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Article first published December 2012, updated March 2019

If we were to create a list of bad email design ideas, adding music to email would probably be up there with using one big image as your email content. However, there are instances when sound in email can not only be used, but used for good.

If you cut your teeth on coding the ’90s web, you probably remember things like auto-playing MIDI files with some perverse affection. Ah, the good times, when having the ‘X-Files Theme’ forced on you was the tell-tale sign that you were indeed visiting a Geocities page.

Well, you’ll be pleased to know that you can play (and autoplay) music in HTML email, using the HTML5 <audio> tag. While this technique is only fully supported in Apple and iOS Mail (mind you, that’s almost 50% of recorded opens), the fairly-reliable display of fallback content in other clients makes it a possible addition to any email campaign.

Why add sound to email?

A music player in iOS MailPutting sarcasm aside for a moment, there may be some pretty valid reasons why one would want to add recorded speech or music to an email newsletter. For example, lets say you’re a musician and want to provide your loyal fans with a convenient way to listen to your latest single. Or a language teacher and like providing pronunciation tips to your students. For accessibility reasons, you may want to even feature a spoken version of your message, for those who can’t see it.

Keep in mind that streaming music over a mobile data connection may end up being a costly exercise for those on metered plans, so this is certainly not a technique to use lightly.

Make some noise for HTML5!

Before we go headlong into the code, we’d like to point out that, while the <audio> tag allows you to embed a media player into an email design, the audio isn’t embedded in the email message. Instead, you will have to host and stream the file from your own server.

So let’s say we have all this sorted out—adding a player is easy. Simply use the following code:

<audio controls="controls">
	<source src="http://yourdomain.com/widgetwiggle.mp3">
	<p>? Listen: <a href="http://yourdomain.com/widgetwiggle.mp3">Widget Wiggle</a> (mp3)</p>
</audio>

In Apple and iOS Mail, you should see an embedded player. Elsewhere, the fallback will be displayed:

Fallback content, as displayed in Outlook

The above snippet can be simply edited and pasted into the <source> view of any multiline editable region in our template editor, which makes things easy if you just want to add an audio file to an article.

Hotmail (and clients that don’t support HTML5) won’t rock with you

While this technique is fairly benign in most email clients, issues arise in Hotmail, where the controls are disabled, just as they were in our previous HTML5 video tests. Sadly, the Safari browser doesn’t let you use the ‘right-click to play’ trick that we outlined earlier and Firefox doesn’t display the player at all.

Likewise, we found that Postbox strips out the <audio> tags and content altogether, perhaps pre-empting the chaos that audio in email could bring. For both clients, your best bet is perhaps to feature a secondary fallback, such as a link to the file in the email copy, so subscribers have something other than the HTML5 audio content to work with.

Email clients that do allow audio

Many email clients strip out any audio (and video) files from emails for security reasons, so you will definitely need to work your way around it. If you do manage to get your audio file past your email client, chances are that it will not pass through the spam filter.

So which email clients can you trust to deliver your email audio experience perfectly? Here are the 5 most common ones:

  • Gmail
  • Apple Mail
  • Yahoo Mail
  • Windows Mail
  • Outlook

With these email clients, you are assured of sending messages that are loud and clear—oh, and you can be certain that they will reach the inbox.

Putting a stop to autoplay

Please don’t use autoplay. It works, but a lack of player controls will cause nothing but grief and likely unsubscribes. Historical tags like <bgsound> were deprecated because people strongly dislike having things play that they can’t control.

You may be interested in how Facebook uses sound files to track their email campaigns. It’s an interesting idea, but not one we’ll likely recommend implementing any time soon.

How to use sound in emails

While the use of sound may not be a favorite strategy among many marketers, it does have its place in email marketing. Because sound can give your email an edge, it can be a great way to drive reader engagement and keep your subscriber on your email longer.

Consider our example of the musician above (or a podcaster) looking to send a sample of their latest project to their list as a marketing strategy. They would greatly benefit from an audio file in their email instead of sending their subscribers to a different platform, which would drastically reduce conversions by distracting the reader.

How can you employ the use of sound in emails? Consider the following:

Speak to your visually impaired subscribers

While emails are mostly meant to be read, not all your subscribers may be able to read. Using audio in your emails is a great way to ensure that you cater to those who are visually impaired. And some people may just be better at listening than reading, so audio gives them an alternative.

Use audio to highlight your CTA

Audio is a great way to highlight your CTA, particularly if you are promoting an album or podcast.

Audio is a great way to highlight your CTA, particularly if you are promoting an album or podcast.

Source: Salesforce

Because the thumbnail features an image, it immediately attracts the eyes. Placing your CTA right under the play button makes it more prominent and irresistible to click, especially if your audio sample is good.

Call out your benefits

Using audio to call out your benefits can be a useful way of helping your readers easily get the benefits of your product/service.

Wrap up

Creativity in email marketing is becoming more necessary every day, and the use of audio in emails is a virtually untapped way of capturing attention, driving engagement, and ultimately increasing conversions.

Here are the key points you need to remember concerning audio email:

  • Not all email clients support email audio files, so tread with care
  • If you do decide to embed audio in email, be sure to disable autoplay
  • Done well, audio is a great way to enhance user experience and drive engagement

Give it a try. If you can woo your subscribers, they’ll be loyal clients to your brand, as well as consistent, revenue-driving customers.

Consistent revenue is especially important for small business owners and marketers. Check out this post for insights and tips that will improve your email marketing ROI.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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