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Article first published February 2014, updated April 2019

Have you noticed unreliable 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.

The 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 having them display intermittently is a very messy situation.

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 of 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 relatively routine, so, if anything, this recent incident is a good reminder that we should continue optimizing our campaigns for images-off scenarios. We can do this in a variety of ways.

Using text, not images, to convey the message

For example, bulletproof buttons can be used instead of pictures for calls to action, while web fonts can be used for headings and other stylized text.

For example, bulletproof buttons can be used instead of pictures for calls to action, while web fonts can be used for headings and other stylized text.

Source: Venture Harbour

The bulletproof button is the green “Sign up for free” button.

Bulletproof buttons are styled to appear as image-based buttons. The buttons have live text as well as background color. Campaign Monitor has a free bulletproof buttons tool that allows you to design your own button using enhanced VML and CSS.

We recommend using bulletproof buttons for your CTA as an alternative to images because you can’t afford to design an image with a CTA and then have the image not appear in your subscriber’s inbox

Your CTA is one of the most critical aspects of your whole email. Once your reader has read your content and what you’re offering, you want them to take action, whether it’s to sign up for a new product or service, share the content, or purchase a product. This needs to be clearly communicated and having a missing image with a CTA is not an option.

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 essential role in your message, ALT text is essential.

The process of adding alt text is not complicated. You’re able to achieve it by adding an attribute to the image tag. Add the ALT attribute to the images in your email. This will help to improve the accessibility of your content.

Keep in mind that not all the images will require this ALT attribute. These are images that are for design purposes or images that are in your bullet points. When you’re dealing with such images, you don’t have to include the ALT attribute and can leave it empty.

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 not to use large images throughout a design, especially not in places where they force all other content outside of the preview pane.

How do I get pictures to show in my Gmail?

Before we get into how to make them appear, it’s important to understand why images are not appearing in Gmail in the first place.

Before you receive your images, Gmail scans your images to ensure that they are from a trusted source. If Gmail decides that a sender is suspicious or if it’s unable to determine if the sender is a trusted source, you won’t receive the image unless you request to see it. You can manually request to see these images by applying the following steps:

  1. Click on your settings (the gear icon)
  2. Under “General,” there’s an “always display external images” option. Click on it to activate it
  3. Once you’re done, remember to scroll to the bottom and save the changes by clicking Save Changes.

Images not appearing in Gmail, including in your Gmail signature, is an easy fix for most devices. However, your images being blocked is not ALWAYS such a bad thing.

What are remote images?

Remote images are URLs that, when you open the email, get automatically downloaded. You may have come across a “Load Remote Images” option on your mobile device before.

Remote images are URLs that, when you open the email, get automatically downloaded. You may have come across a “Load Remote Images” option on your mobile device before.

Source: OSXDaily

Disabling this option will help your images to load faster, may save some of your battery, and senders won’t be able to access to your personal information.

Wrap up

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.

Blocked images can be a frustrating experience for an email marketer. To work your way around this, it’s important not only to understand why it’s happening, but what you can do about it.

As mentioned earlier, your best defense is to opt for more text than images. Be sure to make use of our bulletproof buttons, which also give the illusion of imagery, while helping to ensure that your essential CTA arrives securely in your recipient’s inbox.

Opting for fewer images also helps your email to be more mobile friendly, which is an essential aspect of your email campaign.

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.

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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