Is Your Email Marketing Displaying Properly?

what email newsletters look like when there's no text and the images can't be loadedWhen Email Images Fail to Display

Have you ever clicked open a marketing email you’ve subscribed to — I use Apple Mail, but other email clients like Outlook are also affected — only to discover those email newsletters aren’t loading the images that are integral to the message? When the images that form the heart and soul of structured email content aren’t displaying, showing up as only a question mark on a blue background, it’s a big problem for both sender and recipient.

If you’re using a web browser for email; Gmail, Yahoo, etc., then this isn’t a problem. It may be, though, for anyone using a desktop client to retrieve their mail.

Of the many approaches available for digital marketing and customer communications, email newsletters are the bedrock of forging and maintaining a solid relationship. A staple of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) long before digital marketing and the acronym it represents came along, newsletters were and are the bread and butter of consumer B2C, and are essential for B2B outreach.

When the internet first arrived, text only emails quickly became a mainstay of digital content. Those first text emails saw brief improvement when the ability to include file attachments — a format that persists today, and the most likely path of malware infection — was enabled. But it wasn’t until the web spread its wings that newsletter formats escaped constraint to printed flyers, 11×17 brochure sheets, and one color grainy reproductions.

As web site ownership grew, HTML formatting enabled communicators to offer vastly upscaled documents containing crisp graphics and multi-page copy content. Broadband, remote hosting of graphics, and HTML styling were the game changers that combined to transform how we communicate.

Email HTML Marketing #Fail

Which brings us to possibly the worst thing that could happen — a broken link to the images that should display. In the HTML formatted image above, each blue square with a question mark is a server address that’s failed. Also missing: the <ALT> alternate text tag content that describes what’s displayed, essential for accessibility by visually impaired users and very helpful for those times when the image can’t be found and an explanation is needed.

It takes only a second to discover that, by and large, the message most likely originated from Constant Contact, and to then realize that the problem for marketeers using the popular service for delivering formatted HTML only to have their best creative efforts delivered with images missing is chronic. What’s worse, the failure to display is probably unknown to the sender.

This is a known issue within Constant Contact. For many senders using their service, the failure to deliver the JPGs, GIFs, and PNGs that are a newsletter’s visual heart and soul is usually thought to be a faulty server setup at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Users who are just trying to communicate with their public in the easiest way possible are probably unaware of the problem.

And for many, it’s an expensive problem. If you’re one of Constant Contact’s HTML email distribution service clients who only use images without copy as the sole content for their emails, you’ve got no idea what the recipient can’t see, and they have no idea what you’re trying to say.

Those illustrations and photographs often represent the lion’s share of creative spend on the dollars and cents side; original illustration, subscription stock, or assignment photography bound together with graphic design. When missing, it means recipients aren’t seeing the coupons, special offers, or rich visual imagery senders have billed to their creative budgets.

Constant Contact Unable to Solve Problem

If as a recipient this has happened to you, maybe you’ve just ignored the problem. But if you’ve Googled for a solution, eventually you’ll discover that Constant Contact admits to having problems serving images as part of their HTML newsletter distribution service.

Constant Contact's response to inquiries about missing email imagesTheir answer to the multiple requests for a remedy is that they’re working on a solution, one they’ve not been able to solve for months, perhaps years, and that’s where it ends.

Their suggestion to whitelist the servers used is simply ridiculous for anyone whose mail is routed through a host that uses mail scanners ahead of the download to determine whether or not a site is safe.

The problem of an image not found – in my experience, only Constant Contact — is typically compounded by the lack of an absolutely essential, “If you can’t see images view open this newsletter in your browser” (below) link.

always have a "view in browser" link that readers can clik to see missing images.

For senders, it’s no small matter:

“Having the same issue for the last month. I have called different customers and checked this across multiple browsers and operating systems. It is not a setting on my computer as it is universal. When I click on preview my emails it is restricting the images as well. What has happened and can someone please elevate this. My email campaigns are about 90% of our revenue. Without them I am going to lose hundreds of thousands in sales. I can’t sit and let that happen so I will need to jump from Constant contact.”

Finding Email Alternatives for Reliable Image Display

The obvious solution is for Constant Contact to clean up an issue that likely originates with how their servers are set to reference images, how their <HREF> and <img source = ” “> links are coded, or a combination of the above. It shouldn’t be a heavy lift for what arguably is a simple task to carry out, yet whatever efforts tried to date have failed.

And it’s also possible that the servers in question are blocked by hosts using Control Panel to administer websites, including protecting email from viruses and malware. Interestingly, an occasional CC email comes through with perhaps one image displayed, which is definite proof of a hosting error.

Advice from Constant Contact is usually split between advising clients to whitelist the AWS server URLs used, and making sure your email client is set to allow images to load, followed by a reboot. Well, neither approach will solve this problem.

Fortunately, emailing HTML formatted content is a well established practice that is easily accomplished by numerous other service providers, including industry leader and service pioneer MailChimp, Direct Mail for Mac, mailerLite, MailMunch, Campaigner, Active Campaign, and GetResponse, to name a few. There’s even a website to help find a service that’s right for your individual needs.