3 min.
Should we put images in a newsletter?
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Should we put images in a newsletter?

Business Strategy Client experience & UX

After talking about the  12 best practices for newsletters , and the ideal width of an email, I'll meet you on the Adviso blog to talk again about email marketing. This time, I suggest you answer another critical question, which comes up very often when designing a newsletter:  should we put images in an email?  To what extent can we count on them to transmit information? A brand image? It has been known for a long time that some messengers block images by default. But in what proportion?  What proportion of your readers see the images in your newsletter: is it really worth predicting?


Image: Staples newsletter as seen through Outlook 2007 by default


For the last article about the ideal width of a newsletter , we based ourselves on the classification of couriers according to their market shares . We therefore considered 9 messaging services (in order): Windows Live Hotmail, Outlook (2003 and 2007), Yahoo, Gmail, Mac Mail, Windows Mail, Entourage (3 and 4) and AOL AIM Mail. For the purposes of this new survey, and in order not to create an account on all existing messaging services, we have decided to only take into account the main messaging services, i.e.:  

  • Hotmail (33%)
  • Outlook (38%)
  • Yahoo Mail (14%)
  • Gmail (6%)

These 4 courier services allow us to cover 91% of the market , so the vast majority. For each of these messengers, we simply noted whether it showed or blocked external images by default . For this, we proceeded in two ways. First of all, we looked in the presentations of the messengers (1), what was the default behavior relating to the downloading of external images. Next, we did a test with several sample newsletters, to see how they appeared in the reading window.  

(1) Outlook Help & How To : “  To protect against spammers, Microsoft Office Outlook is configured by default to block automatic image downloads from the Internet.  » ; About Hotmail, Less Spam : “  One of the most effective defenses is to prevent images from being downloaded until you have read the message. Hotmail lets you do exactly that.  » ; Yahoo Mail help : “  By prohibiting the display of images contained in incoming emails, you make this tactic ineffective. To block images from incoming emails, follow these steps:  » ;       Gmail Help Center  : “  We only show images in authenticated messages, so you don't have to worry about images showing in messages with a joking sender or address.  »


A quick analysis of the help chapters dealing with security and  spam  gave us the answer to the question: of the 4 messaging systems considered, 3 block images by default (2), and one blocks spam images by default.    

  • Hotmail, Outlook and Gmail block images from all emails by default.
  • Yahoo blocks images in emails considered spam by default ; by default, it displays images from non- spam emails .   

Considering that most readers don't change their email service options, the results are telling: 77% of readers don't see images in newsletters. When it comes to Yahoo, 14% only see images in non- spam emails , but spam emails aren't read anyway. So we can consider this proportion: at the opening, 77% of your readers do not see the images in your newsletters.    

(2) Why do messengers block external images? As the privacy and email security clauses explain, this is an anti-   spam measure. Indeed, one of the common practices of  spammers consists of placing “spies” in the downloaded image or content, which will retrieve certain information once downloaded. In order to avoid any practice of this kind, the messaging services are configured to block the downloading of external content by default.


Illustration: image download confirmation under Hotmail


The conclusion is quite easy to guess: in 77% of cases, images do not add value to your newsletter . On the contrary, even they, or rather the areas that replace them (gray areas or crossed out boxes) contribute to making the message difficult to read , by creating disordered layouts. Again, it is essential to focus on the text content rather than the image.  

So what can we do? The 12 best practices for newsletters take on even more importance with regard to this data: work on the content rather than on the design , play with fonts , weights, font sizes and a neat layout rather than on pictures . Use images only for secondary information, and make sure that their absence will not make the newsletter difficult to read (e.g. a large full-width image, which does not suggest that text content exists in- below).   


Please note that we are not telling you to delete all images from your newsletters. Just don't use them for your main content. Some people will see your newsletter images , whether it's the 14% of readers who see the images by default, or some of the 77% who don't see them, but will click to download them. Simply, at first glance, it's the text they'll see, not the images, and we all know the importance of first impressions . It is therefore this same text that must convince them to read and, if necessary, to download external content.  


What about my text-only version then? What is it for ? Contrary to some information circulating on the Net, the text-only version of a newsletter is not displayed when the images are not downloaded by the messaging system, but only when the messaging system does not support HTML versions, or when the user has configured their email or signed up to receive newsletters in text-only format.  


As we said, some couriers were not considered. Nevertheless, it is possible (including Yahoo in the count) that a maximum of 22.6% of your readers see the images  in the newsletter, which does not change the perspective of our conclusion. Also, the ease or proportion of readers changing their email preferences has not been analyzed, or rather this proportion has been assumed to be nil. However, the possibility of modifying its preferences applies as much to readers who have images blocked by default as to those who see them by default, which should make it possible to cancel this limit. Finally, we only considered the first outline of the message: a survey would have to be carried out to know the proportion of readers who click to download images from a newsletter .