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Why You Shouldn’t Send Image-Only Emails

image-only or all-image emails

We’ve all been there: your boss or client just asked you to set up an email that’s almost entirely made out of images. “Our industry peers also send emails that are one big image,” your client might say. “Images just make it easier to keep the design consistent. We can use our brands’ fonts, place copy on images, and more—all without coding,” you hear your design team argue.

At first glance, sending image-only emails might sound like a great idea, but now it’s on you to convince your team that those emails come with a poor subscriber experience—and can ultimately hurt your brand. A picture may say a thousand words, but sometimes you also need those words spelled out.

You should *never* send an email that’s made up entirely of images.

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We aren’t denying there’s a place for images in email but, as email marketers, we need to understand that images alone do not serve our entire audience. You’ll find that you have subscribers that use screen readers, don’t have a good internet connection, have their images turned off, or even want to search for something in your email in the future—and by simply sending out emails that only contain images, you’re only optimizing your message to a subset of your audience.

Want to push back on your boss and advocate for your subscribers? Here’s why you shouldn’t be sending image-only emails—and a few tips for how you can utilize the power of imagery while keeping your emails accessible.

4 reasons why you shouldn’t send image-only emails

1. If your subscriber has images turned off, they won’t see your email

Due to an email client’s default setting or a personal preference, images are blocked for many subscribers. This setting is very common in regulated industries where corporate setting block images by default, so if you’re a B2B marketer, this is a key detail to consider when crafting your emails. Blocked images can result in emails that do not communicate anything immediately and fail to make an impact—or even appear to be broken. It can be worse if you don’t have any ALT text set up for your imagery, because then the email simply appears blank.

Email with Images Off
Email with Images On
These two images show the same email—with images off and on. Nearly all of the email’s content resides in the imagery and no ALT text is set up, so any subscribers with images blocked completely missed out on the email’s content.

If you’re thinking this won’t affect a worthwhile percentage of your subscribers, think again—our prior research shows that 43% of Gmail users view emails with images off.

2. The size of the email can cause it to load slowly—or not load at all

If your subscribers have a slow internet connection or are connecting to data on-the-go, the images in your emails may load slower than normal. Even if someone has speedy internet, there is a risk that images may not load quick enough. The longer images take to load, the more likely your subscriber will be disengaged and delete your email—and if images are all your email has to offer, this can affect future engagement with your brand.

3. Not including live text can hurt your email’s accessibility

There are understandable benefits to building your text into images—controlling font appearance, for one—but when it comes to creating accessible emails, there’s no alternative to live text. Consider the visually-impaired subscriber that uses a screen reader to read your email—if your message is hidden in an image, they won’t be able to digest everything your email has to offer. The same goes for someone who speaks a different language—they cannot translate the text in your email if it’s part of the image.

Something worth noting here is the increase of subscribers that use voice assistants to read their emails to them. Unlike screen readers, voice assistants do not seem to recognize ALT text and other HTML attributes, so even if you have set ALT text for your image-only email, it won’t matter for this subset of your audience: the email will be completely blank to them. Another reason to use live text wherever possible.

4. Your emails won’t be searchable

Occasionally, subscribers remember something helpful or valuable in your emails that they need to find again in the future, and if you place all of your text in your images, your content is no longer searchable. Your subscribers won’t be able to find the content they’re looking for as easily as they could have if you had used live text in your email.

How to use the power of imagery while keeping your emails accessible

We’ll say it again: You should never send an email that’s made up entirely of images. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use the power of images in your emails! When done right, you can create flexible and beautiful email designs that utilize the power of imagery while at the same time keeping your emails accessible for everyone.

1. Use background images and live text

Many brands default on embedding text in images because they want to place copy in front of an image. You can actually make that happen and keep your emails accessible by using live text and background images.

Background images are images that are applied to the background of an element in an email. This means that you would be able to put live text on top of your background images, providing more design flexibility while keeping the content accessible. This also means that if your subscribers have images disabled, the text is still visible.

National Geographic Planet or Plastic Email
This email from National Geographic is a favorite of ours—live text over a compelling background image.

Something to keep in mind is there is still mixed support for background images across email clients in desktop and mobile. Our “Ultimate Guide to Background Images” walks through best practices, background image support by client, and creative hacks from our Community.

Read our ultimate guide to background images →

2. Implement styled ALT text

Shorthand for alternative text, ALT text in email is the text that displays if an image doesn’t show. When images don’t display—or when a subscriber relies on a screen reader to read your email—it’s the ALT text that makes your content accessible and provides your subscriber with the context they need to understand your message.

Setting ALT text for images in an HTML email is simple, but you can also get fancy with it, adding a bit of inline CSS to change the font, color, size, style, and weight. However, much like background images, support is mixed across email clients. It’s important regardless to include ALT text, but consider places where styled ALT text might work well.

Read our ultimate guide to styled ALT text →

3. Build bulletproof buttons

As marketers, we all understand the importance of getting people to interact with our campaigns. That’s why the call-to-action, or CTA, is critical. Because of image blocking, it’s important to never make your CTAs images, as they could easily be hidden and completely missed by your subscribers. Bulletproof buttons allow you to build buttons with code instead of images. You can reliably swap your GIFs, PNGs, and JPEGs for HTML and CSS. By only using HTML and CSS, the button will display in all email clients even with images off, hence making them “bulletproof.”

Read our ultimate guide to bulletproof buttons →

Is your boss or client still not convinced?

If explaining the drawbacks of image-only emails doesn’t convince your stakeholders, here are some more tips to help you make your case:

  • Show how your emails look like with images disabled. Show your boss or your client how exactly your campaigns will look to subscribers if images don’t display. Litmus Checklist provides you with a screenshot of your email with images disabled that you can easily share with your stakeholders.
  • Run an A/B test. Sometimes it needs numbers to convince stakeholders that image-only emails aren’t effective. Pick an upcoming campaign, create two versions of that email—one as a single image and one using live text with supporting imagery—and let your audience help you make your case.

Do you have more tips on how to convince your team to stop sending image-only emails? Let us hear them in the comments below!