Incorporating videos into emails

  • Updated

This topic describes different methods to incorporate videos into emails.

The Flash format is not a suitable option for videos in emails, because most email programs block Flash applications for security reasons. However, there are other ways to incorporate moving images into emails.

Animated GIF

This is the best format for showing a video directly in an email, because many email programs can play GIFs without difficulty. Compared to other formats, the quality of animated GIFs is limited and they do not allow audio playback.

A comparison of advantages and disadvantages shows that animated GIFs can be used primarily as teasers lasting only a few seconds. To incorporate full videos, add a playback button to animated GIFs, linked to a landing page. The email should explain that there is no audio playback.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Videos run directly in an email
  • Broadly supported by current email programs and web mailers
  • Unsupported email programs (such as Microsoft Outlook) display the first frame as a fixed image (fallback)
  • No audio
  • Limited quality (in terms of color intensity, image frequency)
  • No compression (that is file size increases proportionally with frame rate, each individual image is stored)
  • No control elements

The width of the GIF must be less or equal to the width of the content paragraph in your mailing. Example: If you are adding a GIF with a width of 650 pixels to a Text/Image paragraph with a content width of 600 pixels, the GIF will be compressed and lose its animation.

Landing page

Rather than integrating a video into an email, insert a screenshot from the video (such as the opening image) into a newsletter, along with a playback button that links to a landing page containing the video. You can couple this variant with an animated GIF. The recipient sees a moving image in the email with a teaser lasting several seconds. If he/she clicks on it, the actual video starts running in the landing page.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Simplest way of linking videos and emails
  • Supported by current formats (Flash, MP4, HTML5)
  • Practically unlimited video length and quality
  • Video and audio
  • Control elements may be used
  • Does not require videos to be adjusted to your newsletter's specific format
  • Large videos or high click rates require a hosting service
  • This sort of "fake player" can irritate recipients, who may expect the video to run in the email

To accommodate recipients who set their email programs to suppress images, include a text link to the video in addition to the fake player. To avoid irritation caused when the video begins running in the browser rather than in the email, include a note indicating that the video will run externally.

YouTube videos

Most desktop email clients do not support embedded Youtube videos. Because of this limited compatibility, embedding Youtube videos in an email is not recommended.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Videos are hosted on a widely used platform
  • Playback in the email is not supported by most email programs
  • Video URLs may not be substituted with tracking URLs, to ensure reliable identification
  • Identified URLs are extracted; does not allow incorporating the player into email

HTML5 video

Mobile devices in particular, like iPhones and iPads, run videos in their email programs.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Allows embedding of high-quality videos.
  • Audio track.
  • Displays control elements.
  • Not supported by many email programs.
  • Only useful as a supplement in combination with other options.

HTML5 videos can be combined with animated GIFs or a landing page to enable recipients to play back videos. HTML5 video tags and an image tag with an animated GIF or fake player are incorporated into the email source code. The relevant variant is then delivered to the recipient, according to the type of email program he/she uses. Insert the HTML code snippet directly into the email, for example into the source code paragraph of the Template Kit.

PlayUp! video email

The PlayUp! video email of Optimizely's partners at United Internet Dialog GmbH is aimed at recipients who have email accounts with GMX, WEB.DE, T-Online or Freenet. You must be accredited as a sender to use this service. The videos run directly in an email the moment it is opened.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Allows embedding of high-quality videos
  • Audio track
  • Sender retains full control over playback
  • High promotional effect through immediate playback the moment an email is opened
  • Requires sender accreditation
  • Limited coverage; approximately 50% in Germany
  • Only available to German internet service providers
  • More overhead involved in laying out a version for other recipients

If most of your recipients have email accounts with the service providers listed above, this offers an attractive alternative for sending out video emails. However, a mailing must contain a second variant for recipients who do not have an email account with these providers. This means additional expense and effort in developing a second set of mailings.

Testing and evaluation – Finding the right technical implementation

To give your video email strategy the greatest opportunity for success, you can test how well each integration method works by applying A/B tests to a representative sampling of your recipients. This is an easy way to determine the best approach for embedding videos and which offers the highest conversion rates.

The chart below shows a split test with results for the variants described above.

Video embedding Split A Split B Split C
Animated GIF and landing page * *
Landing page with embedded video
HTML5 video
Youtube video

The animated GIF in Split B and Split C should be included as a fallback option; recipients who cannot display the embedding variant used only see an animated GIF.


Evaluating clicks on video links is easy using conventional tracking. Depending on the technique being used, you also can collect data on playback time and playback rate. At minimum, measure conversion and click-through rates to evaluate the effectiveness of your videos. In particular, assess the following steps/actions:

  • Recipient clicked on the landing page in the newsletter
  • Recipient ran video (web analysis accessibility required)
  • Time spent on landing page (web analysis accessibility required)

To assess how many recipients made a purchase after viewing a video, set up a segment in your web analysis software that links two actions:

  1. Recipient made a purchase in the product category.
  2. Incoming page (the page clicked on to reach the product page) equals video landing page.