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How to Use Animated GIFs to Boost Your Email Marketing Results


If your business needs to improve your email response rate, consider incorporating a GIF file into your email marketing campaign.

Animated GIFs in email work well. They capture the reader’s attention and encourage an interactive response.

If you’re a small business owner, you may feel that creating an animated GIF file is out of your league. You couldn’t be more wrong. More email systems than ever before accommodate animated files. And it’s easier to create an animated GIF for your emails than you may think it is.

In this tutorial we provide a quick guide on how to get started working with animated GIFs. Then walkthrough what you need to know to include animated GIF files in your next email marketing campaign. We also share a list of best practices for adding GIF images to your marketing emails, as well as provide current examples of animated GIFs used in emails from popular brands. 

First let's get started with the basics.

What Is an Animated GIF?

An animated GIF file is a special type of GIF image. The term GIF is actually an acronym for Graphic File Interchange. GIF images were pioneered in the 1980s.

The animation in an animated GIF is created by including more than one image (called a frame) to the file. The individual images are compressed so that the GIF file doesn’t become too large. As the GIF plays through the image frames the effect for the observer is animation.

Although animated GIFs have been around for over twenty years, they are still a popular means of adding motion to web banners, articles, and even email. In fact, one of the latest email marketing trends is to use GIFs more prominently in marketing emails to improve reader engagement. Read more about that trend and more current email marketing trends in this Envato Tuts+ article:

One of the reasons for the continuing popularity of animated GIFs in email is their effectiveness. They have a proven record of increasing customer response.

One company that benefited by adding animated GIFs to their email marketing campaign is Dell. Dell’s revenue increased by 109% after launching an email marketing campaign with GIF images to promote a new product. Read the complete case study from Allison Banko at MarketingSherpa.

Using an animated GIF in email has some definite advantages:

  • increased reader engagement
  • fairly easy to create
  • well-suited for simple animations
  • lossless
  • don’t need a plug-in to view
  • supported by a majority of email clients

Animated GIF files also have some disadvantages for use in email:

  • files can become too large if you're not careful
  • limited to 256 colors
  • no audio included
  • not suited for complex animations
  • may cause a web page or email to load more slowly
  • not supported by some versions of email such as MS Outlook or Windows Phone 7
  • may come across as distracting if not well designed

If you’re interested in using animated GIF files for your email marketing campaigns, you’ll want to get the most from them by following best practices.

7 Animated GIF Email Marketing Best Practices

The following best practices for using animated GIFs will help your email marketing run more smoothly, as you take advantage of using this file type:

  1. Smaller is Better. Files that are too large, take too long to load. Many experts agree that the ideal GIF file size for email is around 100KB, although some email clients support larger files. Keep in mind that larger files take longer to open.
  2. Analyze Your Deliverability. A few platforms may not support GIFs. If you know that most of your audience uses a platform that doesn’t support GIF files, choose a different means of getting your message across.
  3. Include Call to Action Text. Just having a GIF isn’t enough to get your readers to respond. Always include a Call to Action to instruct them what to do next. Also, it’s a good idea to mirror the Call to Action using text for those readers who couldn’t open your GIF file.
  4. Place Your GIFs Prominently. To get the most impact from your GIF files, make sure they are in the top third of the email. Many readers don’t read beyond the top of the email. By placing your GIF file at the top, you reach more of your audience, helping boost your conversion rates.
  5. Keep it Simple. Simpler GIFs are more effective. A complex GIF is more likely to confuse the reader. Also, a complex animation probably means a larger file. Large GIFs create their own set of problems.
  6. Be Extra Careful With the First Frame. If the email client can’t display GIF images, all the reader will see is the first frame. So, make sure that the first frame tells as much of your message as possible.
  7. Don’t Forget about Email Best Practices. Just because you used a GIF doesn’t mean you should ignore other email best practices. For example, target your email to your audience and use professional designed templates for a cleaner, sharper look.

Remember, with email marketing you need to capture the reader’s attention quickly to be effective. The best practices above help you do that.

Now let’s look at how animated GIF files are created.

How to Create an Animated GIF file

Creating an animated GIF file is not difficult. There are many tools that can help you build your animated GIFs. Tool options range from full-fledged graphic design tools like Adobe Photoshop to tools like Gif Maker from GIFY, GIFMaker.me, Ezgif.com, and many others.

The exact steps for creating an animated GIF file vary depending on the tool you are using. Basically, there are two approaches:

  1. Convert a Video File to an Animated GIF. With this approach, you start with a video file and your tool breaks it down into frames to create the animated GIF.
  2. Convert Still Images to an Animated GIF. With this approach, you start with still images, which become your frames.

Under either approach animation occurs as the frames are played together quickly. With most tools you can set the animation to loop (play continuously), or to play through once and end. Once you have created the GIF, compress it to make the file size smaller.

An important choice when creating an email GIF is deciding how many frames to use. If you use too many, your GIF file could be too large. If you use too few frames, the animation could seem too choppy.

As we pointed out in the best practices, it’s important to include a call to action in your email. The call to action tells the reader what to do next and provides them a way to do it. If you suspect that some of your readers will not be able to see your graphics (including your animation), put the call to action in text form as well as graphic form.

From our archive, learn how to create animated GIFs in Photoshop and optimize them. Also, review the following guide to GIF compression:

Once you’ve created your GIF file, you’re ready to add it to an email. Many popular email formats support GIF animations. In Gmail, for example, use the Insert Photo tool to add an animated GIF file to an email.

Examples of GIF Animation

So what does GIF Animation look like? You’ve probably seen it, but you may not realize it. Many well-known brands use it to promote their products and services.

You can recognize animated GIFs by the motion and lack of sound, which distinguishes them from videos on the web. They're ideal for adding simple motion to your branding and graphic illustrations. 

In this section we look at some examples of GIF animation and explain how they stack up to our best practices list.

Envato Market

Here’s an example of one of our own GIF animations from an Envato Market email promoting our top trending presentation templates.

Presentation Templates Gif Animation Example
See the email as published online

As you can see, the GIF alternates between three informative illustrations, simply animating on the screen of a monitor.

It also fits with best GIF email best practices because:

  • It appears towards the top of the email.
  • It’s simple. It’s the only GIF file in the email.
  • The file size is kept down, with few frames used.

I found several more examples of animation in my own email, including some email animated GIFs from some big brands. Let's take a look at a few of those:

OutBack Steakhouse

This race-themed email from the popular restaurant promotes their special onion appetizer. Here’s a screenshot of the GIF portion of the email:

Example of GIF in an email
See the email as published online with the GIF animating.

In this animation, the race flag in the center of the onion waves back and forth.

This email animation illustrates several best practices:

  • It’s simple. The waving flag is the only animation in the email.
  • The animation is near the top of the email.
  • The email opened quickly and easily, indicating good deliverability.

Neiman Marcus

This department store uses animation in an email to confirm a user subscription. Here’s a screenshot of the GIF portion of the email:

Example of Animated GIF in a Sales Email
See the email as published online with the GIF animating.

In the animation, the butterfly image rotates between five different types of butterflies. You can't tell from the screen capture, but there's another animation (lower down on the graphic different customer benefits rotate as well).

Note how the animation in this email also illustrates several best practices:

  • The animation appears near the top.
  • The calls to action are clearly visible (note: Update Your Email Preferences and Shop Now).
  • The email opened quickly and easily indicating good deliverability.

Email Marketing Tools and GIF files

GIF files work with many popular email marketing tools. For example, both MailChimp and Campaign Monitor support adding animated GIF files to campaigns. 

One of the many advantages of using a professional email marketing tool is that they save you time. This software also helps you deliver your sales messages reliably and measure your results. When you add GIF files you'll know exactly how effective that tactic was in your campaign, as you can add a link to it and measure how many clicks it drives through.

On Envato Tuts+, we have a lot of resources to help you use professional email marketing tools. Get started with our beginner guide to Mailchimp or learn how to create your first email newsletter with Mailchimp. Or you can get started with Campaign Monitor templates and learn how we use Campaign Monitor here at Tuts+.

To work efficiently with these email marketing tools, templates save you time. With an email template, you don’t have to create a professional looking marketing email from scratch. You have a head start. Here are some great examples of popular email templates:

Animated GIFs and Your Email Marketing 

Using animated GIFs in email is effective when it comes to capturing your audience’s attention and driving engagement. GIF files may be just what your small business needs to get more from your next email marketing campaign.

Creating an animated GIF is not difficult once you understand how to do it. There are many tools available to help you create and optimize them. When adding animated GIF files don’t forget to follow best practices. They help you maximize the effectiveness of your emails when done right. 

Now discover how to take your email marketing strategy strategy further:

Do you use email animated GIFs in your marketing? If so, how did it impact your customer engagement and response?

Graphic Credit

Animated Email icon designed by Matt Pusateri, from the Noun Project.

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