why alt text is essential to email marketingWeb content is becoming more and more visual. Internet users’ attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, and it’s quicker and easier to look at and interpret pictures than it is to read lots of text.

This explains the success of image-based social networks like Instagram and Pinterest, and content types like slide decks, infographics, and videos.

But why should an image-based content strategy be limited to open forums like your blog or Facebook page? It shouldn’t.

Images should still be part of your content strategy for more private online marketing methods, such as email marketing.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), email marketing is unique. You reach your audience in a completely different way, and you’ll have to jump over hurdles you won’t encounter with other marketing methods.

For one, users can’t see your content unless they opt-in. Someone can visit your Facebook or Twitter page without liking or following you, but they won’t receive your email newsletter unless they subscribe. Other hurdles include spam folders, open rates, unsubscribes, and images not displaying right away. That last one is what we’re here to talk about today.

The Problem

Most email providers don’t show images right away unless the recipient has already added the sender to a certain list or has gone in and changed their email image settings. Unfortunately, a lot of users don’t do this. Instead, every time they receive an email, they click the button or link that says something along the lines of “Display Images.”

So, in most cases, the recipient can ultimately see all the beautiful pictures in your email message, but they need to do a little bit of clicking around first. But if the email seems boring or irrelevant to them, they may not bother to load the image and will delete or archive the email instead. You don’t want that, do you?

The Solution

This is where alt text comes in. Alt text is short for “alternate text” in HTML. It can be used in anything written in HTML, like websites and, yes, emails. When, for any reason, an image can’t be displayed, the alternate text is shown instead. It should provide alternate information, like painting a picture with words. Ideally, the viewer should be able to understand either the context around the image or what the image is of, just by reading the alt text.

Alt Text Best Practices

  • Don’t make the entire email one big image. – A lot of companies create newsletters for print and scan and send them via email. Or, in an attempt to make the email really pretty, design a big image with all of the newsletter content. Don’t do this. How are you going to fit all of the information you need in one alt text tag? VerticalResponse recommends using 80% text and 20% images.
  • Alt text should describe the image and convey any information the image contains. – For example, if you have a header in your email newsletter, the alt text should be something like “[Brand Name] Email Newsletter.” If you have the icons of social networks linking to your profiles, the alt text should be “Follow on Twitter,” “Like on Facebook,” etc. A coupon’s alt text should provide information about the offer.
  • Keep it short. – While, yes, you want to provide a clear description of what the image is, you don’t want to write a whole paragraph of alt text. Depending on the size of the actual image, it may not all fit. If the alt text takes up more space than the image, some email providers may not display the alternate text at all and the recipient will just see a white box. Even with a large image, you don’t want to make your reader read a whole paragraph in addition to the rest of the email text.
  • Style alt text with CSS. – You can still make your alt text more interesting than the default options by styling it with CSS. You can make the text bigger so that it’s easier to read and stands out, change the colors so that they match your brand colors, etc. Campaign Monitor has a great post on which email clients support alt text and styled alt text.