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Using images in email: Best practices and top examples

Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue
Hi all,
Recently, we asked what you wanted us to talk about next in The Week in Newsletters:
What topic do you want to see us cover in our weekly newsletter about newsletters?
There were some great answers, but the first one I wanted to tackle was touched upon by a couple of responses: how to effectively use visual media within a newsletter.
This is a wide topic, but I’m going to pull together some great examples from creators doing this well, plus I’ll offer some resources on how to use the Revue editor to make your images look great. 
Look who’s talking
Confession time. I think about this a lot, because I know my newsletter issues don’t exactly pop with visual stimulation. Sure, I drop in screenshots and graphs when they help illustrate a point, but on the whole I focus on text rather than visuals. I know that’s what I’m better at.
But there is another reason why I don’t fill these missives with images and GIFs, which leads me to my first pointer…
The first thing to ask yourself is whether the images make sense for your newsletter. 
I could drop in wistful images of a writer sitting at their desk with their head in their hands as they grapple with their draft in an issue about writer’s block, or of a new leaf breaking through the earth while discussing growth, but both would come across as gratuitous. I only want to use visuals in my issues if they help make my point, which is why I tend to stick to screenshots of newsletters.
But there are many other types of newsletters that would lend themselves to lots of visuals. For instance, if you’re a photographer or if you write about the visual arts, it makes sense for eye-catching images to be a focal point in your work. 
Here’s an example from a recent issue of Kirsten Alana’s newsletter An Eye for Life, which kicks off straight away with a dreamy photograph from a plane window:
The image does lots of jobs here, it catches the eye (notice how the turquoise sea picks out the color accent in the section heading — learn how to change your color accents in Revue here), it immediately evokes and emphasizes the theme of that issue (ie. travel), and it establishes Kirsten as a photographer right from the get-go. 
Alternatively, if your newsletters contain opinion or commentary on, well, anything, reaction GIFs are a gift. They can help the newsletter come across as more personal, and they can help bridge the gap between words on a page and face-to-face communication. Caroline Criado Perez does this super well in her newsletter Invisible Women:
It can be hard to convey tone on the page in the same way as we would in real-life conversation. In the example above, Caroline is lamenting the fact that there is a lack of research done on women in almost every scientific field, apart from cosmetics where women are over-represented in the research. The GIF does a great job of conveying a sense of exasperated sarcasm that, while not completely removing the anger from the sentiment, softens it slightly so that the reader isn’t hit too hard by the undoubtedly demoralizing text. 
Another angle you might be considering is using images to boost engagement. There’s research to show that including an image with your links can boost the click-through rate, which can be useful to know if you’re using your newsletter to funnel your readers to your website, for example. And I know I’ve mentioned this before, but Morning Brew’s weekly Meme Battle encourages readers to submit their own memes, featuring one winner each week:
This is a great way for readers to be directly involved with how a newsletter looks, and gives them an added incentive to come back next week to see their creativity in action.
If you’re looking for more inspiration involving memes, look no further than The Diary of a Social Media Manager by WorkInSocialTheySaid. It’s packed with memes and GIFs every week. Sometimes they work as content — the meme of the week feature, for example:
…and other times memes are used to structure the newsletter — there’s always a meme at the end of the intro before we get into the meat of the issue:
Memes, GIFs, and images can help your reader navigate through the newsletter, and set the tone for certain sections.
Yet another fantastic use of visuals has been demonstrated by journalists throughout the pandemic. Newsrooms have leveraged their graphics talent to help simplify complex stories, and to make it possible to track cases, outbreaks, vaccination rates, and more. Someone who does this brilliantly on Revue is journalist and sociologist Jorge Galindo. His newsletter Notas explores important issues of the day, and regularly includes graphs to help clarify the discussion. For example, this issue discusses (in Spanish) the comparative risks and benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine, using data and graphs to clarify an issue that’s been clouded over and politicized by so much of the public conversation.
It’s definitely worth asking yourself if visuals can help enhance your work, like in the examples above. If you decide they can, then there’s one more thing you need to bear in mind: image rights. 
Think about copyright
If you’re using images you have personally created using a camera, computer software, or good-old pen and paper, go ahead and use them to your heart’s content. But in most other cases you’ll need to make sure you have the rights to use the content you include — especially if you’re monetizing your work. 
I’m not going to dive too deeply into the legalities there since they vary from case to case (different content can be licensed under different rules), but a top tip if you’re looking for beautiful, high-quality images is Unsplash. The images are professional, copyright-free, and also actually free, so you don’t have to spend a dime — just remember to credit the photographer wherever you can.
Here’s a gratuitous photo of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, UK to show you what I mean:
Nathan Riley on Unsplash
Nathan Riley on Unsplash
No need to compromise on quality. But if you don’t find what you need on Unsplash, companies like Shutterstock also let you buy the rights to images.
Another great way to credit the creator of an image in your newsletter is, if you found it on Twitter, to embed it as a Tweet. You’ll get the double benefit of making your newsletter pop more, and giving the creator their due.
Making your images look great in Revue
To make your images look super sharp on the page, there are a couple of pointers you need to look out for, depending on whether you want to upload a full-width image or a smaller image.
We have a separate help article that explains the specific dimensions and formats you should use depending on what you want to achieve — check it out here.
Something to keep in mind is that while sharpness is important, higher resolution isn’t always better. Large image files can take longer to load, and a rule of thumb is to try to stick to 1MB or less. Saving your file as a JPEG (or .jpg) can help with limiting the file size, which will improve the reading experience.
What about Gmail clipping newsletter issues?
While we’re on the subject, I’ll clear something up: we’ve spoken to many creators who are concerned about Gmail clipping their issues so that the recipient has to click a link to read the whole issue in their browser. This happens when the email size (ie. the total number of bytes in its code) is above a certain threshold: 102KB.
Reducing the size of an image won’t affect the overall email size since images are technically stored on our servers rather than in the email itself, but if you remove an entire image the code surrounding it will also be removed, which will reduce the email size.
Good, glad we got that sorted.
Of course, something I haven’t spoken about yet is accessibility. Subscribers with visual impairments often use screen readers to turn the text on the page into speech, so they can hear the content instead.
Something that can help with this is adding alt text — a short written description of an image or GIF. A screen reader will pick up the alt text and read it aloud so the visually impaired reader can understand what it shows. 
This isn’t something that’s possible on Revue just yet, but we’re very aware of the need for this tool and we’re looking closely at how we can provide it. Watch this space!
I hope this explainer was useful and got your creative juices flowing. If you have any questions feel free to send them my way by replying to this email.
For now, we’ll move on to an inspiring newsletter that uses images to engage with its readers…
Newsletter inspiration
Every week, the What’s in my…? newsletter, edited by Claudia Dawson, shares an image of a bag, desk, box, or other receptacle belonging to an interesting person. That person then explains the unusual items in that receptacle. Simple as that.
It’s an addictive read, and a great way of using images to engage and collaborate with readers — they send in their own images, and one is featured each issue. Check it out and subscribe below:
What’s in my ... ?
Let’s take a look at what’s going on in the newsletter world this week.
The week in newsletters
GIFs in email: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
How newsletters are helping to bring the public closer to journalism in Latin America
“We are just focused on being where readers are”: Why this Pan-African weekly publishes directly on WhatsApp
That’s all from me today. I hope you have a great week, and I’ll see you back here next time. As ever, you can find me by replying to this email.
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Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue @revue

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