Alas, long gone are the early days of HTML email marketing, when we could just drop one big graphic in our files with an image map defining the different areas the graphic would link to. Over the years, as a range of email readers proliferated with varying support for graphics, and spammers abused the support of imagery, the rules of using graphics in HTML emails have changed considerably.
Today, there are four important reasons why you should consider using a mix of HTML text with images in your messages:
1. The majority of email readers turn images off by default. This means when recipients first see your message, they will be looking at a bunch of red x's instead of your beautifully-designed email. Coding your email with HTML text allows recipients to partially read and begin engaging with your message immediately (and thereby encouraging them to enable images and further engage). In test after test, we've found messages that include a strong ratio of text to images consistently outperform the image-heavy versions. This alone should be reason enough to include plenty of text in your messages.
2. Many spam filters analyze the text-to-image ratio in messages and will block messages consisting predominately of images. While reputation is playing an increasingly important part in what gets through the spam filter gauntlet, a high image-to-text ratio in your messages is still a red flag in many delivery systems regardless of reputation.
3. Image maps are not supported consistently by the Web-based email platforms, notably AOL and Hotmail. This means if you're sending out messages using image maps, your readers may be receiving and viewing them perfectly well -- but when attempting to click through, they are prohibited from getting to your site or the correct page associated with the call to action.
4. With the increased support for HTML email on mobile platforms, we need to consider that not everyone receiving our messages is doing so over a fast connection.
Now that I've given a few reasons why you should consider including plenty of text in your messages, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
1. A well-designed and properly coded email should strike a balance between HTML text and imagery. Including lots of text in your messages doesn't mean you should exclude images; not enough graphical treatment and the email runs the risk of looking unprofessional.
2. Stick to using standard fonts that most recipients will have on their computers. For example, Helvetica is a great-looking font, but very few users on Windows-based machines have that font installed.
Arial and Verdana are both good choices for non-serif fonts. Georgia, Times New Roman and Courier are good choices for serif fonts (serifs are the little hooks or "feet" you see at the end of each stroke in a letter).
3. Also, be sure to include text above the fold so that recipients using preview panes will still be able to see the message if they have images disabled.
If you're an email marketer whose current emails are mostly made up of images and you're still on the fence regarding HTML text (or having a hard time convincing other members of your team to make the leap), I recommend trying a simple A/B test. Create a second version of your all-image message and replace the graphical text with HTML text. I believe you'll be pleased with the results!