Image Suppression: How it Hurts Your Efforts and Depresses Your Deliverability

DJ Waldow

In the final post in a 3-part series (see first and second) written by our partners at Return Path, Dan Deneweth continues the discussion on issues affecting email deliverability. Want more deliverability information? You can check out their blog, the Email Marketing Water Cooler and sign up for real-time alerts when new content is published.

Spammers have negatively influenced email in lots of ways, with one of the most visible being the need for image suppression. There is no question that the average consumer prefers pretty, graphically-enhanced email over the boring, plain text versions. But there is also no question that the average consumer prefers that pictures with “adult” themes don’t accidentally pop up while at the office or in front of impressionable kids. The ISPs have combated this problem by suppressing graphics — essentially treating all images as potentially problematic. (Thank you, Mr. Spam.) Despite how widespread this practice has become, few marketers really think about how image suppression affects their email program. They should. Why? Four reasons:

  1. Image suppression messes up your tracking: Open rates are calculated when an invisible graphic pings your servers. No graphic, no ping, no open. Data from DoubleClick and others suggests that an overall decline in open rates is due to the rise in image suppression. Knowing this when analyzing your data is important.
  2. Image suppression can make your email unreadable: Depending on how your email is designed, your message without images might look very bad or it might be completely unintelligible. Through the design process consider what the email will look like without graphics. You may not be able to make it look great, but you can at least make it readable.
  3. Image suppression limits your response rates: When someone can’t see your email, or read your email, they are less likely to interact with it. How much money do you leave on the table because your best offer is in a graphic that doesn’t display?
  4. Image suppression can hurt deliverability: When subscribers don’t recognize an email because images are blocked, they may inadvertently mark it as spam. Also, the lack of responses (reason #3) and tracking (reason #2) can lead to poor marketing decisions, hurting the relevance and value of your program.

Our recommendation is to design for life without images. You can design a very attractive HTML message with no images at all. Most importantly, don’t use images in place of text. Instead, think of images as the spice in your message – a little bit goes a long way. It’s also crucial to use a safety link at the top of your message include hyperlinked copy that says, “Can’t read this email? Click here to view in your browser.”

Spend a little time on your email design and you can create great messages that will be readable in a variety of environments.

Dan Deneweth, Sr. Director, Sender Score Product Management
Return Path

3 Responses to “Image Suppression: How it Hurts Your Efforts and Depresses Your Deliverability”

  1. If image suppression hurts open rate tracking, is Bronto – and/or the industry as a whole – looking at alternative/better ways of tracking open rates?

  2. There really is no other way to track when one of your subscribers opens an email message from you. Keep in mind, open rates haven’t been accurate since the invention of the preview pane, and not even then. There has always been a portion of the email reading public using email readers that are not capable of displaying images. Early on this was common, and it’s coming around again as mobile devices often display only text.

    The focus should be on other metrics that are more meaningful. Click-through rates and conversions are more meaningful and accurate. Inbox delivery rates are a critical measure, as are complaint rates and unknown user rates. These numbers are extremely relevant to the health and success of your email programs. Whether someone complains about receiving a specific email message from you (by hitting the ‘spam’ button) can tell you a great deal, and give you priceless data to improve your future subscriber experience.

    However, tracking open rates isn’t a dead art just yet. Used as a relative measure, comparing one campaign to the next, the data is still useful. There is good news yet, that it is still possible to increase open rates, by joining a whitelist program like Sender Score Certified or Goodmail, which enable images and links by default at key ISPs. This will increase your open rates, because the tracking images will be ‘displayed’. Additionally, you can still encourage your subscribers to add you to their address book, or safe senders list, depending on the email reader they use. This will enable your images to be displayed despite the default setting, allowing you to count these opens.

  3. The phrase “Click here to view in your browser” puts incoming emails into my “Bulk” folder.

    So does the use of “Bonded Spammer” (now “Sender Score Certified”). Ironport really blew that one. A few years ago, Ironport was selling both spam-filtering appliances and rackmount spamming engines. Their security customers were so angry that Ironport had to exit the spam engine business.



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