How to use GIFs in emails


There are numerous online communication platforms available at our fingertips, but one that has stood the test of time is email. According to Forbes, email marketing remains undefeated, delivering a 420% ROI (return on investment) for every dollar spent. That means that for every $1 you spend on email marketing, you get a return of $42. It also means that practically every brand uses them, so your email marketing content is going to have to be pretty amazing to stand out. One way to zhuzh it up? Use GIFs in emails.

That’s right! GIFs are now lighting up inboxes and can give you the boost you need to create exciting email content.

So, what are GIFs?
Why are GIFs good for emails?

GIFs make your emails visually more exciting.
GIFs help tell a story at a glance.
GIFs are versatile and easy to create.

Best practices: how (and how not) to use GIFs in an email

A bald man holding a cup of coffee and wearing a pink jumper crouches down to read his emails
Routine email check in the morning by Pedro Piccinini via Dribble
  1. Mind your style. Less is more.
  2. Don’t add GIFs just to look hip. Be intentional!
  3. Don’t go overboard!
  4. GIF size matters in emails.
  5. Increase accessibility by adding Alt text for GIFs.
  6. Integrate call-to-action GIFs.

So, what are GIFs?

GIFs (pronounced as ‘jif’) or Graphics Interchange Format images are a compilation of static images that create a short clip. Unlike videos, GIFs do not have a sound and would automatically play in a loop without the need to click a button. GIFs usually last around three to six seconds but may reach up to 15 seconds if desired.

hand holding wellness drink, with animated gif revealing that it's "science", "not sugar water" in the product.
This GIF reveals the authenticity of this wellness product’s ingredients—and the brand’s sense of humor. Design by bananodromo

This nifty image format has invaded chats—messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, iMessage, etc.—attracting users who may want to express themselves better or in a more playful manner than standard emojis. Thanks to mainstream media, GIFs have also reached meme-sharing sites like 9gag and even social media pages, with over 100 million GIFs available for use.

There are three types of GIFs seen online. These are:

  • Animation-based GIFs: Sequences of still digital illustrations in JPG or PNG formats
  • Video-based GIFs: Clips sourced from MP4 videos
  • GIF stickers: Similar to emojis but are moving and, with their transparent frame, can be added as an overlay to a video or a photo

Whichever type you choose, these GIFs can go well with emails.

A cat wiggles its body as a bald man in an orange shirt wiggles back with his lips pursed
Video-based GIF via GIPHY
A cute animated girl is shown texting on her phone while in bed
Sticker-based GIF via Tenor

Why are GIFs good for emails?

GIFs can be a powerful element that can up your game in creating more engaging and dynamic emails. Below, we highlight three reasons why you should start adding GIFs to your emails.

1. GIFs make your emails visually better.

For starters, GIFs can bring your emails to life. Imagine receiving a plain text email and an email that contains animations. Which one would grab your attention first? Chances are, you’d open the latter.

Adding animated GIFs boosts an email’s visual appeal and compels readers to stop and look at what you’re trying to say. And when the GIFs you create are highly relatable, readers might share them with others.

2. GIFs help tell a story at a glance.

An airplane passenger using Headspace meditation app finds peace despite two noisy passengers
An animated GIF for meditation app Headspace via Really Good Emails

Being a wordsmith is an asset when crafting an email. However, visuals can help strengthen and clarify messages that may be difficult to absorb with words alone.

By incorporating GIFs, you can relay your message in a split and enhance the reading experience of your audience. You can even elicit a desired emotional response from your readers with the help of GIFs.

If you are trying to lighten the mood, you can add humorous GIFs. For example, meditation app Headspace designed a goofy GIF email for its subscription promo, demonstrating how using the app can help you ‘find your calm.’

3. GIFs are versatile and easy to create

One of the reasons why GIFs are so popular is how versatile and accessible they are to anyone who wants to use them. You can create GIFs for just about any purpose—whether that’s for personal chats with friends, promotions, or teasers.

As part of American clothing brand Everlane’s green campaign effort, it sent a teaser email to its audience to give them an idea of what to expect in terms of product development. Its GIF used a typewriter effect where the words appear one letter at a time to pace the readers and allow time to absorb the information. This technique effectively communicated how problematic plastic usage is worldwide and why it prompted the brand to make changes.

A text-based GIF that says, “One million new plastic bottles will be made by the time you finish reading this email.”
Everlane sends a GIF email to inform its readers about its upcoming green initiatives via Wish Pond
An animated email signature and company logo
Sign off emails in style by using customized GIF as signature via Wisestamp

Another use for animated GIFs is for signing off in a non-traditional manner. You can insert your brand tone of voice or communication style in your GIF for email signature and imprint your brand in the minds of your readers.

You don’t need to be an expert in using complex design tools to create GIFs. GIF-dedicated websites like GIPHY, Imgflip, and GIF Brewery are just some free resources you can visit for DIY designers. They allow you to upload your files in different formats, like JPG, PNG, or MP4, and convert them into GIFs. Or you can simply download ready-made GIFs on these websites for free.

Check out Vistacreate and browse through hundreds of customizable GIF templates to get started.

Ready to join the GIF world? Below are some tips on how to use them effectively.

Best practices: how (and how not) to use GIFs in emails

1. Mind your style. Less is more.

With millions of animated GIFs to choose from, you may find yourself adding more than necessary to your emails. But when it comes to aesthetics, the adage that less is more cannot be stressed enough. Otherwise, you’ll have a spammy-looking email that can end up in the bin or warrant an unsubscription. Find a balance between visual elements—texts, graphics, color palette, etc.—and your chosen GIFs to avoid overwhelming your readers.

For instance, using a GIF as an email background may require you to stick to a minimal layout for your texts. This prevents the background from clashing with the foreground. You also need to mind where to put your GIFs in your email layout for a seamless reading experience. And always optimize for mobile experience as more than 70% read emails on their phones.

A baby astronaut and a dog floats in space
Sittercity’s simple yet well-designed GIF via Creatopy

Take Sittercity, a digital platform for people looking to book babysitters and nannies, as an example. The platform used an animation-based GIF for its email newsletter. With its outer space-themed GIF, Sittercity illustrated how difficult it can be for parents to find a nanny for their babies–they even have to go to space! Its harmonious color palette contrast, minimal movement from the baby astronaut, dog, and the blinking stars, and use of negative space or the empty part of a design layout, made the GIF pleasing to look at.

2. Don’t add GIFs just to look hip. Be intentional!

Many marketers and business owners try to stay current by riding on whatever’s trending. If you’re lucky, that can work. But it could also drive away your consumers. The same can be said when using GIFs. Before using them, you should ask yourself, “Does adding GIFs in my email make sense to my message?”

Pinning down your intention in creating GIF emails can ensure that what you add contributes to achieving your goal. In this case, it could be:

  1. To evoke an emotional connection or
  2. To deliver an easy-to-digest message
charming gif of wilted plant growing and feeling happier
GIFs stir emotional reactions in consumers, however subtle to them. Feel the positivity this charming animation gives off, by NinaĆu

That said, it is crucial to keep your audience in mind. If you have products targeting different age groups, start segmenting your GIF emails accordingly. Why? Because not everyone will react positively to GIFs in emails. Older recipients may deem GIFs unprofessional, while younger readers may welcome them.

A/B testing is a method that involves experimenting with various versions of your marketing content, like social media posts, infographics, and videos. And this could be applied to your GIF emails as well, especially when you are figuring out what works for different audience segments. With consistent effort, you can collate solid insights about your consumers that you can bank on for future improvements and email marketing strategies.

3. Don’t go overboard when personalizing your GIFs!

Part of being intentional is making sure that your GIFs stay on brand. While crafting GIFs leaves a lot of room for creativity, allow your brand personality—a set of characteristics related to your brand that your audience can relate to—to be your guide. After all, you don’t want to be a stranger to your loyal readers.

animated logo reveals pill shape of CapsCanada in their red and white color palette
Animated logo GIF reveals the brands color palette, by G-3

Creating branded GIFs that can make you stand out starts by incorporating your logo, brand colors, fonts and any other visuals noted in your style guide. That said, remember that your logo generally isn’t the star of your GIF, so be strategic with positioning—unless you’re creating a GIF to tell readers new information above.

And finally, keep your audience the main focus of your GIFs!

4. GIF size matters in emails.

GIFs are conveniently lightweight and small. They don’t take up a lot of space. Although customizable, most GIFs follow a square layout of 480×480, so you can conveniently fit them on different layouts and devices. In terms of weight, a GIF can be as heavy as 100MB or as light as 3MB. Of course, the bigger the file, the sharper the quality.

A snail rides on the back of a skateboarding turtle
Keep your GIF size in check to avoid slow loading emails by artist James Olstein via Dribbble

But with emails in mind, you may want to stick to a smaller and lighter GIF while maintaining optimal resolution. Your email must not exceed 20 to 50MB, or you’ll risk slow loading, which can deter your audience from reading them. A good rule of thumb is for your GIF to be 1MB.

Another way of increasing accessibility to your emails is with the use of Alt text.

5. Increase accessibility by adding Alt text for GIFs.

Consumers are starting to hold accountable companies that fail to make accessibility a core part of their product offerings. Take for example Twitter, which in 2020 received backlash for its Voice Tweets, a new feature that allows users to post voice-recorded tweets. Back then, hearing-impaired users weren’t able to join in the fun as the brand failed to integrate captions.

Calls for accessible products and services have grown louder in recent years, especially since tech advancements have made it possible for companies to create a more inclusive user experience. This also applies with GIF emails, so be sure to adhere to industry standards surrounding any fonts, colors or image contrast.

By adding an Alt text, which is a text-based description of an image or GIF, visually impaired recipients can picture an image or animation and make sense of your message. When writing an Alt text, keep your description as specific and concise as possible.

Another perk of Alt text is it aids in your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. As the number of image-based content increases, it can be tricky to get organic traffic web visits because SEO crawlers have no words to analyze. With Alt texts in place, your content becomes more visible and can boost your ranking.

6. Integrate call-to-action animated GIFs.

Call to action (CTAs) are probably the most vital part of your branded email. They move a customer forward in their journey as it suggests what they can do next. The only problem is that sometimes, the CTA buttons aren’t that visible, which can derail the conversion of your leads. Why not turn CTAs into GIFs?

Replace your boring static CTA buttons with GIF CTAs, by Ilya Tsybulka via Dribbble

You could add a video-based or animation-based GIF above your CTA button. Or create a CTA GIF icon that integrates simple yet delightful animations, like continuous motion, color change, and scale change. Doing so not only increases the likelihood of your CTA being seen but also adds to the overall appeal of your visual design.

Get the best GIF for your emails

GIFs have become almost like a language on the Internet, invading casual conversations on social media platforms and even daily work talks on Slack. With their glaring popularity, it’s no surprise that GIFs are also becoming instrumental in email marketing.

To recap, GIFs add personality to what would otherwise be stiff and plain-text emails. They also enhance your message where words fall short. The best part? It only takes a few minutes to create them.

Want branded animations packed with personality?
Our talented designers make the process easy.

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