Magically Change Your Email Post-Send

When you send out your marketing emails, you probably have some hopes for response. You may also have a few thin-lipped expectations. And there’s always that fond dream of your content going viral.

All of which means you probably use the urgency tactic once in awhile. You know, the “six hours only!!” sale or the announcement of “just three copies left!!”

And this can certainly work. But if anyone opens your message too late, it thuds like a drop in a hollow bucket. Worse, if they try to click through to purchase, they could be cranky when they realize they’re too late.

What if you could magically make the email content adjust itself to the situation so when latecomers open it after the fact, they see a completely different message?

The “Oops! It’s Over” Announcement

First of all, keeping your message current like this is just good customer service.

Secondly, it shows you’re on top of things, which can only benefit your reputation.

And finally, it shows that the urgency of your offer is for real – if subscribers want your deals, they’d better open faster next time.

If you’re a product shown in your email sells out, create an image that reflects this and swap it with the previous image. Like in this email from women’s retailer Chadwick’s.

Or, when your sale is over, replace your sale announcement with a notice that they missed it, but you’ll have others soon! And in the meantime, give them something else to do, like Home Depot did in this email.

And you don’t have to be a giant chain store to do it…you can just be one guy in front of a computer, or the tiny cafe down the street. It just requires…

Swapping Out An Image

You can update any information in your email, as long as it’s in the form of an image.

Why? Because images don’t actually live in your message. They live on the web page you uploaded them to.

Think of that page’s URL as the image’s address. When someone opens your email, it displays whatever image it finds at that URL. So all you need to do to update your email post-send is change the image that lives on that URL.

To make the magic happen, you’ll need to be hosting your images on your own site manually, or via a content management software like WordPress. (This doesn’t work on public image hosting sites.)

If You Host Images Manually

This is an easy fix: after the sale or other event is over, use your FTP client or other file management software to upload the new image.

The advantage to this method is that you have complete control over the file’s URL; the catch is that it does require you to be familiar with using an FTP client or other file management software.

If you’re not familiar with FTP, here’s an article and a video on using it.

Here are a couple of FTP clients that you can use for this:

  • FireFTP (a plugin for the Firefox browser that works on Windows or Mac)
  • Cyberduck (software for Mac or PC)

If you don’t want to manage the file upload yourself, have a developer handle it for you, or try using a content management system like WordPress.

If You Use WordPress

Note: before you use WordPress to manage this, check to see if you’re organizing your uploads into folders based on the year and month you upload them. You can do this at the “Settings” > “Media” page in your WordPress admin area. If you are doing so, it may be better to not use WordPress for this, because in some cases you won’t be able to overwrite the original image properly from within WordPress.

  1. Upload your original image into your media gallery. Use the URL assigned to that image to place it in your email, as usual.
  2. When your sale is over or your product sold out, prepare for the switch. Important: give the replacement image (the one that says “sold out!” or something similar) the same name as the original.
  3. In your media gallery, delete the original image. Immediately upload the new image with the same name. Now when someone opens your email, it will follow the URL you’ve put into place and display the updated image.

Something to Consider

Remember, this method is only good for images. But if you make the entire email one big image, it might trip a spam filter. So only use images for the parts you’ll want to update later.

Just make sure the rest of your email looks good around both the original content and the update, and you’re good to go!

What Else Could You Swap?

Once you get this process down, you can get creative with how you use it. Announce the end of sales and sold out products. Change your price if something’s not selling (or selling too much at too low a price!)

Would you ever make these updates by swapping out the images? What other changes might you make?


  1. Sally

    5/5/2011 9:50 am

    OMG I laughed when I read this, sometimes something is sooooooo simple you just don’t even think of it.

    Super tip, I will be sure to use it in future emails.

    Sally 🙂

  2. Etienne

    5/5/2011 9:54 am

    Interesting, thanks.

    Too bad there’s no way to do that for us plain text email senders.


  3. John Arnold

    5/5/2011 10:03 am

    This was amazingly helpful and completely outside of the box of anything I had even considered possible; yet, so simple I am sitting here thinking, “Duh, why didn’t I think of this ages ago?” Again thank you.

  4. Aaron Schulman

    5/5/2011 10:06 am

    Hey Justin,

    Great post – I never thought of swapping images after the sale for late openings-

    Just had a few questions –

    1) What if it is an event (or series of monthly events)?

    Any ideas on some creatives for this?

    2) What if you offered another limited time offer that was similar, but not as good as the original promotion – as a “thanks for looking – but you’re too late” concept to reduce the sting?

    Again- Thanks-

  5. Dale

    5/5/2011 10:16 am

    What would be the recommended maximum image file size?

  6. Johnn

    5/5/2011 10:26 am

    The image idea is great!

    I’d test first for your particular audience, but I’d be inclined to swap up the landing page, not the email content.

    Once at the landing page, you can offer the same regret message, but you have more options because of access to website functionality instead of more limited email client functionality.

    For example, you could put video on the landing page. Or, you could offer a way to deliver higher priority messages so the person does not miss the next limited promotion, such as signing up to a texting service or an “urgent messages” email list.

    A related tip, which I think you’ve covered before, is to never use the real URLs for links in emails. Always use redirects. That way you have control of the destination in case of 404s, expired content, or whatever.

    Great post. You guys do great work – I love my AWeber account.

  7. Mal

    5/5/2011 10:45 am

    Great idea! I too love Aweber! Probably the only email marketing software I know that gives the best marketing advice! All other providers I know seems to focus on technical features of their product instead of how to get best use the product to achieve marketing success, like Aweber does!

  8. Paul Broni

    5/5/2011 10:52 am

    Been doing this for years — thought I had it all to myself.

    Way to spill the beans, AWeber! 🙂

    Now I’ll just have to come up with something even more devious, more diabolical. MU-WA-HA-HA!

  9. Vinny O'Hare

    5/5/2011 10:56 am

    Etienne – You can do this with text emails but you you have to put a live page on your site and steer the people to it from the email. After a few hours you can change the image on the page to a new one and no one would notice.

  10. George Whittaker

    5/5/2011 11:21 am

    Hey Johnn, what do you mean by use redirects? SO you mean Bit.Ly or links?

  11. Hope

    5/5/2011 11:37 am

    Great Information. I like the way you keep us informed

  12. Vivek Sharma

    5/5/2011 11:37 am

    Great blog post guys! The image swapping thing is a very powerful email technique. We have productized this to translate any dynamic web page:

    Simply build a dynamic web page, create a real-time pic with Movable Ink and paste it into your campaign. You can do things like inventory filtering, creative optimization, socially reinforced offers and more.

  13. maryjo

    5/5/2011 12:26 pm

    Do you have a video training on this?

    Thanks a bunch

  14. Okoji

    5/5/2011 12:31 pm

    This is a very nice method that I have already use for sometime. I never know this article will come up here soon.

    Thank you all the same.

  15. Johnn

    5/5/2011 12:40 pm

    @George URL shorteners will work, yes, but only if you can change the destination links afterward. Some services do not allow this.

    I use a simple free php script installed on my site called CURLS. It’s a URL shortener but works off my domain, so I have complete control and a bunch of features and reporting.

    I’m not sure about WordPress. Anybody know of a URL redirect plugin? Does PrettyLinks allow edits to destination URLs?

  16. Tom Kulzer (AWeber CEO)

    5/5/2011 2:33 pm

    I don’t recommend using public URL shortners. Many are widely abused by spammers and are much more likely to get your emails flagged as abusive or thrown in the spam folder at recipients. Using a shortner is good only if you’re the one controlling the shortner and its usage.

  17. George Whittaker

    5/5/2011 3:46 pm

    I agree Tom, a public URL shortener is definitely a spammers delight!

    So Johnn is cURL the only way to do this or could I just have a page with a meta refresh tag that I change when I need to?

  18. Jeremy

    5/5/2011 3:51 pm

    Great tip!
    does that mean I can take image of a picture from our daily deals website and when all is sold out we can just go into the hosting and name another image the same thing and say sold out?
    is that correct?


  19. Duke

    5/5/2011 7:41 pm

    I think George was asking “what do you mean by use redirects” and the conversation wandered into URL shorteners without answering his question.

    There are many answers to this, but I think the writer’s intention in this context is that your e-mail links to a URL that serves as a landing page for your link, an alias that doesn’t actually contain the content to be displayed.

    That landing page, in turn, displays another page on your site with the actual content. In some cases the landing page can be a unique URL without an associated file on the server that is encoded to tell you the ultimate offer page to display plus the addressee’s e-mail from which the link originated.

    Redirection code on the website deciphers the URL and can decide which content page to display, including an alternative page if the offer has timed out, or a personalized page reflecting the profile of the subscriber “Welcome back John…” This is sometimes done with “404 redirects” where the URL doesn’t exist and rules for error handling decide what alternative page to display, making the error message processing part of the main functionality of the website instead of just handling true errors from old bookmarks and broken links to obsolete pages.

    The simplest 404 redirects display the home page or a search page instead of just saying “Oops”, but they can also be quite powerful in adjusting the response of a website based on phrases in the URL, time of day, and so on.

  20. Chris Miller

    5/5/2011 9:59 pm

    Great idea here Justin. I’ve been tossing the idea around with some colleagues to see how we can get it to work for restaurants who use email to market to their customers.

    @Aaron – I think the best example of an event would be Mother’s Day coming up. If a restaurant sends out an e-blast marketing the day and some customers don’t open it until Monday or Tuesday, my thinking is that it the image could THEN say something like:

    “We missed you sorely this Mother’s Day. We hope you enjoyed it nontheless. Remember to join us for Happy Hour every weekday from 4:30 – 6PM”

    Or something to that effect.


  21. Amanda Gagnon

    5/6/2011 8:18 am

    Etienne ~ Yes, plain text gives you little to work with in the way of bells and whistles.

    Jeremy and Chris ~ Exactly!

    Duke ~ Thanks for providing that explanation!

    Maryjo ~ We don’t, but I’ll note your request.

    Aaron ~ 1. If it’s an event, you could do something like the Home Depot example above. 2. With a secondary deal, you’d end up with less urgency to open next time, but subscribers may appreciate your extra consideration. So it depends what you’re going for.

  22. Justin Premick

    5/6/2011 10:02 am


    Holidays like Mother’s Day are a great example of a time where you could use this. Good thinking!


    I agree with what Amanda said about urgency – I think it pays to tread lightly there and not train people to wait to see what the secondary deal is.

    That said, one approach that would be interesting here is to do a deal that operated on on a series of deadlines, where as each deadline passed the deal got a little less great.

    The key here in my opinion would be to have little differentiation between the deals other than the discount – you don’t want people holding out on buying product X at a great deal because they think that after the deadline you might put up a deal (albeit a less-discounted one) on product Y. If you do a deal where it’s 40% off until the first deadline, then 30% off until the next deadline, then 20, 10 and so on, you can instill some urgency while still having something for the people who miss the deadline/s.

  23. Johnn

    5/6/2011 11:11 am

    @George “So Johnn is cURL the only way to do this or could I just have a page with a meta refresh tag that I change when I need to?”

    Good question. I have not used a meta refresh yet this millennium. 🙂 Sounds doable. Anyone else have thoughts on this?

  24. Aaron Schulman

    5/7/2011 6:57 am


    Thanks Amanda and Justin-

    I like the home depot example (seems really general – I wonder if they could target it a bit more based on the kind of product in their original promotion)

    Justin- Haven’t used the decreasing discount (in stages) idea- will see when / how we can implement that –

    but we have used the limited time discount on promotions which seems to make a difference in some campaigns.

  25. Estrella S.Laroco

    5/8/2011 6:49 am

    Me too I agree to Amanda and Justin,

    It’s easy to say, it’s easy! but to think of it you must be creative enough and be authentic in thinking regardless of converting the product. Some people they don’t buy the same product at the same style even though its original or not they are looking the unique product different from the style of the original.

    Can I suggest can we add some item like medical supply?

  26. John Vincent

    5/19/2011 10:27 am

    What an awesome idea. So simple, it?s beautiful!

    What about using it the opposite way!

    You could send an email: In three days time this image will disappear and be replaced by____ you will then have the opportunity to click it and grab a copy of ____ for only $

    Or one email that changes every one of the 12 days of Christmas…

    Anyway I love the opportunities the tip gives me, thanks guys 🙂

  27. Amanda Gagnon

    5/23/2011 8:50 am

    John ~ You could certainly use it the opposite way. I’m not sure how much play the second version would get, since people would have to hunt back through their inbox to find the email. If you try it, let us know how it goes!

    Estrella ~ You’re right; the technical process isn’t hard, but there is plenty of work involved coming up with creative content.

  28. Daniela Crudu

    9/11/2011 11:23 am

    Hey Amanda, thanks for this great tip, I love the Aweber team and I learned so much by reading your posts here.
    I’ll make sure to use this in future emails.