Using visuals to get more clicks

Is an image really worth a thousand words?

We’ve all experienced the increase in the use of visuals in content marketing and social media in recent years. The reason is that they’re great attention grabbers in an era of information overflow and short attention spans.

Our brains process visuals about 60,000 times faster than text.

But, can images affect the percentage of people taking action in an email campaign?

Why use visuals

This is one of those divided subjects, some marketers prefer to send text-only emails and others prefer t0 use visuals.

But most studies out there favor the use of images.

Vero analyzed 5,000 campaigns and came to this conclusion: “Campaigns with images had a 42% higher click through rate than campaigns without images.”

Emails with images affect CTR

Best practices

As you can imagine, there are best practices when it comes to using images in email. Let’s explore them:

Clickeable images

Your images should be clickeable. Your campaign has a clear goal, wether you’re promoting a blog post or promoting a product.

Besides your call to action button (or link), your image should always include a link to increase your clicks.

Images with links

Yup, I’m listening to Snoop…


Specs are important because they determine how your images are going to display.

If you plan to use the max width, your image will display at 600px. However, Mailchimp recommends serving an image at double the size to maintain its fidelity on an HD screen.

Image dimensions


We have a full module to cover mobile, but I still wanted to mention that, you should always consider how your images will display on mobile devices. It’s important that they still communicate your message at a much smaller scale.

Your image will display as small as 320px in some cases.

Images on mobile


The format of your image can affect:

1) Quality

For example, JPG is better for photography, but the quality is always better on a PNG format when you add text to an image.

images formats

2) Weight

The file of an image can be very heavy and affect loading if it’s not formatted properly. Try to save your images at the lowest weight possible while still maintaining its quality.

I find that usually a JPG file can be smaller than PNG.

Alt Text

Always Provide Alt Text in your images. Remember that a percentage of your subscribers have images turned off.

Image Alt Text

If you don’t do this, your subscribers will most likely see the name of the file. See image below.

Not good.

No alt text


But the most important aspect of using a visual element in email (or in any form of content marketing, really), is that it needs to communicate a message to help achieve your goal.

In other words, using an image just because studies say they can increase CTR can end up playing against you.

Use images to communicate


Now for the bad news…

You need to take the following points very seriously, because there are certain mistakes that will make your campaign fail miserably.

“Images are not displayed”

When you use images, you have to understand that a big percentage of your subscribers will not see them, that percentage can be as high as 50%. Your email campaign needs to be designed to appeal to your entire subscriber base, including those who do not see the images.

Images not displayed

You might me asking yourself: But, if the user has the option to turn images on, why is this percentage so high?

The main issue is that some email clients are set to NOT display images by default, and many people don’t even bother to change the settings, or some don’t even know they have the option.

This is why it’s important to know which email clients are set like this. The following chart by Litmus shows which email clients have images turned off by default.

Images blocked by default

Gmail changed its technology to scan images for viruses and malware before they get to your inbox, and to serve them from their own proxy servers, that’s why you are no longer asked if you want to display images or not.

Image-based emails

For the same reason, emails that are designed as one big image or made completely out of images are a definitive fail. 50% of your email list will receive a blank email.

Do I need to say more?

Multiple images

So we’ve established that the use of images can help, not only to better communicate a message, but also to increase action.

But, the use of multiple images can also play against you, mainly for 2 reasons:

1) Spam filters

The over use of images is used as an indicator of possible spam, so you’re running the chance that your campaign will not make it to the inbox, but instead be sent directly to the spam folder

2) Competing visuals

We said at the beginning of the lesson that images can grab attention and communicate much faster than text. However, the excess of visuals in the campaign can lead to getting your subscribers overwhelmed.

Warby Parker usually sends beautiful emails with a very minimalistic design, but this specific campaign can make your head spin. There are so many things there that I ended up closing it after a few seconds. The only reason I went back to it was to use it as a bad example in this lesson.

Multiple images

My question is, where do you want me to click?

This is probably the reason emails with multiple images affect your CTR.

A Constant Contact study found that when an email has more than 3 images, the click-through rate greatly drops.

CTR drops on email with more than 3 images

The top 2 inches

The top 2 inches is the “above the fold” of email.

The average time a subscriber takes to make a decision wether or not to continue reading your email is approximately 2 seconds (that’s horrible, I know).

The average email preview pane is about 2 inches in height, this means that your subscribers will make that decision based on that. With so little space and time to convince them, it would make total sense to use an image (you know… the ultimate attention grabber), but since 50% of your list will not see it, you need to make sure to also display some very effective text within those 2 inches.

In the image below, you can see how Lumosity found a smart way to position the most important element of the campaign at the top by using both a visual and text.

top 2 inches


Never use an image as a button. Guess what happens if images are not displaying…

Yup, 50% of your list will not see your call-to-action button!

We’ll talk more about this in another lesson ahead in the course.

Video in email

Video is still (in 2015) a touchy subject when you combine it with email marketing. You’ll see why in a second…

On one hand, video has shown that it can drive click-through rates.

Let’s see what studies say:

Email Monks says video email marketing offers a return 280% higher than traditional campaigns. And GetResponse published these findings:

Video in email stats

Now, if you ask me, those are some pretty impressive numbers. I think it’s definitely worth giving video a try.

How to use video

There are 2 ways to use video in email marketing:

1) Plays inside the actual email

Embedding a video means it will play right inside the email, the user never leaves the inbox, which is convenient.

This is accomplished with the use of HTML5, and one thing you have to consider is that only 58% of the recipients will be able to play the video, the other 42% will see a fallback image. This is because this is a technology that is not yet compatible with all email clients.

Email clients that support video:

  • iOS devices
  • Apple Mail
  • Thunderbird 13

Email clients that do NOT support video:

  • Gmail
  • Yahoo
  • Outlook

You see the problem, right? Gmail, the biggest player in webmail doesn’t support video. That’s something to consider.

2) Static image

The other option is using a static image with a link to the video location, this is safer of course because most email clients support images. Here is an example from a campaign displaying a screenshot of the video player (not an actual video player), linking to the blog post.

static image replacing video

And this is a campaign from Wistia sending the traffic to a landing page where the actual video is displayed.

Wistia video in email

When you link out of the inbox, you can send that traffic to:

  • A page on your website, a blog post page or a landing page
  • Or a video sharing network like YouTube or Vimeo

In this video, I show you how to create a static image that simulates a video player to use in your email campaigns. I’m including 3 ways of doing this:

  • Using Photoshop
  • Using Canva
  • Using the code generated by Wistia

Which method should you use?

  • 29% of successful marketers link to a video landing page
  • 23% use the video embed method
  • 21% link to a video sharing network like YouTube, Vimeo or Wistia

I think this is the best process at the moment:

  • Use a static image or GIF in your email to link out of the inbox
  • Send the traffic to your own web property, not a network

And here are my reasons why:

  • I don’t want to send out anything that only part of my subscribers or followers are going to be able to experience as I intended
  • You have no control of the email client on your recipient’s computer. You have no idea of their settings
  • You don’t know how many distractions are sharing the screen with your video
  • You can’t optimize for conversion if you are inside your recipient’s inbox or if you are on YouTube


And finally… seems like we always end up in the same place.

The studies say it helps get more clicks in your campaigns, now you should see if it works for you.

Run some simple A/B Testing:

  • Image versus no image
  • One image versus 3 images
  • Different alignments
  • Video or no video

The winner should be determined by clickthrough rate.


After that huge lesson, I feel like saying “no homework today!”

Do you send text-only campaigns?

  • Start by including one image in your next campaign
  • Keep in mind the 2,543 considerations above (alt text, link, dimensions, etc.)
  • Split your campaign to test “image or no image”
  • Come back to this lesson and share your results
  • Also, compare CTR with old campaigns to see if the use of visuals is having an impact

Do you already send emails with images?

  • Split the next campaign to test “image or no image” (you never know, maybe text-only emails give you better results)
  • Come back to this lesson and share your results

Do you do any video as part of your overall marketing strategy?

If so, do the same and start testing it by using the static image method.