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Meg · 18 min read · Tips and resources · November 10, 2020

The 2020 guide to using GIFs in emails

Expressing your emotions with words? No one has time for that! Nowadays, we send an emoji, a meme or a GIF to express what’s really going on in our heads.

GIFs have also taken over email, and rightfully so. While animation in email feels current, it also allows you to convey your story with more interactive and visually engaging content that attracts and keeps the readers’ attention.

As with images, it’s important to be strategic about the use of animated GIFs in your email campaigns. Things like placement, frequency, technical aspects and copyright regulations should be considered before integrating GIFs in your newsletters.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to correctly integrate GIFs in emails and the different ways to use them to enhance your email content.

GIFs in emails Stranger Things example
Image credit: Netflix “Stranger Things”, Duffer Brothers

Once upon a time… the first GIF was born. 

A GIF (Graphical Interchange Format) is a series of images that are shown at a very fast speed, making it appear in motion.

Now, GIFs have actually been around for a while. Since 1987, in fact! Back then, people had issues sharing images without taking up too much space. So one day, a developer named Steve Wilhite had a bright idea. He created a compression algorithm that could send animated image files with timed delays. This resulted in the GIF that we know and love today. Steve, we salute you. 

All was well, until… *cue shocked gasps*... the dreaded GIF purge. The algorithm that made them possible was under patent, and in 1995, the owners decided to charge royalty fees. The patent wouldn’t run out until 2004 (cry)! Developers gradually stopped using GIFs, whilst others turned to PNG files, and all seemed to be lost. But a remnant of GIFs did survive the purge (yay)!

It’s now 2013. Enter: GIPHY, the ‘Google of GIFs’. The founders had realized that digital communication was becoming more visual, and they created a platform of GIFs to share with their friends. But in the first weekend, their website hit 1 million views. BOOM! GIFs were a new way to quantify emotions and add context, and the people loved it. 

From there, the whole movement snowballed. In 2015, GIFs became supported on Facebook, and Instagram added GIF to their story features in 2018. Now, they’re everywhere! You can see these image formats in blog articles, webpages, email signatures, forums… you name it. They’re an iconic part of Internet culture and our overall user experience.

And they all GIF’ed happily ever after. 

The end. 

(Except it isn’t quite the end, because now we’re going to show you how you can get the best out of GIFs in your email newsletters!)

The Japanese knew this long before everyone else: flashing lights is how you grab someone’s attention. Okay, maybe don’t treat your email as a night out in Shibuya town, but a well-placed and sparingly used GIF can definitely increase the engagement and click-through rate in your emails.

Apart from GIFs being a fun email element, they’re also there to make your message much clearer. They’re functional and can tell your story in just one image.

Let’s take a look at 10 reasons why your customers love seeing animated GIFs in their inboxes. 

1. Movement attracts attention

Numerous studies show that we are attracted by movement—it attracts human attention much faster than still images. That’s why it’s a good idea to grab your customer's attention instantly once they open the newsletter. If they’ll like the GIF, they’ll be more prone to read the entire newsletter.

Bonobo's email animated gif example new letters

2. They’re short enough to watch until the end

With Snapchat and TikTok being more popular than ever, it’s clear that this generation can only digest seconds-long content. Which is why GIFs are better watched than videos. 

GIFs are usually short (people expect them to be). That’s why your newsletter subscribers are more keen to watch GIFs to the end than any average video. Watching a short animation is easier and your readers are more likely to remember the message.

Liberty gif in newsletter example school tools

3. GIFs are beyond popular

Though email marketing is still trying to get rid of its slightly stiff appearance, the rise of GIFs and emojis has given newsletters more of a personal, hip character. 

GIFs can adapt your emails to the tone of voice of the majority of the conversations happening online (casual and friend-to-friend like). In recent years, short animations have established themselves as one of the most trendy communication forms on the internet. 

GIFs are used in conversations, as reactions on social media and even in work environments (anyone else spending way too much time looking for the right Giphy on Slack? Yep, same).

4. GIFs help you stand out from the competition

Not everyone in the email marketing world got the memo yet. Even today we still see a lot of newsletters that don’t use GIFs in their email layout. Use this to your advantage and be an early (or: earlier) adaptor. This way, you’ll be one step ahead of the competition.

Gift gif in newsletter mailerlite example stickers on laptop

5. GIFs show, not just tell

Apart from GIFs being entertaining, they’re also practical and informative.

Counting down until a specific time? An animated GIF countdown timer can showcase in once glance how much time there is left until the deadline. 

GIFs are also really handy when you have lots of products to show. Instead of creating a gallery of pictures, you can show everything at once. 

Using animations also works well when you have to explain a complex product. With movement, you can tell a lot more in a smaller amount of time.

MailerLite countdown gif example laptop with timer

6. They make for great video teasers

Videos in newsletters. As much as we’d like to play them directly within the email, technically speaking this isn’t possible just yet. Not all email clients support video formats.

Our MailerLite customers can, therefore, use GIF snippets until in-email video playing becomes available.

When inserting a video block in the newsletter, they have the option to automatically create a GIF that shows a short teaser of the video. When the reader clicks on the video, they’ll be redirected to the full video.

Video teaser animated email gif newsletter modekungen example

7. GIFs are the new CTAs

Your call to action (CTA) is arguably the most important thing in your email. Each newsletter should be made with a goal in mind, whether it’s redirecting the visitor to your shop or make them register. You want readers to be drawn to your CTA button, which is why you have to make it stand out in your email template.

To take this to the next level, you can create an animated CTA. Add some subtle detail (like the glittery button below) to make the button pop. This can have a positive influence on your click-through rate.

Vrai Oro animated email GIF example sparkly call to action button

8. GIFs are perfect for tutorials

If you want a quick visual aid to illustrate your email tutorial, GIFs are the way forward! Moving images can speak louder than words when you’re explaining a process.

Videos and static text can take a long time to prepare, so GIFs are a fun, quick way to help people follow your tutorial. They are also a universal language, so they can help people to understand the emotion and context that you want to convey.

9. Share your company culture, using GIFs

Show your subscribers who you and your team are, by embedding GIFs into your email marketing campaign. 

GIFs work, because they add flair and personality to your email design. They can add to your brand voice, and help your target audience to better understand you and your values. 

At MailerLite, we’re proud of our company culture, and GIFs are a fun, creative way to share what we’re all about.

MailerLite email GIF example video teaser

10. With GIFs, you can tell a story fast

The best email marketers use GIFs to tell a story. If you’re releasing a new product or feature, GIFs are the perfect way to share the information quickly. 

You could share a sneak peek, a demo or a quick-step sequence showing how you came up with the idea. GIFs rank highly in your list of marketing tools, so think outside the box and use them to tell your story. 

ClassPass thinks outside the box, using GIFs to tell their customers’ fitness stories during lockdown! This offers a quick snapshot of the services they’re offering, and can be an incentive for people to join. 

Classpass animated GIF in email example
Looking for more inspiration?

Check out our animated email template gallery for lots more sparkly examples.

There are two approaches here. You can either create your own GIFs, or you can just add them using MailerLite’s file manager. 

1. Free tools to create your own email GIF

If you’re looking to get crafty and make your own GIF, the internet offers a lot of different free tools for GIF creators.

With most of these GIF makers, all you need to do is upload your images or video and the software will automatically create a GIF from this material. You can also use your phone to create your own GIF (just double-check the quality on desktop).

Here’s a list of GIF web-based online tools:

  • Picasion

  • Gickr

  • GifPal

  • MakeAGif

  • Adobe (Photoshop and After Effects)

And for GIF apps for mobile phones, you can look into:

  • ImgPlay (iOS)

  • GIF Maker - GIF Editor (iOS, Android)

  • Make Video to GIFs (iOS)

  • GIF Maker by Momento (iOS)

  • Video to GIF Maker (iOS)

  • GIPHY: GIF & Sticker Keyboard & Maker (Android)

  • GIF Maker, GIF Editor, Video Maker, Video to GIF (Android)

  • GifGuru (Android)

2. Add ready-made GIFs with MailerLite

If you don’t want to create your own GIFs, you can easily add them straight to your newsletter via MailerLite’s file manager. As we will explain in the next section, it lets you search for GIFs directly on GIPHY, without having to leave the MailerLite editor. Pretty cool, right?

If you’re wondering how to actually embed a GIF in your email newsletter, don’t worry. Our file manager supports GIFs, and it’s easy peasy to use! Here’s the step-by-step guide to doing it with MailerLite:

How to add GIFs to your email newsletter
  1. Create and download the GIF you would like to use (if you’re not sure how to create one, we’ll share more info on that later)! Or if you don’t have a GIF, read ahead to step 4.

  2. Open a newsletter draft in MailerLite, and insert a new image block.

  3. Click the Browse button in the right-hand menu. You can either access your GIFs from the file manager, or import them from your computer.

  4. If you don’t have a GIF yet, you can also search directly on GIPHY from the file manager, without leaving the MailerLite editor.

  5. Select your GIF and it will appear in the image block.

  6. Ta-da! Your newsletter is GIF-ready!

Now, we need to do some quick housekeeping pointers! Since GIFs are a bit more difficult to display than static images, there are some limitations to them.

Here are some of your practical questions answered:

Which email clients support GIFs?

As for displaying GIFs, most major webmail, mobile and desktop email clients support the GIF format. Clients like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL, Apple can all display your GIFs without any problems, making it safe for you to implement them.

You just need to be careful when you have a lot of subscribers that use Outlook 2007, 2010 and 2013. Microsoft Outlook doesn’t support GIF and will only show the first frame (a static image). Therefore, always back up your GIF with an explanatory headline, caption and ALT text, so readers will understand your message even if it appears as a static email. 

If possible, make the first static frame able to convey your message without any motion. And if you’re wondering exactly which email clients support GIFs, here’s a handy list!

what email clients support gifs in emails

What is the ideal file size for a GIF?

The file size of your GIF matters a lot. If you’re GIF is unnecessarily big, it can take up a lot of data — making your GIF slow to load and eating away your subscriber’s data when they view your email on the go using their mobile data.

To make your GIF as small as possible, do this:

  • Crop it to show only what you need

  • Fit the dimensions to your newsletter

  • Reduce the number of frames to the least amount possible (e.g. skip every 3rd frame)

  • Change the number of color bits (e.g. from 8 to 4 bits), the more colors the bigger the GIF

  • Advanced: Only animate the part you want to move within the image

  • Save it at the minimum needed quality level

  • Aim for a maximum of 500 KB

If you don’t have the tools to do this, you can search for an online GIF compressor to lower the file size.

Remember, we’re not on a laser light show

Our eyes already need to endure enough visual stimulations during the day. Therefore, make sure your GIF isn’t moving too rapidly and use smooth transitions. Quickly changing frames can cause photosensitive epilepsy and harm your reader’s sight.

What about GIFs and copyright?

I know, the Carlton dance from Fresh Prince sparks immediate joy with readers growing up in the 90s era, but sadly this counts as using someone else’s original content. Which isn’t quite legal.

GIFs can be used in email when it’s fair use. As this law is complicated and each case is different, your best bet to stay out of trouble is to get a written release, link to or embed content that you didn’t upload yourself or create your own GIF.

This article about animated GIFs and copyright law explains the regulations in more detail.

How to keep your email GIF away from the spam box

Should you be worried about your emails landing in the spam box when you use GIFs?

Though spam filters are always changing and could potentially flag GIFs during their “scoring,” they’ve become so popular that the chances of them being a spam factor are very small. As long as your GIF is not too big (keep it around 500 KB maximum), you have nothing to worry about.

Especially not when you’re using MailerLite to send your GIF email campaigns. Did you know that we were awarded EmailToolTester’s award for ‘Best deliverability’ in July 2019?

When deciding whether to use GIFs, keep your target audience in mind. It’s important to create email marketing content that they care about and ask yourself these questions:

  • Will they understand the message I am trying to convey?

  • Are they in a demographic that uses GIFs regularly?

  • Will this GIF enhance or detract from the email message?

When it comes to GIFs, less is more. Don’t overuse them. Otherwise, your audience will be overwhelmed by a crowd of flashing lights! One or two well-chosen GIFs is always better than an explosion of animated images.

If you still aren’t sure whether to include GIFs in your email marketing campaign, you should try A/B testing. This is where you can test two versions of the same email on a small sample of your subscribers, before you send it out to everyone. This way, you can try one email with a GIF, and one without, and see which one gets the best results. 

GIFs are officially a thing (and not just for the cool kids). Add some life to your emails by implementing a well-placed GIF. Your customers will love to see things moving in their inbox.

Although GIFs are most known to be funny and engaging, they can also be used to tell a story. Complex theories or instructions can be much more easily explained with moving images, and longer messages can be conveyed in seconds when using imagery.

For your next newsletter, try adding a GIF that fits your brand and email marketing content, and see how your customers react. Our bet is that they’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July 2019 but has been updated with fresh examples and new tips that all the kids are using.

Meg Bouton

I’m Meg, Content Writer at MailerLite. I was named after Megan Follows, the lead actress in ‘Anne of Green Gables’ (which tells the story of a budding writer). As fate would have it, I’m now following in her footsteps. When I’m not writing, you can find me sailing, skiing, or trawling through Parisian bookshops.