HTML Emails: How To Use Images Effectively

HTML messages offer several advantages to senders:

  • they can be customized to include colors, formatted text and tables
  • they enable the sender to track message open rates
  • they allow the sender to hyperlink words and phrases rather than typing out full URLs

However, many email programs by default block HTML images from being displayed, including the following popular software and web-based email clients:

  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Mozilla Thunderbird (unless sender is in Personal Address Book)
  • AOL (for non whitelisted senders or sender IP’s not on the enhanced whitelist)
  • Yahoo (for messages that Yahoo’s SpamGuard believes are spam)
  • Hotmail (for messages in Junk folder)
  • Gmail

If your messages are image-heavy, image blocking can cause them to look significantly different than the way you envision them. It can also cause your open rates to appear artificially low, since if images are blocked, the image used for open rate tracking is blocked.

What Can You Do?

1. Give Subscribers An Online Version

I know, I’ve hit on this previously, but I like it. It drives subscribers back to your site, it lets them read (and re-read) your content in whatever format they prefer, and you can simply do more with a web page, such as stream audio or video, than you can in an email.

2. Inform Subscribers About Your Images

Your subscribers may or may not know that their email clients block images. They may simply think that “broken” images mean you’ve screwed up your message. Provide a section near the top of the message that addresses this, something like:

Can’t See Pictures?

Use the link to direct subscribers either to an online version of the message, or to a page of your site where you explain to them how to enable/display the images in your message/s.

3. Avoid HTML Messages That Need Images To Be Effective

Images are a great tool to use to enhance the effectiveness of your messages. They shouldn’t be the heart of your messages, though.

HTML messages that rely primarily on the strength of the text you provide, and supplement that text with graphics, will be more readable in an inbox than an image-heavy message that looks awkward or blank when images are blocked.

4. Test Your Messages

Set yourself up free email accounts at the major web-based ISPs:

  • Yahoo
  • Hotmail
  • AOL
  • Gmail

Test your messages to each account. Leave all settings at their defaults. This will let you see what your subscribers, particularly those who don’t know or don’t care how to adjust their email settings, see when they get your mail. Then, make whatever changes you feel are necessary to your messages.


  1. Sergio

    8/15/2006 9:34 pm

    Excellent and important piece of markeeting information.

  2. Rune

    8/17/2006 5:43 am

    Interesting article – most of it could however be avoided by using embedded images. Is that supported in Aweber?

  3. Tom Kulzer

    8/17/2006 9:03 am


    Embedded images are treated in nearly identical fashion by most major
    ISP’s so that’s really not going to solve any of the issues discussed
    above. Not to mention it requires a huge amount of bandwidth to
    deliver messages of that type.

  4. Steve Elliott

    8/20/2006 2:37 am

    Hi Folks
    I have a simple cure for the problem, stick to plain text messages! I have found that by sending a short ‘cover letter’ as a plain text message and an attachment in pdf format my results improve significantly.

    I have been using this method for 2 years now.

    At the bottom of each plain text message I also suggest that recipients keep a copy of the attachment on their PC, another way to keep my messages in front of them. 🙂

  5. Ruth

    8/23/2006 6:10 pm

    I have heard not to send attachments in follow up e-mails.
    Do you know of any reason not to?

    Thank you.

    Ruth Butler

  6. Justin Premick

    8/24/2006 11:28 am


    Sending large attachments can result in filtering of your message. Also, your subscribers may be afraid of getting a computer virus from an attachment and not want to open.

    It’s better to put the file on your website and send your subscribers a link to the appropriate page, so they can retrieve the file from there.

  7. Benjamin Zimmer

    8/25/2006 11:04 am

    Great stuff, you guys help me to grow my business faster and with more quality. Thanks a million!

  8. Jen Tschida

    8/30/2006 10:21 am

    As always, your tips have come at the perfect time! I was just gettingr eady to design an HTML version of my newsletter template and your tips helped a lot!

    Thanks again for the great service

  9. Richard Carbone

    9/1/2006 2:02 pm

    Interestingly enough I just split tested two versions of an email. The first was a plain text, plain vanilla version with just the full url address. The second had a jazzier subject line, and full html for color highlighting and numerous links. Both were personalized the second html also highlighted the fact that the individual had requested information using the date, IP address and email variables.

    I honestly thought that the html version would bomb but it didn’t and quite the contrary pulled 3 to 1. In fact I tracked actual clicks on the html versus plain text and that was even higher.

    By the way it was for a home business software offer.

    This business never fails to amaze me.

  10. Nana

    11/21/2006 6:11 am

    Yeah I got to read your blog lately and I think it’s worth something.I have just started using html in my messages. I think we can critisize our performances to enhance better ways in doing our things. see my new post very soon.keep it up Justin Premick.I have learn something from it.

  11. » Do You Take Full Advantage of HTML Images? - AWeber Blog

    1/23/2007 9:04 am

    […] As we’ve discussed before, one of the drawbacks to using HTML images is that many email clients block images. Of course, there are things that you can do to address image blocking issues. […]

  12. Jason

    2/2/2007 4:07 pm

    The blocking of images is certainly troublesome. The trick is to encourage your recipient to either enable the images, or go to a web page (and use tracking code in the link). In the past, I’ve added a bar across the top of the email, stating something to the effect "This is a media enriched message- if the images have been blocked, click here to view…". I make it stand out, and make it look like it isn’t part of the email message. The link simply goes to a web page version of that same email, and it’s got tracking code in it.

    I also try to include text above certain images compelling them to enable them as well. For example, I include coupons, discount vouchers, etc, as images and make it very clear that the images are something they REALLY want to see. I usually try to ad another link right next to them, "if the voucher graphics have been blocked, click here to print them..". Of course, have a tracking id on that link 🙂

    I also have encoded links along the lines of "click here for printer friendly version" – which of course takes them to web page version of the email.

    Basicly, make it very compelling for the user to enable thier images. For those that don’t know how, or even realize they have been blocked, give them a link to "fix it".

  13. Sue Melin

    3/2/2007 6:14 pm

    I really appreciate all of the info on this blog. Am I the only one out there who doesn’t know this stuff? Or, if not, why *don’t* people take advantage of this knowledge–I have never ever seen an image named in an email

  14. Valeriu Popescu

    4/11/2007 11:34 am

    Hi there!

    In a recent survey, the guys from The Internet Marketing Center (a leading internet marketing company) discover that:

    51.1% of people prefer to receive your newsletters in simple HTML
    19.8% prefer plain text
    14.7% want HTML with all the "bells and whistles"

    So, my answer is to start testing on your own and
    see the results. I personally use to send out a
    short description of my issue and then send people
    to the online version.

  15. Jesse

    4/13/2007 7:44 pm

    interesting comment Valeriu.
    I was interested in Richard Carbone’s comment but had some doubts as to his sample size.
    But looks like IMC confirms similar info.

  16. Andreas

    6/21/2007 7:03 am

    I’d like to bear out Rick Carbone in his statement about html designed mails versus plain text – but right from the other side -, in which I’m much faster in finding potential interesting information; therefore I prefer simple text mails on principle.

  17. Thomas

    10/24/2008 12:15 pm

    I too found Rick Carbone’s comment interesting. I always thought that the more visually appealing the email was the more clicks we would get. I would make the bulk of the email in Photoshop, slice it up, and surround the slices with text based html to balance out the email to appease the spam gods. Maybe I will try a few emails of text-heavy HTML and see the difference. Thanks for all the ideas! My brain is already whirring around with ideas!

  18. Chris

    5/9/2009 12:56 pm

    @Justin (or anyone else who has experience on this)

    I imagine that there is no question that text emails get better deliverability rates than html emails. My quest though, is HOW much better.

    5%, 10%, 20%, etc?

    I can already see some ways that my emails could become better if I used HTML. However, I am not willing to sacrifice much on deliverability rates. If we are talking single digit percentages, probably. Anything over that, no.

    Justin – what is Awebers experience with deliverability rates of its users for text vs html?

  19. Email - Html vs. Text - Statistics?

    10/1/2009 8:27 pm

    […] Not statistics per se, but some pointers from Aweber on how to improve html email effectiveness… HTML Emails: How To Use Images Effectively […]