ABCs of Email Rendering

In response to Chad White's great column, The Value of Rendered Email a reader submitted this question: "Could someone give me a basic definition of 'image suppression, addition or optimization of HTML text, alt tags and pre-header text?"

Since the Email Diva lives to make sure that no marketer is left behind, she is delighted to provide the answer.

Image Suppression

Virtually all emails are delivered without the images. Unless the recipient clicks to "display images," or the sender is in the recipient's Address Book, all that is displayed is HTML text and those boxes with Xs in the corner, where the images belong. Once the recipient takes action, images are pulled in from a server. There are two reasons to suppress images: 1) to conserve bandwidth, as an email without images is a much smaller message, and 2) to prevent you or your child from unwittingly getting an eyeful of porn.

Image suppression creates a challenge for email marketers. How can I get the user to view my message as intended, with all the beautiful graphics intact? Some feel that if the brand and user experience is strong enough, the user will take that step to unblock the images or click to view the Web version--after all, it's only a click away.



But the truth is that we make split-second decisions when culling through our latest load of unread email--performing inbox triage--so we need a very quick answer to the eternal question: WIIFM? (What's In It For Me). This leads to these techniques:

Addition or Optimization of HTML text

Designers want to show important text in the best possible light, so they want to make it part of the image. The drawback is that this important text will not be seen until the user unblocks the images. If you can convince your designer to put important above-the-fold text in HTML, it will be visible when images are suppressed.

It is a difficult case to make, as the fonts and their treatment are very limited, and it tramples on the designer's creative freedom. You have to show the designer what their beautiful email looks like without images. There are many email rendering tools, including some that will show you how your email looks on a smart phone, which is becoming a significant majority of readers. Some are provided by ESPs, others can be purchased independently and the poor man's solution is to set up multiple email accounts for testing.

Alt Tags

These tags are the text that describes the image before it renders. Marketers find that replacing the functional description or file name of the image (sale banner or sale 123.jpeg) with a carefully chosen description (10% off toys) helps tell the story with images suppressed. (For people with access issues, such as the blind, these tags are read aloud, which makes them extra important.) See The Art of ALT [] for some good tips on creating your ALT tags.

Preheader Text

This is the small text at the very top of the email that is frequently used to encourage users to unblock images and add the sender to your address book. (A recent favorite, seen at the Email Insider Summit: "ensure future delivery." Smart marketers are finding that this is an excellent place to put your most compelling reason to open the email--e.g., "Take 10% off store-wide. Shop now." or "10 Tips to improve email strategy you can't afford to ignore."

These are all techniques to encourage readers to unblock the images are read your message as you intended, with the images intact. According to Chad White, that can mean improvements in response from 9-400%. That's WIIFY.

Good Luck!

The Email Diva

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