Read Time: 7 min

The Top 5 Opportunities for Improving Your Email Creative: Webinar Recording + Q&A


Email creative is unlike web or print creative. It has its own unique constraints that marketers must master to make the most of the channel.

In this webinar, Litmus Research Director Chad White and expert email developer and Litmus Product Manager Kevin Mandeville identify the top 5 opportunities to improve your team’s email creative process, based on the findings of Litmus’ 2017 State of Email Creative research report. But we don’t just give you the data-backed insights. We also share practical how-to advice to help you executive on each opportunity at your brand.

Watch the recording above, and download the slides and read the Q&A below:


We didn’t have time to get to all of the questions during the live webinar, but we’ve answered them here on our blog. Have any additional questions about email creative? Please leave them in the comments.

What’s your stance on hybrid versus responsive?

Kevin: Responsive email design is now supported in ~80% of the market, which is great news. This lends more credence to using traditional desktop layouts with max-width media queries, but I still prefer using a mobile-first approach (even if your audience isn’t) to building email and layout structures. Building mobile-first without media queries is the most bulletproof and most performant. You can still enhance with media queries on top of it. So I’m a fan of hybrid or any div-based layout structure that falls back to Outlook conditional tables.

Do you have a recommended file size for animated gifs?

Kevin: The goal is to always get your file sizes to be as small as possible. There’s no maximum file size limit, but ideally you should never go beyond 1-2MB for an animated GIF as a good rule of thumb. Note that if you have a mobile-heavy audience, you’ll want to ensure you keep your image sizes on the smaller side as mobile networks are slower to download assets. Desktop-centric audiences typically have a little bit more leeway to have larger file sizes since they operate on better networks.

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How do you deal with file size limits in emails? What is the best way to compress the animated GIF files?

Kevin: You always want to ensure you keep the HTML file size under 102KB, otherwise Gmail will clip your email message, which is not an ideal experience for your subscribers. Not to mention it could prevent your tracking pixels from loading if you position them at the end of your email, which would stop you from being able to track those opens.

To compress animated GIFs or other image types, I recommend using an image compression service such as ImageOptim,, or Kraken.

Chad: I would add that if you’re routinely bumping up against Gmail’s 102KB limit, that’s really a sign that you’re doing way too much in your emails. While long emails can definitely be effective, the trend is absolutely toward shorter, very focused email messages.

If your emails tend to be long, map out the clicks that you get in each email to see if the content toward the bottom of your emails is getting much, if any, attention. The last CTA in your email tends to get a decent amount of attention, but if the clickthrough rate of the links right before that are really low, that’s probably a sign that you need to prioritize your content better.

For more, check out our Ultimate Guide to Email File Size & Load Times.

Have you seen unsubscribes increase when animated emails are used?

Chad: We’re not aware of animation affecting unsubscribe rates. Our research indicates that animation increases email performance.

What about browser and email client support for CSS animation?

Kevin: You will typically see CSS animation support in WebKit-based email clients like Apple Mail and iOS Mail. Campaign Monitor has a great support chart of CSS animation.

In the US and globally, what is the realistic percentage of emails that viewed with images blocked?

Chad: When Gmail made the switch from blocking images to enabling them by default, that provided our best glimpse into the effects of image blocking. It turns out that 43% of emails were being viewed in Gmail with images blocked. Our best guess now is that somewhere between 10% and 25% of emails are being viewed without images enabled, depending on the email clients used by your subscribers and other factors.

I typically style ALT text by using inline styling in the <td> tag. Is it better to inline with the image, even if this is the only item in the cell?

Kevin: Yes, it is typically best practice to use inline styling on the image tag itself as opposed to inheriting styles.

How often do you recommend A/B testing automated and transactional emails?

Chad: We recommend reviewing your automated and transactional emails quarterly. Re-check the rendering and functionality of those emails, make sure that navigation bar links are still appropriate, check that the messaging doesn’t need to be tweaked, and so on.

Update the seasonal messaging and imagery in your triggered emails during these reviews as well. For instance, if you’re a retailer, you might review your browse and cart abandonment emails on Oct. 31 and at that time update the seasonal secondary message block so that it promotes your gift guide, holiday return policy, gift wrap options, and more. Using partials can make it easy and quick to implement those types of updates.

While you’re doing all of that, it’s a perfect time to run a 50/50 split A/B test, or a multivariate test, if you’re able. Keep in mind that seasonality may have a significant impact on your tests. Certain language and images may perform really well during your peak season and not do well during off-peak.

In your experience, do you have any examples of an A/B test where the results really surprised you?

Chad: I don’t have a great example to share, but I know that as an industry our gut is really bad. Our ability to predict whether X or Y will perform better or be more attractive to our subscribers is not reliable. That’s why we need to A/B test things.

I highly recommend checking out (formerly WhichTestWon), which has aggregated lots of tests and has quizzes where you can take a guess at whether version A or B will do better before learning the results of a particular company’s test. Only about 60% of people guess the winner correctly.

Put another way, if you haven’t done any A/B testing, then roughly 40% of your decisions have been suboptimal. That’s the opportunity that A/B testing represents.

2017 State of Email Creative

Discover how 3,500+ marketers find email inspiration, use brand guidelines, approach email design, A/B test, handle email redesigns, and more.

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