How Many Is Too Many & Other Best Practices for Images in Email

So what's the magic formula for images in email?

It's a question we get often, and the answer is simple.  And not so simple.

Generally, "fewer is better" is a good rule.  Studies show the more images in an email, the higher the chance the recipient will not take action. 

When it comes to email effectiveness, the trick is to use images to turn up performance, not detract from it.  

To do that, the first important lesson is this: Best practices for email and digital marketing are not the same as print.  There are usability limitations with email, and as a result, we have to apply images differently in an email campaign than a print campaign.  Here are important considerations and best practices for images that will amp up your email effectiveness:

 Images are often blocked by email systems and users.  Gmail, for example, defaults to turning email images off.  So,  to see images, users have to download them, which they often don't do.  In fact, nearly half of Gmail users have images turned off.

If you're relying on a picture or graphic to convey your message, many of your intended targets will likely never see it. Emails should be designed to properly deliver the intended message without relying on images. 

Trapped messages are a mistake.  A common mistake in email marketing is the use of images that have text embedded in them. If the image is blocked, the recipient will not see your message. At eRelevance we use a "no text embedded on images" best practice.

Images can send your email to the spam folder.  Overuse of images and certain other image-related triggers can mean your emails hit the spam folder instead of the inbox. If you're seeing a deliverability problem with your emails, consider removing some of the images.

Don't send one big image to be downloaded.  How many times have you opened an email and the entire message was a blank screen asking you to download an image? That single image may be visually amazing. It may be an exact replica of a beautiful print campaign that has worked like a magical charm for you.  None of that matters, though, if no one sees the image in the email.  

Thirty percent is a good rule. A good rule to follow when designing an email template is to only use about thirty percent of your available space for images. A smart design team can use even less than that and still make email images effective. However, thirty percent means you'll still have enough images to entice users but you won't be in danger of either creating spam problems or presenting large, blank, useless emails to people who don't use email images.

Remember, the important thing to keep in mind is that email neither operates like a print collateral piece nor like a pure webpage. It has usability and functionality limitations that require design adaptations.  Understanding and working within those limitations will produce the most important kind of email: email that works.