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Article first published March 2010, updated January 2020

Back in the day, most email clients didn’t support the technology required to embed a full video into an email. However, as technology has improved, more and more options have become available to email marketers.

So what works now? What doesn’t? Are there any best practices that need to be considered?

Let’s dive in, shall we?

What has worked in the past: Info from our 2010 article

YouTube preview in Gmail

Immediately after Gmail Labs announced that you could preview YouTube clips from within Gmail’s reading pane, we started pondering how our customers could make the best use of this feature.

As a few of you expressed interest in segmenting subscriber lists by email client, we explained how you could create a segment for Gmail users. But targeting subscribers by email client wasn’t an exact science.

Previewing video in Gmail: the basics

With Gmail’s YouTube Previews feature, Gmail users could view YouTube videos from within Gmail itself, instead of clicking away from the Gmail inbox.

If an email was received with a text link to a YouTube video, a preview was shown directly after the message. Recipients could then click the play button and view the video as if it were embedded in the footer of the email.

YouTube preview in Gmail

This was great for senders with Gmail users subscribed to their lists, as it meant one less reason for folks to navigate away from your email.

How to target Gmail users in your lists

In this example, we created a segment for Gmail users by targeting subscribers by the domain, “@gmail.com.”

We clicked “Save and refresh count” to view the number of active subscribers in the segment:

Segmenting email lists by email service provider

You could send your campaigns to this segment, just as you would any subscriber list. Learn more about creating and using segments.

Why this technique may not work

As Mark Brownlow pointed out in his excellent article, “Video in Gmail,” segmenting by domain isn’t a particularly accurate way to pinpoint who actually reads their email in Gmail itself.

Commonly, folks use other email clients like Outlook to view emails received by their Gmail accounts; I personally have my Gmail account forward messages to another address, which I then view in Apple Mail. In these instances, the YouTube preview won’t display in your alternate email client.

That said, it’s certainly more likely that you’ll be sending to folks who’ll view your newsletter in Gmail, so it’s certainly worth an experiment to see if a Gmail segment responds to your message differently from the rest of the pack. You could create a Gmail segment and a non-Gmail segment, send a campaign with a YouTube Preview link to each separately, then compare results.

A second consideration is that the YouTube Previews section of an email is both fairly subtle and, after a few paragraphs of text, quickly disappears under the fold. If you want to make your video one of the focal elements of your email, be sure to go light on the content. Secondly, don’t assume it’s going to display. Adding a CTA like “View video below” is certainly a recipe for confusion for any subscriber using a client outside of Gmail.

Mark also has some useful observations regarding embedding YouTube links in email.

Have you given the new YouTube Previews feature a shot in your campaigns? Please share your impressions—positive or negative—in the comments below. We’d love to know whether video in email is something you and your subscribers find beneficial.

Using video in email in 2020

While the methods discussed may have worked in 2010, technology has come a long way in the last 10 years.

There are now several different ways to incorporate video in email: However, there’s still plenty of discussion as to whether you should or not. While 64% of consumers state they’re more likely to buy a product online after they’ve watched a video, you simply cannot guarantee that it’ll render or play correctly for each of your subscribers.

Before you can determine if using video in email is a good idea for your brand, it’s important to know which email clients will allow a video to play, and, unfortunately, not many will.

Email clients that will play a video

Source: Campaign Monitor

While there are limited numbers of email clients that currently allow videos to play within the email, most will support other forms of animated content to help get your point across. That’s why short animations, such as GIFs, have become more popular in email.

For example, YouTube decided to include a fun GIF in the header of their email to illustrate just how “bananas” it was that their client hit 1,000 subscribers on their channel. In this case, the GIF animation starts with various smiley faces as the subscribe counter goes up, and, once it hits 1,000, the screen is filled with banana emojis.

Using GIFs is a great way to include animation in your email as opposed to a full video.

Source: Really Good Emails

Another effective way to include a video in your email is to include a YouTube preview static image (play button included) that’s linked to the full video.

This helps to decrease the overall file size of your email, which helps with email deliverability, but also ensures that your readers get an idea of what the video may be before they click on through. 

Linking to your videos is a great way to include them without bogging down the message with large files.

Source: Really Good Emails

In this example, not only was the video image linked, but they also included a separate CTA button that showed readers exactly where they could go to watch the full video.

Wrap up

Videos in email play a vital role in keeping your subscribers engaged in the content you’re providing them. However, it’s not always sensible to embed a full video into the copy of your email message. Instead, consider trying to:

  • Link a still image to your video
  • Use short animated GIFS

If embedding your video into your email is still your preferred method, that’s okay! Campaign Monitor makes it easy with its drag-and-drop editor. Not a customer? Schedule your live demo today!

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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