Our recent blog post on image blocking in email received an awesome response. I generally gauge this by the quality of questions, rebuttals and comments that wash in, many of which are genuinely good food for thought. Like:
This statement “only 48% of email recipients see images automatically.” does not actually result in “(the email being not read) by over half of its intended recipients.” because presumably… some have changed the default settings. I would like to see some stats on how many users have changed their default settings to show images.
As it turns out, most folks don’t tinker with their apps. According to this experiment by Jared Spool, less than 5% of users change their default settings, even when prompted. Jared’s study required that users turn on autosaving of documents in Microsoft Word - a simple, beneficial change - and was just as surprised at the low uptake then as we are now. He explains:
When we interviewed a sample of (our users), they all told us the same thing: They assumed Microsoft had it turned off for a reason, therefore who were they to set it otherwise. “Microsoft must know what they are doing,” several participants told us.
Now think about Outlook 2007. The first time I attempted to turn off image blocking in this email client, I had to Google around to find out where this setting could be (it’s in their Trust Center). Do you think most Outlook users (excluding coders, designers or tech folk) would have the time, inclination or know-how to fool around and do the same?
Would most Yahoo! Mail users be bothered to change their similarly tucked-away spam settings, so images are displayed for trusted senders?
What this tells me is that email designers have to anticipate the worst. Images will be blocked in email clients. Just because .wmv videos do play in the inbox when Outlook’s security settings are turned right down, doesn’t mean that they will play. To take it a step further, if some of your subscribers are using CSS-unfriendly email clients like Gmail, you have to design like they all are. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use cool CSS effects and nice formatting - you just have to make sure the message is still very much readable, even under less-than-desirable conditions.
So test your emails with default settings on, even if it results in the worst-case rendering scenario. Chances are, that’s what many of your subscribers are stuck with.