Email Marketing Web Development

Bad Email Chronicles: Excessive Reliance on Images in a Message (imagemap example)

The effectiveness of email marketing campaigns can easily be subverted by graphic artists who decide to get a little too fancy. Unless the image you’re embedding in the message is really essential, and adds a lot to what you’re trying to communicate, I recommend designing image optional emails. But it’s very common for the marketing department to be so in love with their pixel-perfect design that they put the whole message in an image – even though many email clients will block orĀ suppress the display of images, at least initially.

This example, from an event promotion by the South Florida Business Journal, is particularly bad because I found that even once I turned on image display, I could not easily respond to the offer. They want me to click the button that says Register Now, but when I do, nothing happens.

When I first opened the message, I basically got a blank screen in Gmail (I use the Google Apps version with After clicking Display Images, here’s what it looks like:

Bad Email
Whole Message Embedded in an Image

There’s an email address in the message, but nothing happens if I try to click on that, either. I can’t copy and paste the email address, or any other info from this message – if I try, I wind up selecting the whole image rather than the text I’m after.

bad email - can't select text
Can't select text: the message is one big image

I had to look at the source code to figure out what was going on. They could have wrapped the whole image in an anchor tag linking to their Register Now page, and that would have worked better. But instead they coded it using an imagemap – an Old School HTML technique that used to be used a lot to map regions within a banner or navigation menu on a web page as links. The map sets XY coordinates within the image for different links. Looks like the designers here wanted to have most of the image mapped to that Register Now page, except for the link to the contact email. Imagemaps have fallen out of favor in web design because they’re not good for search engine optimization (SEO). And they’re a bad idea for email marketing. Gmail and several other prominent email clients ignore imagemaps, or offer limited support for them.

Probably what happened here was the web designers working with this email team previewed this as a web page and maybe tested it with Outlook (which does allow imagemaps), but didn’t realize it wouldn’t work at all for some segments of the audience.

And that’s the danger of getting too fancy, without understanding the tradeoffs that you’re making – including tradeoffs that mean you don’t get a sale or sales lead that could have been yours.