10 Tips to help you create the best GIF emails

Just like the popular saying “a rolling stone gathers no moss” states, it is important to keep moving. As soon as you stop, you run the risk of stagnation. The same is applicable in the case of your email marketing campaigns. If you keep your subscribers in a monotonous routine, your subscribers are soon going to face stagnation and that might lead to dormancy, unsubscribes, or even being marked as SPAM. In case you are wondering how to break the monotony, the answer lies in innovation. Innovation doesn’t always mean going back to the drawing board and reworking your email campaigns from scratch. It can be as simple as making minor corrections to the different elements in your email templates such as copy, design, or images.

In this article, we shall explore different tips to keep in mind while using GIFs in your emails in order to make sure you are creating the best GIF emails.

Tip #1: Knowing when to use a GIF

A picture speaks a thousand words and a GIF can do so tenfold when used correctly. However, placing a GIF just for the sake of it would never help you get the most of it. The following are some of the instances where using GIFs in emails can help you make your emails awesome:

To give your brand a personality

It is important to impart a personality to your emails in order to make your subscribers feel that the emails are coming from an actual human associated with the brand and not email automation. This means there needs to be consistency between the different elements in your emails such as email tone, typography, images used, call to action styling, colors, etc. If your brand has a mascot or character, then an animated GIF of the mascot will convey a jolly personality in your subscribers’ mind and they shall automatically associate it with your brand’s personality. Using memes in your emails gives the impression that your brand has a casual and fun personality. This will be discussed in detail in tip#7 but you get the gist, right?

Headspace constantly uses blob characters meditating in different scenarios to match the message in their emails and sometimes uses an animated GIF as the hero image in their emails. It communicates that the brand is fun, casual, and is into meditation. The following email template sample is one of their promotional emails that makes the best use of animated GIFs to give the brand a personality.

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

To demonstrate a product

A photo of your product can give a clear idea to your subscriber and while it may communicate a lot compared to a paragraph of text explaining it, sometimes the subscriber is stuck in the 2D plane when it comes to visualizing the product. Since GIFs are multiple images stitched together to be displayed one at a time in a short duration, it can be used to demonstrate a product in a much more detailed way.

In the example below by Burberry, a static photo of their new shoe design could have given enough information but they went ahead and placed an animated GIF that gives a 360O view. This greatly enhances the user experience and this move can make the subscribers more prone to click the call to action button.

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

As a placeholder for video

This is an age of videos as more and more people are creating as well as watching decades worth of videos within a single day. Unfortunately, the support for playing embedded videos in emails is restricted to a handful of email clients and you need to include fallback options for the email clients that don’t support it. Animated GIFs are a great placeholder for the video as a short snippet can be played in a loop using the GIF and it will give an illusion that the video is playing.

Check out the example below by Ubisoft. They wanted to announce the next installment in the Assassin’s Creed and they placed an animated GIF that played a short snippet of the trailer clip. Those interested to know more could click on the GIF to be redirected to the actual video.

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

There are many other instances where an animated GIF can be really helpful but we leave it for you to explore. You can share any good email template examples in the comments below.

Tip #2: Use the right tool

There are a plethora of online GIF libraries as well as tools that can help you with creating custom GIFs. The question remains what tool would be better suited to your GIF needs. GIF sources can be divided into 3 categories:

Online GIF library

A simple Google search can give access to millions of GIFs and an additional filter can help you find those that are licensed to be re-used without any permissions. Similarly, online libraries exist such as GIPHY and Tenor, where you can browse GIFs and get the embed link for the same. The downside is that you cannot use their copyrighted content for any commercial purposes such as paid ads, email promotions. For non-promotional emails such as email newsletters, GIFs from the online library can be used but it is safe to read the sharing rights of the GIF before using.

Online GIF creator

In addition to providing a GIF library, GIPHY also allows you to create animated GIFs using their proprietary GIF Maker tool. All you need to do is upload photos or videos and then edit, decorate, and download the GIF. GIPHY’s usage rights are applicable here also, so be careful.

Also, the GIFs you create become the intellectual property of GIPHY and can be made public for others to use. Other tools that help you create animated GIFs quickly are LICECap, Gifox, GIPHY Capture, and ScreenToGif.

Manually create in Photoshop

The most effective way to create a GIF is by using Adobe Photoshop. You can create frame animations, video animations, or even extract frames from an existing video to create an animated GIF. While you may need some knowledge to use Photoshop, you have the freedom to create animated GIFs that are unique to your brand. You can also hire a dedicated designer if you need to constantly create animated GIFs.

Tip #3: Don’t keep first frame blank

Rendering engines of email clients are what turns the HTML code of the received email into the visual email template that you see when you open the email. The way the rendering engine handles certain parts of the code is proprietary to it and so email developers need to include certain additional lines of code that are specific for certain email clients. But certain quirks have no workarounds around it and one such quirk is found in Outlook and Lotus Notes email clients. Any animated GIF in the email is not shown as animating but instead only the first frame of the GIF is displayed in Outlook 2003-2013 and Lotus Note 6 onwards. So if the first frame of your GIF is blank then your Outlook users will see a block of blank space instead of the GIF. This diminishes the overall user experience for the subscriber and may lead to low engagement rates. So, designers nowadays tend to take this into notice and make sure the first frame is not blank.

Tip #4: Embed your GIF but check the size

When an email is developed, all images are not included in the code itself but instead embedded in order to reduce the overall file size of the email. So, when the email is opened, the images are fetched from an external server and displayed. If the GIF is heavy, in terms of the frames, then the overall file size would be greater and this would mean it will take more time to download. This can increase the overall loading time of the email. Since most people only spend a few seconds reading an email, they may not wait for the GIF to load and may move on to the next email. As a best practice, always make sure the GIF in the email should be around 200KB and the upper threshold is 1MB.

Tip #5: Keep an eye on the tone

What you depict using the images and the email copy sets the tone of your email. So, while choosing the GIFs to include in your emails, always keep an eye on the tone it conveys. Are you planning to add a touch of humor by using memes? Are your GIFs showcasing the product by adding an adventurous style to it? Let us understand it better with two examples.

Scooters are a fun way to travel distances and Lyft replicated the effect in their email by using an animated scooter ‘whirring’ through the email. So, the overall tone of the email becomes fun-loving. 

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

On the other hand, the email example below is by Clear and they sent the email during Halloween. In order to set the tone of spookiness, the hero image is an animated GIF of the flame moving and illuminating the frame.

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

Tip #6: Guide the subscriber to your CTA

The goal of an email is to engage the subscriber and redirect them to a relevant landing page. Call to action buttons are thus placed at the bottom of the email to direct the subscriber to the next step. What if the GIF can be used to redirect the subscriber to your CTA? GIFs tend to psychologically draw the attention of the subscribers owing to the motion and you can utilize this to your advantage. The GIF, in this case, can be an animated arrow that points users directly to the CTA button or be the CTA itself as demonstrated by DPDK in their email newsletter.

(Source: dpdk.com)

Tip #7: Stay relevant to the brand

As we mentioned earlier, your emails need to have a personality that your subscribers will associate with the brand, and the personality is communicated through the elements of your email. So, the GIFs you use should also remain relevant to your brand style. You may have a temptation to include the most recent meme but if your brand doesn’t have a humor side, then the inclusion might confuse the subscribers. Moreover, including a meme in your email is like stepping on thin ice. One wrong move and your reputation may plummet. Make sure your GIFs stay true to your brand and resonate with your audience.

Tip #8: Try minimalism with Cinemagraphs

Cinemagraphs are a step up from the animated GIFs and give an entirely new perspective to them. In cinemagraphs, a single element is animated while the background is made static to give a cinematic feel to the overall GIF. Many brands such as Netflix, Air France, Detour coffee have started using this new form of animated GIFs in their marketing emails.

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

Tip #9: Don’t forget accessibility

Emails are for everyone and so the drive for creating accessible emails has been a hot topic for a couple of years. Accessible email isn’t something new but a practice that most email marketers have been following and now has become a norm. Accessible emails not only make the email accessible for someone with a form of disability (temporary or permanent) but also helps people to scan through the email or get context when any email element fails to load.

While using animated GIF, always provide a relevant alt-text to make sure the screen readers can ‘read’ it to provide context. Also, avoid using the flashing effect in your GIFs which can trigger epilepsy symptoms.

Tip #10: Test your GIF before hitting send

While this is an unwritten rule for everything related to emails, it is also essential when using GIFs in your emails. It is heartbreaking when the GIF doesn’t work as you intended or breaks the layout in your subscriber’s device. So, test your emails to make sure your GIF is rendered properly and looks good in your email.

Wrap Up

GIFs are a great way to add the element of fun and funkiness to your emails, a great way to connect with your younger audience, and no longer considered a novelty. In fact, engaging your audience with innovative GIFs can even improve your email campaign metrics such as click-throughs and time spent. If you have any interesting experience of using GIFs in email, share them in the comments below.