Countdown Timer GIF Best Practices

ountdown gifs

Countdown timers are an extra tool up a marketer’s sleeve to trigger a sense of urgency, a precious thing in email marketing.

You’ll learn which types of emails use countdown timers, how you can create yours and, most importantly, how to add it to an email.

Now, let me guide you through it all in…

countdown

What are countdown GIFs?

A countdown GIF is a picture with an animated timer that clocks time until some event: the start of sales, the end of sales, a reserved abandoned cart, a limited offer, an early sign-up for a webinar, and so on.

This is what a typical countdown email looks like.

Source: Really Good Emails
Source: Really Good Emails

Timers exist either as a GIF format or an HTML script and can be placed anywhere in an email. They can have lots of customization options and be placed either above the main image or inside it.

Why use GIF countdown timer in email marketing

Most of the time, a countdown timer is used to tell your clients that something won’t last forever and they’d better hurry up. A ‘related search’ would be those words: urgency, notification, sales boost. However, there’s one more reason to occasionally use timers — the element of surprise. Let us explain each point.

Create urgency

Timers as marketing tools are supposed to speed your clients up towards a certain action. As they see seconds tick away, clients should feel more inclined to do what you want them to. After all, when something is scarce or limited that alerts people — the good old fear of missing out.

Notify or remind about something

This principle is a sign of proper service. If you use a timer in an email that teases early access to a product, this may be viewed as a sign of care about your clients.

Such reminders may also help people make decisions about when to start shopping if you notify them about a sales period, be it upcoming sales or those coming to an end.

Increase your sales

There’s not much research on how countdown timers perform. A study from 2017 found that opens, CTR and revenue per recipient increase for emails with a timer.

With timer Without timer
Open rate 19.87% 19.50%
Click-through rate 2.82% 2.50%
Revenue per recipient $0.45 $0.27

Find out about which factors affect the click-through rate and how to influence this metric in our blog post

Another study, however, didn’t find a significant difference between emails with and without a countdown timer. This brings us to a simple conclusion: take nothing for granted in email marketing, try things on your audience to see how they respond.

Surprise your clients

Countdown timers are not a popular content format in email marketing even though GIFs are. The search on Really Good Emails, a database of over 9,000 well-designed email templates, displays just 21 emails with countdown timers.

So if you decide to use them in your email campaigns, at the very least you’ll surprise your clients with something unusual. The best-case scenario is if you can trigger their sense of urgency and convert them.

Read our blog post to know more about the importance of email design: proven practices, design tools, things not to miss

What to keep in mind when using countdown timers

Since you deal with an animated image you must be sure you know how to use it so it works correctly (more on this later).

You should only use a countdown when you mean it. Urgency is a big hook in email marketing but it can’t be the only strategy: not every product is ‘limited’ and not every event ‘will end soon’. If you mean a deadline and are sure your clients will respond to it — great.

To check how emails with countdown timers perform, testing is essential: do A/B tests to know for sure.

Examples of using countdown timers

There’s a number of email types where countdown timers belong the most because they are mostly focused on ways to increase the craving.

Abandoned shopping carts

Placing a deadline is common in abandoned cart emails and you can go the extra mile and highlight it.

Notice that a CTA button is placed right under the timer — a straightforward way to influence a potential customer.

Source: Moosend
Source: Moosend

VIP or early access

Notify your clients about a VIP or early access and offer a reward for joining. It’s not only about urgency but also care or even a form of secrecy — you offer your clients something that won’t be for everyone.

Source: Moosend
Source: Moosend

Price changes

Tell your customers that prices change soon. You may get more sales, they may be happy with a reduced price and a great service — top content.

Source: Pinterest
Source: Pinterest

Sale ends soon

A deadline is a proven way to get people into action. Why not use it? Make the most of a sales period by showing your customers a deadline.

Source: Pinterest
Source: Pinterest

Special events

A clock ticking down can be an interesting solution for special events like Black Friday or Cyber Monday when email marketing is all about maximizing the potential of sales.

Source: Pinterest
Source: Pinterest

Webinar or live stream reminder

Countdown reminders look natural when you advertise an upcoming webinar or live stream.

Source: Really Good Emails
Source: Really Good Emails

Limited edition or product release

Advertise a last-chance product or a limited edition with a timer. Feel free to combine it with fun content as in the example below.

Source: Email Love
Source: Email Love

Contest

Launch an email contest with prizes. A timer may be a retention tool as it notifies people that they’re still in the game.

Source: Really Good Emails
Source: Really Good Emails

GIF vs HTML clocks

There are two ways you can insert a timer into an email: a GIF or an HTML script. One big difference between the two tools is how they count time. In addition, HTML may be a bit of a challenge to use in comparison to GIFs.

An HTML script shows only real time. Say, you set a timer at 01:00:00 and place it into an email. If you re-open it in five minutes, it will display 00:55:00. An HTML script is programmed to a certain end date and it won’t stop until it reaches it.

A GIF, however, will always re-start. It’ll always display 01:00:00 every time you re-open an email or update the page.

This, however, doesn’t mean GIFs are useless tools in email marketing. Given that an average inbox is flooded by many emails, it’s fair to assume customers only open an email once so the countdown will only be seen once.

GIFs are also slightly simpler to use and, in general, more people are familiar with GIFs than scripts. Our recommendation is unless you’re sure you know what you’re doing, HTML may not be worth all the fuss.

How to create a countdown GIF

There are three options: choose a countdown timer from the internet, create one on a specialized website or customize one in an ESP.

Find a countdown timer on the internet

This is most likely the easiest path. The internet is full of animated pics and you can choose timers that suit you from popular services like Pinterest or Tenor.

You can access the result from a Google page with pics and choose one of many available designs.

example

Create a timer on a specialized website

Online services help users design their countdown timers. There’s not much difference between them as the principle is similar: pick a template, choose background and digit colors, set the event time. Once done, save the result as a GIF.

example

Some of those services include extra features and tools like embedding a link into a timer but the option may be paid. Here’s a brief overview of the services.

Pricing Best thing about it Worst thing about it
Mara Free for regular use, from $39 for extra features Ease of use Few customization options
Countingdownto Free for regular use, $28 a month for extra features You can test how a timer displays in your email The ‘powered by countingdownto’ caption
Motion Mail 10$ a month You can track how many people viewed a timer Nothing
Nifty $20 a month Almost unlimited customization Expensive if you don’t plan to use it often
Timerdash $297 It’s software so you can sell it if you stop using Pricing

Customize a timer in an ESP

Some ESPs allow you to create countdown timers right in the email builder. Unlike external services, it’s pretty convenient because you can do all the email building and customization in one tab. Swipe right to see how you can do it with Selzy tools.

Choose the ‘countdown timer’ option and drag it up into the edit field
Choose the ‘countdown timer’ option and drag it up into the edit field
Click ‘edit timer’
Click ‘edit timer’
Set the design and click the save at the bottom
Set the design and click the save at the bottom
Now you have a countdown timer as part of your email
Now you have a countdown timer as part of your email

How to add a countdown GIF to an email

Since GIF is an image format you have to insert animated pics into the image field of your ESP.

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Browse an animated countdown timer on your computer and insert it. Bingo!

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You can also go a harder path and add it with an HTML code. When creating it with online services like Mara or Countingdownto you can either save the result as a GIF or use a code.

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To embed a code in an ESP you no longer need the Image field but the HTML one. Drag it into the edit field and wait for the result to emerge.

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As already mentioned, HTML may be a harder road. You have more customization options with images: you can zoom them in or out whereas a script is rigid in this regard.

How to add a countdown timer inside a pic

In the examples of emails with countdown timers you could notice that most of them have a timer embedded into the pic. How did they do it?

Let’s take this example from Ray-ban’s Black Friday campaign, try to break it down and re-create.

Source: Really Good Email
Source: Really Good Email

Let’s talk some analogies. First I want you to think about a hamburger. Yes, that’s right, a hamburger. So that you bear with me and don’t feel the urge to go to the fridge I’ve drawn an ugly hamburger. Here it is.

An ugly hamburger
An ugly hamburger

A hamburger can be broken down into ingredients: the buns and a beef patty. Likewise, a picture from an email can be broken down into several pieces.

Let’s split the Ray-ban one into the upper bun and the lower bun with a patty.

example

Suppose I now want a cheeseburger? I take a slice of cheese and place it on the patty. Here’s what I’m gonna eat now.

An ugly cheeseburger
An ugly cheeseburger

So, here’s how it should change our “email meal”: the cheese becomes a new part of the pic – a countdown timer in our case – and cheese must always be placed on the patty.

example

Equipped with the ‘sandwich principle’, you now know what to do — connect three layers in an email builder in your ESP.

You need to slice your image into several parts. Decide where you will include a countdown and adapt the colors. Then you can either make it three image layers and upload a countdown timer as a GIF or create one in your ESP.

Three image layers — use it when you upload a timer as a GIF
Two image layers and one countdown timer layer — use it when creating a timer in your ESP. Make sure you can match the pic’s design and colors

I tried to re-create that Ray-ban pic with a customized timer from Selzy’s email builder and here’s what I got.

example

I tested it in my inbox and it looked swell.

If you add a countdown timer in Selzy’s ESP you can include a clickable link. Mind you, that’s an option often unavailable (unless you pay) on specialized GIF-making services.
If you add a countdown timer in Selzy’s ESP you can include a clickable link. Mind you, that’s an option often unavailable (unless you pay) on specialized GIF-making services.

If you add a countdown timer in Selzy’s ESP you can include a clickable link. Mind you, that’s an option often unavailable (unless you pay) on specialized GIF-making services.

example

Shall we compare the results. See how my version matches up against the original design.

example

The timers look different but that’s only because Ray-ban customized it their way. Other than that…

milf

My aim was not to match their design but to show you that you can add a timer into any email for your marketing campaigns.

I’ve done the testing on mobile as well, and it displays correctly.

in the end we've got

Conclusion

  • Countdown timers trigger urgency. If you want to put a greater emphasis on a limited offer in your email marketing campaigns, you can add a timer to your email.
  • Don’t put countdown timers into every email. Not every offer or event is limited. Your clients will soon get used to it if they see the same content all the time.
  • If unsure, use GIFs over HTML. If you’re not yet skilled in HTML, you can customize a GIF on an external website and add it to your email campaign as an image.
  • Add countdown timers right from an ESP. This may be even faster than adding a GIF as you have all the tools you need in one tab.
  • Place timers inside a picture with a ‘cheeseburger principle’. If you want a timer inside a pic and not above, imagine a hamburger. To make it a cheeseburger, you need to add cheese between the upper bun and a patty. Accordingly cut your pic in a photo editor and, when putting it all together in an ESP, place the countdown timer layer where it belongs.

What’s your story with countdown timers? Did you use it and what were the results?

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