No email can produce results if it looks empty. As we often remind our clients, nearly a third of subscribers have images turned off by default, including Android phone readers and many Outlook subscribers. That’s why we talk about using text pre-headers, a good balance of text and image and alternative or “alt” text when designing emails.

At the basic level, you should add alt text to any image in your email design, just in case readers have images turned off.

Simple Alt text

This will show up in the blank image spot when images are turned off, like this:

Plain Alt Text with images off

You can stylize the look of that text that shows when images are off: adding a font color, size and more. For example, this:

Stylized Alt text

Will change the alt text to this:

Stylized Alt text with images off

Not all inboxes honor stylized alt text or even alt text at all. Here’s a quick glance at what email clients display alt text or stylized alt text:

Alt Text Compatibility 2016

When we say that Outlook “kind of” displays alt text, we mean that Outlook on desktop does allow alt text, but adds a security message, so your text can get lost.

Outlook Alt text with images off

There are a few other quirks, too. Internet Explorer (IE) seems to ignore alt text font sizing. Also, there isn’t a way to change the justification of the alt text. Webmail clients like Gmail, AOL, Office365 and Yahoo! when used in Chrome or Firefox always centers it (see above). IE and most desktop inboxes will left-align alt text.

What goes into a great marketing email?

Download the anatomy of a marketing email template

Hotmail and go a step further and grey out any image area entirely (and not always gracefully):

Outlook-com with images blocked

Quirks aside, many of your primary inboxes do allow for fun with alt text. With the Editor in the emfluence Marketing Platform, you don’t even need to dive into the code to do it. Borrow from the example above and use the Style field on Image Properties (under the Advanced tab) to adjust the font-family, color, font-size and font-weight of your alt text.

For a deeper look at how to manipulate alt text, check out the Ultimate Guide to Styled Alt Text in Email. (Note that this post was penned in 2012. Since then, some new email client versions no longer allow alt text.)

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  1. Great article, Sarah! Agree that alternative text should not be considered as a trivial aspect of your mail. Stylized alternative text can certainly generate enough curiosity in the minds of the reader to go on and read the entire mail.
    Thanks. Niraj (Founder at )

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