Market Insights

Is Image-Blocking Sabotaging Your Email Performance?

Are you frustrated with the performance of your prospecting emails? Maybe you have altered or moved some creative elements or tested multiple offers to try to improve results. Or perhaps you have deployed on a different day of the week or time of day, yet your emails still are not performing well.

If you are like the majority of marketers whose messages still are graphics-centric, do not despair! There is an effective way to bump up click and conversion rates from educators and boost the results of your prospecting emails. You just need to step back from analyzing the creative details of your messages and instead take a hard look at the big picture—that is, how you build your emails. Read on for details...

If you want better email performance, it is time to take on image-blocking

Since the introduction of Outlook 2003, email users have been using a default feature that automatically prevents graphics from being downloaded when an HTML email is opened from an unknown sender (such as a prospecting marketer like you.) Today's newer versions of Outlook as well as most other popular email programs also have added this feature to protect users from spam. In fact, according to MarketingSherpa's 2010 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, just one-third of today's email users have images turned on when they read email messages.

The scenario is even more serious for education marketers, with 78% of teachers reporting they have received image-blocked emails from unknown senders (MDR 2010Email Trends in the Education MarketReport). That's right, the attractive and compelling HTML messages your team has been creating are not even being seen by most of your prospects! The good news is that this problem can be fixed so that you can get better email results.

Creating attractive emails that actually get viewed…it is not hard, it is just different

There are many ways to create email messages that are both visually appealing and viewable, whether images are on or off. You only have to be willing to change how you construct your messages.

As you design your email messages and content, be sure that they can stand on their own without any supporting graphics. You cannot count on teachers who have images turned off to go through the effort to manually download the images for your prospecting email—they simply are more apt to delete the message and move on. To create great prospecting emails that survive image suppression—that is, get read even when images are not displayed—use simple tricks, such as adding tables, background images, and teaser descriptions. Once you get rolling with these new design techniques and start seeing your performance rates improving, you will wonder why you waited this long to take on image-blocking.

A sample educator emailwhat your designer sees versus what most teachers see

Let us look at a typical prospecting email to explore how you can use HTML techniques to help mitigate the negative effects of image suppression. Here is an attractive message, with an appealing banner at the top and a very impactful bar chart graphic within the body, but what does the message look like when the images are suppressed?

Message with Images Turned On

Here is what this "all-images" email would look like with images suppressed:

Message with Images Suppressed

The graphic-reliant header banner with the woman and the color background fade. All are lost since it is an image. Likewise, the large graphic bar chart and the formatted rounded call-to-action button also will not be seen if images are turned off.

Even though the content of this message is truly compelling, it simply does not have a chance to be effective with prospective customers who view it with the images suppressed. The tempting offer in the header graphic and the dramatic cost differential demonstrated by the graph all will be lost without the images turned on. Worse still, since the call-to-action button is also a single large image, most teachers would not know how to click through to the website unless they take the additional step of turning on images.

What is an email designer to do? Three easy tips for education marketers:

There is no need to panic if your company is building image-dependent messages, like in our example. This message could have very easily been redesigned to be both attractive and effective, even without images showing. Let us look at some simple HTML tricks that will mitigate the effects of image suppression without sacrificing your message's visual appeal.

Message Built With Text

TIP #1 – Split the full-width banner header (with the woman) in half vertically, leaving the picture of the woman and most of the color fade in the top half. In the bottom half, create a HTML table cell, matching the background color to that of the upper image and the headline text using formatted HTML text.

TIP #2 – Replace the large solid image of the bar chart with a series of table elements. Using cell widths of different sizes and different background colors mimics a bar chart.

Graph Build as a Table

TIP #3 – Build the "image" of the call-to-action button with a three-part table. Place the HTML text link with the background color in the middle cell and the images to give the button its rounded appearance in the top and bottom cells. Designed this way, only the rounded graphics would be lost if images are suppressed, but the link of your call-to-action phrase in the middle cell still will be displayed.

Button Build with Text

Make a few changes to email design, and your improved results will keep the ball rolling

These are just a few of the many HTML tricks that you can employ to help your prospecting emails survive image suppression. As you can see, image suppression does not have to mean the end of great looking, image-rich creative. Get your email creative team to start thinking about image suppression and how they can build messages to tackle it. Once your staff is on board with this new approach to message creation, you will begin to see better response rates from teachers. After your team sees the fruit of their labor, they will be inspired to find even more clever ways to work around image suppression.


This article is by Christopher Ziemnicki, MDR's E-Marketing Solutions Leader. He currently leads e-marketing product development at MDR and acts as chief strategy consultant on interactive marketing to MDR's customers. He also leads MDR's industry-leading educational e-marketing research and best practices efforts.

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