A picture is worth a thousand words. That statement should be as true today as when Frederick R. Barnard first suggested it in the late 1800’s. However, as an illustrator famed for his work on the novels of Charles Dickens and early visual advertising campaigns, it’s safe to say that Barnard never experienced the problem of a poorly rendered email.
When images fail to download due to lack of internet or mobile connectivity, a picture is worth absolutely nothing.
Words and Pictures
Suppose you use graphics to represent the text in your email campaigns (think company logos, fancy fonts, promotional banners), and your images fail to download. In that case, you’re essentially sending an empty message.
When a picture fails to download, the only thing that can save your email campaign is live text. Live text is the text contained in the email’s HTML code which is instantly available the moment an email lands in your inbox, meaning your emails are always readable.
Even if the recipient cannot engage any further with the email because of lack of connectivity, you will have still delivered the message contained in your campaign. When you consider the success of any marketing activity is often based on repetition generating ever-increasing awareness, it’s much better to deliver a concise message rather than nothing at all. With this in mind, you should never consider an opened email as a failure, even if it doesn’t generate a click or a conversion.
Why Do Images Fail to Download?
There are many reasons why images might not be visible in your email campaigns. Many email clients still don’t download email images by default. Unless users change this default setting, they may never see your images. Others choose to block images to save data on limited connectivity plans.
The problem of broken images is often exacerbated by a fact generally viewed as an absolute positive in email marketing. In the United States, 66% of emails are now opened on mobile devices. This means that your emails can be accessed anytime and anywhere. However, it also means that your emails may be consumed at times and places where internet and mobile connectivity may not always be very reliable.
If you target specific demographics or geographies (particularly in emerging economies), the lack of mobile data and Wi-Fi can be a real challenge.
You don’t need to live in a remote area to experience a mobile dead spot. Connectivity can often be a challenge on public transportation (particularly when trains run underground), on aircraft (which typically charge for Wi-Fi access), in specific geographic areas such as valleys and heavily wooded areas, and even in modern office buildings (particularly in built-up areas where there is a lot of concrete and steel to block signals). Even when there is a solid Wi-Fi signal, not everyone will have access to the network.
When subscribers access your email in less than optimized areas of connectivity, they risk being presented with a less than optimized campaign. If your email doesn’t display correctly within ten seconds of opening, it is estimated that 50% of recipients will never return.
More Mobile Problems
Another problem image-heavy emails have is they may not always be mobile responsive—meaning they look terrible on mobile devices. This is especially true when emails have been designed for more traditional desktop devices by designers who are not fully versed in mobile-friendly email design. Even when images download quickly, the mobile environment can do terrible things to your beautiful design. Therefore, you must test every email across multiple inbox environments before hitting send.
Accessibility is also a significant concern when sending graphics-heavy emails. Accessibility tools used by people with impaired vision cannot translate text that is rendered as an image. So if you want your emails to be read by the estimated 9% of US citizens who have a visual impairment, you better include live text in your emails. Remember, accessibility is not only a nice thing to do; it’s also a legal requirement.
More Advantages of Live Text
If availability and accessibility aren’t enough of an incentive to always include live text in your email campaigns, you should consider the following advantages.
Live text is:
- Easily personalized: While it is technically possible to personalize images, it’s not something you can deploy in a hurry. Live text is effortless to personalize using simple merge tags. While using merge tags to personalize email messages is hardly cutting edge, it can have an incredible uplift to your campaigns’ open and click-through rates.
- Easily searched: Unlike live text, images are not searchable. This means if a subscriber remembers any detail regarding your offer, even if they don’t know your organization’s name, they will quickly be able to find your campaign with a quick relevant text search.
- Easily edited: Live text is much easier to edit than graphics-heavy emails, which may require input from an already overstretched design team.
- Easily readable in dark mode: Dark mode is meant to make reading text easier on your eyes. However, dark mode can do terrible things to your images, making any graphic representation of text completely unreadable.
The KISS Design Principle
Because the inbox environment is so varied and because connectivity cannot be taken for granted, I’m a huge advocate of the KISS design principle.
The KISS design principle tells us to Keep It Simple Stupid. This means minimizing the use of unnecessary images and maximizing the use of live text.
Consider this: When you send a standard email to a family member, friend, colleague or business partner, you would never consider attaching a photo or document without some sort of text-based introduction. So why would you not include any text in your marketing messages?
Do you need help balancing the use of live text and images in your email campaigns? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!