Images not appearing in Gmail: What’s happening, and what senders can do

Have you noticed on-off image loading in Gmail? Turns out you're not the only one. A few weeks after this popular webmail client started caching and serving images via their proxy servers, senders and recipients have begun to report broken images throughout their email campaigns. Here's the latest on what we know and what you can do to ensure your message remains readable.

This is how your images look in GmailThe issues being experienced are twofold - while the majority of people experiencing this issue find that some, or all of an email campaign's images are not loading, there has been the odd report of images unexpectedly loading in the wrong placeholders. As many an email marketer can attest, having images not display in the inbox is one thing, but then having them display intermittently is a very messy situation indeed.

It's worth stressing at this point that this is a Gmail issue, affecting all senders regardless of the service they're using to send their email campaigns. Reports have come in from multiple email service providers, who have shown that only campaigns being viewed in webmail Gmail are being affected - as yet, there haven't been any definite problems within their mobile client. Image loading issues are also seemingly browser-independent.

Preparing for a world without images

While our team has been experimenting with workarounds, at present, it seems that there is little that can be done to make images display reliably. That said, having images not display in email clients like Outlook is fairly routine, so if anything, this recent incident is a good reminder that we should continue optimizing our campaigns for image-off scenarios. We can do this by:

  • Using text, not images to convey the message. For example, bulletproof buttons can be used instead of images for call to actions, while web fonts can be used for headings and other stylized text.
  • Using ALT text on images. You don't have to describe every spacer and minor detail in your email campaign, but for images that play an important role in your message, ALT text is essential.
  • Not stacking the top of a message with images. When images don't load, they tend to leave large, empty placeholders in their place. While some senders simply omit image width and height attributes to avoid this, the better solution is to not use large images throughout a design and especially not in places where they force all other content outside of the preview pane.

Our guide to Image Blocking in HTML Email outlines conditions across a variety of popular email clients and is a great read for those wishing to understand how to combat disappearing images in any inbox.

We've been in touch with the good folks at Gmail to make them aware of these issues and the need for more reliable image loading, but in short, it's a bit of a waiting game. If we receive any further details, we'll be sure to post them in this blog.

Finally, many of these details have come from email senders like you - and we're keen to hear more as this issue progresses. Have you been affected by infrequent image loading in Gmail? What have you seen? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted by Ros Hodgekiss

10 Comments

  • Julian
    4th February

    Yup, we have. They seem to resolve some time after the email has opened - as if Google’s servers can’t keep up.

  • Remy Bergsma
    4th February

    I noticed it as well as quite a few others, and posted about it last week: http://emailblog.eu/2014/01/30/day-google-broke-email-gmail-image-caching/ the odd thing is, that it seems very irratic.

    At first, none of the images work, but after opening an email 2 or 3 times it gradually loads more images. The image caching servers (googleusercontent.com) intermittently respond with a status 500 as well.

    The Google Apps status page sadly says nothing about Gmail’s image troubles: http://www.google.com/appsstatus#hl=en

  • __tux
    4th February

    I also did notice this lately. I need to refresh before gmail will display the images.  I have noticed also a lot of changes in the android gmail app.  It doesn’t render properly the codes we had which was previously working on some of our templates.  I had a lot of troubles troubleshooting them and ended up with nothing.  Such a pain!

  • rlacorne
    5th February

    Yeah same here. Upon reloading the email, some more images will display. But a customer shouldn’t have to reload an email for it to show correctly, and a “Having trouble reading the email? Try reloading the page” comment on the template is out of the equation! ;)

    Thanks for the article and research!

  • noyan sahar
    5th February

    Same here. I’m experiencing the same issue with my gmail account.
    I’m looking for a remedy. It can also be a computer issue at the level of browser settings but I’m not sure right now

  • Chad Polk
    6th February

    same issue.  Just commenting to get updates for future comments.

  • nelshd
    7th February

    Gmail sucks. I choose outlook.com

  • AnthorNet
    18th February

    It should be noted also that gif compression is somewhat broken as a white background saved for web with a white mate, will not be white in gmail… But in most case it will turn slightly white/blue…

    Happens every time now… And stricly in desktop gmail. It pretty irritating !

  • Hasti
    5th March

    Yes, that’s part of irritating functionality of Gmail I think.

  • joan bell
    1st April

    I just changed my Newsletter server and did a test. My headline didn’t display but other images did. Sooooo frustrating! Thanks for this post, I now know it isn’t just my problem.

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