21 platforms are an ideal place to start. Remember to double-check that an image is free for commercial use before putting it in an email.

Taking Your Own Photos

Stock images are perfect in some contexts, but they aren’t as useful for product launches or other things that are directly related to your brand. In these cases, it may be easier to take photos in-house, especially as high-quality cameras become more prevalent.

Audiences are interested in personal connections, so consider using pictures of people in your organization to introduce readers to your team. Taking photos yourself opens up a variety of opportunities that aren’t available with other options like stock images or user-generated content.

For beautiful, high-quality images of your products you may want to use a portable photo studio.

Illustrations

Images are a great way to add some personality to your content, and illustrations give you even more control over the tone of each message. They’re also an effective option for maintaining a consistent voice as you can use the same style and color scheme across multiple emails.

Illustrations are significantly more flexible than the alternatives since you aren’t limited by the possibilities of an actual photo. For example, a drawing could demonstrate different ways to use your product without showing a real person. Illustrations tend to be less distracting than photos, especially when you need to include several images in the same message.

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The illustrations in this message adhere to a consistent style and match the rest of the email. Drawings were a much more natural choice compared to taking eight photos of the same person. The main downside of illustrations is the cost of an illustrator—keep in mind that a contractor or freelancer may be more affordable than paying someone in-house.

User-generated Content

Most content should come from your team, but you should also look for ways to implement user-generated content. This allows readers to actively engage and contribute to the conversation. Unlike taking photos yourself or paying an illustrator, user-generated content is completely free.

While a strong identity can help differentiate your brand, user-generated content offers additional authority and is often more relatable for your audience. There are countless ways to leverage user-generated images in an email marketing campaign.

For example, contests are a popular way to generate reader engagement while also gathering content from your audience to include in future emails. Even if you run the contest on social media, you can still use it in your newsletter by adding pictures of top entries.

Asking readers to add specific hashtags to their social media posts is another great option. You’ll be able to search for user-generated content with those hashtags, and they’ll provide free word-of-mouth marketing by telling followers about your brand.

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Sourcing content on social media and adding it to your email newsletter is the perfect way to streamline the customer experience across multiple platforms. The images below show real customers, making the message much more relatable and helping the brand save money on models and photographers.

Image Size for Email Signature

Speaking about plain emails, you may also want to add an image in your signature.

Using an image for your email signature can give your messages a distinctive flair without distracting from the rest of the content. That said, a signature that’s too large or too small will only look sloppy and unprofessional. Most users read emails on their phone, so images need to display well on all devices.

Email services respond to oversized images in a variety of unpredictable ways. For example, they might shrink the image to the dimensions of the screen, shrink the entire email, or expand the message so that users can scroll across the image. With that in mind, your signature needs to fit the dimensions of each screen.

If you want an image in your email signature, try to keep it as small as possible. While there isn’t a strict rule for image size in email signatures, it’s best to use images that are no more than about 150 pixels tall and 300 pixels wide.

Remember that file size is just as relevant as the size of the image itself-large files can take a long time to download, especially on poor connections.

Wrap Up

We all know the importance of images in email marketing, but adding them to your campaigns can be surprisingly tricky. These ideas will help you find better ways to integrate images into your email strategies.

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Karolina Petraškienė

Karolina is a writer, content marketer, and email enthusiast at Omnisend. When she's not curating articles, you can find her in the woods challenging herself in hiking boots or off-roading her bike.


Further Reading:

Email Newsletter Design: Create the best Design for 2020
How to Optimize Your Ecommerce Checkout Process For Better Customer Experience in 2020
How to Insert a GIF into an Email: The Full Guide

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