Images Disabled? No Problem!

We’ve all experienced it at some point or another. That moment when we casually open our inbox, click on an interesting subject line, then poof – there’s nothing there but some illegible text and tiny outlines of where shiny pictures should be.

This is an instant turn-off, regardless of whether it’s as simple as clicking one button to enable images for the message. It’s a hassle; a helpful decision maker for a subscriber on the fence as to whether or not they care to remain on your email list.

If you’re wondering how many subscribers stand to see your blank, poorly formatted message, you’ll be surprised to learn that MarketingSherpa found only 33% of those surveyed have images turned on by default in their email client. That means 67% are likely to see the mess of text and boxes you thought only a handful might see.

Here are some tips for creating messages that perform well with or without images enabled.

Always Make Important Info Text-Based

It might seem simple, but since so many people don’t have images enabled in their email clients, you have to make absolutely certain that your message is comprehensible without any images.

Apple always has awesome product shots in all of their messages, but this particular email does double duty. It includes all of the necessary information for subscribers who might not see the pictures:

Apple Email

In one glance, readers will know the details about the one-day shopping event and will still be able to click on the links to shop online or find a store. Then, if they choose to, they can always enable images to see the the graphics.

  • Always include your business name and important calls to action in text. It helps those with disabled images quickly scan and identify the message, then make decisions without depending on graphics for details.

Use Alt-Text for Images

When the majority of your message is image-based, it’s crucial that you include alt-text. Alt-text, or alternative text, is a frequently overlooked area of HTML that provides important message information as text when an image is not viewable.

That way, instead of seeing the blocked or “broken” image icon, your subscribers see copy that explains the images and more about the subject of the email. Online retailer Newport News uses alt-text that is specific, informative and to the point:

Newport News Email

It’s easy to see who this message is from, what they are offering (guaranteed holiday delivery) and what’s new (an iPad app). If readers find the alt-text appealing enough, they will enable images to see exactly what they can receive by the holidays and what the iPad app will look like.

  • Always create alt-text for your images. It’s easy, it’s fast and it can help prospects who are on the fence. There’s no reason not to!

Create a Text/Image Balance

When you’re offering products for sale, it can be tempting to load up your messages with pictures of the products in hopes that readers will immediately click through to buy.

And while email is a wonderful sales tool, it’s never as simple as sending lots of pictures and watching the money roll in. There needs to be a balance of information and presentation. The online scrapbooking company Scrapblog perfectly pairs both in their email:


The minimal use of images is a nod to the descriptive copy used in all of Scrapblog’s emails. Even though they are selling a product, they are able to do so artfully with a killer combo of words and pictures – something everyone sending emails today should practice more of.

  • Always include a good mix of text and images. Don’t overwhelm your subscribers with paragraphs of text, but don’t slap 20 pictures in an email and call it a day, either.

Do Your Emails Make the Cut?

Testing in multiple email clients is really the best way to see exactly how your message will look, but these tips should save you a lot of time and frustration, should your subscribers only see the disabled version.

Are there other things that you look out for when creating your emails? We’d love to hear, leave us a comment below!


  1. Sally Neill

    5/3/2011 8:15 am

    I am so pleased you released these tips, I only recently started using images and I was aware that a huge amount of people don’t have images on as default.

    I was actually going to stop using images altogether, but now I will do as your tips explained and then even if the images don’t display my emails will still make “sense”

    Fab info, thanks for sharing it.

  2. Richard Frakas

    5/3/2011 8:26 am

    I have found that Return Paths Certification has helped me in this regard as well.

  3. Alessandra

    5/3/2011 8:52 am

    Alt text doesn’t show in all email clients, but for the ones where it does, you can style your cells and alt text using style=”____” in the tag to mimic the color and size of any copy and background colors within the images that aren’t yet loaded.

    Here’s an example of a campaign for one of our stores:

    I could have sliced up the image further to separate the button, sub-head, etc., but you can see how I’ve coded the template to show with images-off what it does with images-on.

    The elements I usually define within inline CSS are:

    – font-family
    – text-size
    – tine-height
    – color (also must define within the tag for links)
    – background-color
    – text-align
    – font-weight

    Defining all of these not only helps the text/cells display exactly as you want them but all with the email rendering correctly (even with images-on) in all email clients.

  4. Jon Benson

    5/3/2011 8:53 am

    A really cool strategy I use is to have “Click here to see the picture” as the alt-message in any HTML image. I then link that to the sales page or blog with the content I want to drive people to. This has increased my CTR by 20% on image-based emails.

  5. Amy Kellogg

    5/3/2011 9:04 am

    I am wondering how you get your images to appear in your email signature if you use google email? Do I need to transfer them into a photo software? What free software can I use to download the image in so that it will transfer to my google email?

  6. wbw_Jeff

    5/3/2011 12:38 pm

    Also…make sure that you at least reserve the space where the image is supposed to appear by including ‘height=’ and ‘width=’ in your HTML tag (I’ve found that doing it via CSS is not effective, at least in Outlook).

    Also, I think that Gmail has some type of length restriction on displaying the ‘Alt’ text in place of the image. Very short descriptions are displayed, longer ones, not so much.

  7. Julie-Soleil

    5/3/2011 12:50 pm

    Quite interesting text! Our newsletter turns out not so bad! Would like to know in witch software that newletter is built. We have been quite limited in terms of graphic quality of our newsletter and I a looking for some alternatives.

  8. Caroline

    5/3/2011 4:49 pm

    Another extremely important reason to use good descriptive alt text is for people with visual disabilities. Screen readers use the alt text to tell a person what the image is if they are unable to see it.

  9. Meg Collins

    5/3/2011 5:57 pm

    It would also be helpful to get tips on how to instruct your readers to turn on their images, as I imagine most of them simply don’t know how to do it. Maybe for the top 3 or 4 most popular email clients…

  10. Aaron Schulman

    5/4/2011 11:44 am

    Thanks Justin,

    I have subscribed to Ken McCarthy’s stuff for years, and he has never used images. . .

    and his stuff works because his copywriting is so effective. . .

    But I imagine visuals for certain products or events are essential in selling the product ( for me- food promos work great with pictures)

    As Claude Hopkins would say, “Test Everything”. . .

    Thanks for these tips again

  11. Carol

    5/6/2011 3:40 pm

    If 67% of people don’t have images turned on, does that mean that the open rate that we actually see on Aweber panel is way lower than reality? (considering open rate is tracked by image based technology)

  12. Amanda Gagnon

    5/9/2011 8:17 am

    Alessandra, John and Jeff ~ Thanks for sharing those tips!

    Meg ~ Usually, there’s a link above the email that offers to turn them on.

    Carol ~ Subscribers who don’t have images turned on by default can still turn them on manually for your message, which lets us count their open. Also, if they click a link, we infer that they’ve opened. But yes, there are probably some readers who have opened your message that aren’t countable.

  13. shane

    12/13/2012 12:55 pm

    I just had a problem with my alt tag not showing up when I sent a test to my iphone. The way to fix if your alt tag doesn’t show up on iphone when images don’t load is to make sure the text is not wider than the image width. Use shorter text.

    All the best.