A Guide To Email GIFs: Best Ways To Use Them, How To Embed, Pros and Cons

A Guide To Email GIFs: Best Ways To Use Them, How To Embed, Pros and Cons
20 March, 2022 • ... • 1516 views
Eugene Vasilev
by Eugene Vasilev

GIFs in email marketing are a small but powerful tool to make the most out of a campaign. They don’t just bring colors to an email but also hold a practical value if used properly. This article is your go-to guide on how to use animated GIFs in email marketing.

What is an email GIF?

First, let’s define a GIF. A GIF is an acronym for graphics interchange format. In simpler terms, it means an animated image on a web page, one that moves.

GIFs have been around since 1987 and have enjoyed widespread use on the internet. This longevity means GIFs adapt across many platforms, websites, applications and operating systems. It’s a popular format.

This here is a GIF. Right, Mr. Walrus?

A GIF with a walrus
Source: GIPHY

An email GIF is an animated image inside an email. Even if it’s just a tiny detail that moves, — as in the example below — this makes it an email GIF.

Subtle GIF in email
Source: Really Good Emails

Why insert a GIF into an email

Surprise-surprise but let’s start with a counterexample — why not use GIFs in email marketing.

A study by the hugely respected Nielsen Norman Group found that GIFs are a source of massive distraction. “Annoying” is the word 31% of recipients in their study used for animated pictures. Only 14% called the same pic “annoying” in its static form. Simply put, GIFs are often a source of distraction as compared to static pictures.

Bed Bath Beyond product animation
31% called the left pic annoying; only 14% called the right pic annoying. Source: Nielsen Norman Group

However, the study did admit its limitations. First, the sample was not large enough as they only tested with four emails. Second, the context was limited: it was a direct comparison on the spot, without considering a potential history of emails from the same company.

Ultimately, the Nielsen Norman Group concluded that animated images are often a source of distraction but are not inherently bad. If used with a clear purpose, they have a right to exist.

Well, we can count at least six cases when you should use GIFs in email marketing.

Show off your products and services

Biology says that human beings are wired to react to moving objects. Whatever the cause — a snake in the grass or a car racing by — we tend to switch our attention to this object, especially if it’s unexpected.

Guess what? The same happens when we see GIFs. Like it or not, you will react to the email below just like you reacted to the walrus earlier.

Tempo Move GIF email

So, GIFs are great at capturing attention and this is important in email marketing. If you’ve got subscribers’ attention, you can show off your product. That’s what Tempo Move does in the email above as they demonstrate the product design and main functions.

Show your product in action

You can use GIFs for more than just showing your product out of context. Instead, give it a context and show a real use.

Luxury online marketplace Italic uses an animated image to show an innovative umbrella. The innovation is in the way the umbrella expands and folds: upwards instead of bottom-up which ensures better protection from the rain.

Italic email GIF
Source: Email Love

Tease new features

Just like you can show new products in use, you can tease new features in existing products.

Look at this email from Dropbox. A video would be excessive to tease a new feature and static imagery wouldn’t be enough. A GIF is an ideal solution as it falls in the middle of the spectrum.

Dropbox email GIF
Source: Really Good Emails

Simplify a complex idea

Use GIFs as a way to explain things. This point is something like a mix of the three previous ideas.

In the example below, Baggu uses animation to show step-by-step how to keep their bags fresh for years. The email also creates a story as subscribers scroll down to see how it ends.

Visual GIF instruction
Source: Really Good Emails

Create a vibe

Animated images are great for special occasions like seasonal sales or holidays. Use GIFs in Halloween emails or Valentine’s Day emails for vibes. In these cases, GIFs are fantastic because they highlight the mood by adding action.

By merely adding silhouettes of birds flying about, James Avery jewelry adds a vibe to their spring collection.

James Avery email
Source: Mailcharts

Replace video content

There are three things to keep in mind when hesitating between a GIF and a video: data consumption, compatibility with email clients and the actual need.

  • Data consumption GIFs are usually not as heavy as video files. This will matter to subscribers from countries where the internet is expensive or slow.
  • Compatibility with email clients. GIFs work with almost all email clients and on all platforms (more on this below) while videos aren’t supported by some clients. To name a few, Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Android Mail do not support video embeds but they all support GIFs.
  • The actual need. If an animated image does well enough to capture attention and demonstrate your product, you don’t need a video. The examples above prove that. In just a few seconds, GIFs do what’s required of them, be it to show off a product or tease a new feature.

Some or all of the above combined

Finally, don’t limit yourself to just one function of GIFs. They’re your LEGO bricks and as long as they fit, they work.

Here are some examples where different GIF functions are mixed in an email (swipe to see).

Converse email GIF
Converse shows the product while the multicolor background animation highlights the mood — it’s a shoe for kids. Source: Mailcharts
Betabrand email
Betabrand teases the new feature, — pockets in yoga pants — shows its use and adds animation to create a vibe. Source: Mailcharts
Claro teases a new update
Claro shows how simple it is to use their product as they tease a new update — no video used. Source: Email Love

There’s also the famous case of Dell when they presented their new product — a convertible ultrabook — with a GIF. In one animated image, they pretty much teased the product, showed its use and simplified the idea of a convertible ultrabook, a huge novelty at the time.

Dell’s email
Source: Marketingsherpa

Going with an animated image in their email campaign paid off. They saw a 42% increase in CTR, a 103% increase in conversion rate and, most importantly, a 109% increase in revenue.

Where to get animated images for the marketing campaigns

There are three ways: use GIFs from the internet, create your own or ask someone else to create a GIF for you. The last way is obvious so let’s focus on the first two.

  • Download GIFs from the internet. Online resources like GIPHY or Tenor host an umpteen number of animated images that you can download. Pay attention to whether what you download is royalty-free or not. If not, ask for permission.
  • Create your GIF. If you’re an expert in animation, you can create GIFs with professional software like Adobe Animation or by coding. Otherwise, you can rely on free resources like CloudApp, Canva or ScreenToGif. They record your screen which makes them great for recording tutorials. You can capture either the whole screen or a part of it and start recording.

How to insert a GIF into an email using different clients

The good news is almost every email client supports GIFs. The only exception? Outlook 2007-2016.

Otherwise, GIFs are displayed correctly with the following clients:

  • Apple Mail
  • Gmail
  • Yahoo
  • Outlook (except for 2007-2016)
  • Android native mail app and Gmail
  • iPhone native mail app and Gmail

There are two ways you can insert a GIF into an email: through an email client or an ESP.

Email client

The principle is simple — all you need is to upload a GIF as a photo. In case your GIF is displayed as a static image, check if it’s saved in the .gif format on your computer and not .jpeg or .png.

If you’re a Gmail user, you have to add a GIF as an inline picture and not as an attachment.

Adding a GIF as an inline picture

If you use the attach option, whatever you upload will be added as a file, meaning it won’t be played.

Adding a GIF as a file
An attached file stays as a file at the bottom of an email with its content invisible

ESP: Email Service Provider

If you send emails for email marketing campaigns, use an ESP. Blasting emails to many people from your Gmail mailbox is okay if these people are your friends or co-workers. But that’s about where any advantages of using clients like Gmail or Outlook for bulk campaigns stop.

How to send many emails to reach your clients, not end up in the spam folder and look professional — check our article on bulk emails.

By launching mass email marketing campaigns with an ESP you also get ease of use. One of the best things about Selzy’s email builder is precisely that. You can insert GIFs into your email in a few seconds.

  1. Start a new campaign from scratch.
  2. Add an image block and upload a GIF (less than 1MB only) from your computer.
  3. Insert the GIF from Selzy’s folder with your uploads into the email.
Inserting a GIF from folder

You can spare yourself the headache of downloading a GIF to your computer and then uploading it to the ESP.  Add GIFs from GIPHY right in Selzy’s email builder.

  1. Choose the GIFS block.
  2. Click Search for gifs with Giphy.
  3. Find the one you need by keywords, click on it to add.
Adding GIFs from GIPHY

That’s not over yet. To spare yourself the headache of creating an email from scratch, pick a template from our library.

If you pick a template with an image block already inserted, you can simply add a pic to its place.

Adding a GIf to a template

By the way, all the three GIFs above are recorded with ScreenToGif, a tool we recommend for capturing the screen.

Tips on using email GIFs

Match a GIF to your CTA

Matching a GIF to your call to action is a great way to make it plenty more meaningful. At the same time, you attract your readers with animation and show them your offer.

Look at this example from Grammarly. They use not one but two GIFs in the email. The one on top contains the CTA as it exposes the offer; the one below shows the product in use, an example of what the premium account has for users.

Grammarly email GIF

Create your own GIF animations

There are a few benefits to investing time in creating your own thing. The main benefit is uniqueness. GIFs can be overused, especially popular ones but having your thing solves the problem.

If you go hard on branding, only you and your company can make a proper animated image for an email because you know which colors, fonts, images to use.

Here’s how Starbucks invests time and effort in their in-house animation. Such images require expertise and are often created with coding. You can check out Really Good Emails to see the code behind this email.

Starbucks email

One more great tactic to highlight the uniqueness of your offer — and we have an article about it — is a countdown GIF.

Only animate part of a GIF

You don’t want your entire email to be an image, no matter if it’s png, jpeg or GIF. Image-only emails come with way too many caveats. An email client may turn images off by default which effectively means your subscribers will receive an empty email. An email that consists of a single image is also a spam-folder offense.

An email with disabled images

What the email with the umbrella GIF from above looks like for users whose email client disables images.

Even if the image does load, its size may pose another problem. If it takes too long to load, subscribers may think the email is broken (well, who can blame them?). Here’s an image-based email that is only partially loaded.

An email with partially loaded images
Source: Litmus

There’s also a non-technical thing to consider — a sense of purpose. Animations for the sake of animations barely carry any meaning. If everything is moving on the screen, the eye has no idea what to cling to.

Finally, it’s advisable to make the first frame of your GIF communicate the message. In case it doesn’t load for whatever reason, your subscribers will at least see a static image.

Optimize with mobile in mind

44.7% of email users are on mobile, more than anywhere else. If anything, start with mobile in mind rather than the website version.

Don’t go over 1MB with a GIF in your email. This will help avoid potential loading issues. Also, remember that in some countries the internet costs more than in others.

If your GIF exceeds 1MB, optimize it with free online resources like Ezgif.com. You’ll slightly lose in quality (although the difference is likely hard to notice) but win in size.

Pros and cons of adding a GIF to an email campaign

All things considered, let’s sum up the main pros and cons of using animated images in email marketing.

➕ GIFs are great at capturing attention and setting the mood.

➕ Animation can highlight the message by being matched to a call to action.

➕ GIFs are a fantastic middle ground when pictures are not enough and videos are too much.

➕ Animation is easy to integrate into emails because GIFs work across many platforms.

➕ Animated images are easy to add in an ESP, you can add a GIF to a preset email template.

➖ GIFs should be used cautiously. Any marketer who wants to use animation in their campaign should ponder on every aspect of the animated image, starting with the purpose.

➖ GIFs consume data. The more colorful and multi-framed they are, the more potential problems it creates for subscribers.

Final thoughts

  • GIFs attract attention. You need that in email marketing because it’s a battleground for customers’ attention.
  • Use animated images sparingly. Do not add GIFs to every other email just for the sake of it. Have a clear purpose in mind.
  • Insert GIFs to tease your product, its new or existing features. Animated images are great at hooking readers and explaining things.
  • Use coding, professional or amateur software to create GIFs. Markup specialists create email GIFs by coding but if you’re not a pro, download an animated image from a free online resource or record your screen.
  • Use ESPs to quickly add GIFs. Selzy’s email builder allows you to add images in no time, including on preset templates.
  • Don’t make your GIFs too heavy. Large GIF files may create loading issues for subscribers. 1MB is the limit, optimize for much less.
20 March, 2022
Article by
Eugene Vasilev
Content writer on all things email marketing at Selzy. Writing, editing and illustrating over the last 5 or so years. I create simple texts with examples to inform or entertain readers. In love with the semicolon. Boring language merchant. Egg came first. My favorite bands will never come to my city. Let's play beach volleyball.
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