Video in Email: Best Practices

Posted by John Pollard on

Several weeks ago, I wrote a 2-part blog series on using video in your email marketing program. Part 1 provided discussion points to help you determine if using video in email is right for your business. Part 2 provided discussion points you can use for planning your video strategy. In response to those posts, I received a few requests to do a follow up on best practices for those of you deciding to move forward.

If you are a Return Path client, you can find articles about video in email planning and best practices within the Help Center’s Email Optimization section. You can also do a search in the Help Center for “Video in Email” as well.

Best practices

  • Talk to your Email Service Provider (ESP). Find out what they can support and if they have any tools or services available to help you with your video strategy.
  • Produce quality videos. Be sure the video runs as expected prior to deployment, especially if it is on your website. The video is a direct reflection of your business and a negative experience can affect your brand image.
  • Tell a story. Turn off the audio and watch the video. Does it tell a compelling story and entice you to act? Complement the video with text in the email body so a subscriber can understand your message and take action without watching the video.
  • Use video sparingly, especially in the beginning. People don’t always want to watch videos and may just want that 10 percent coupon for the next holiday sale. If every message has video, your subscribers may tune out future messages. Start with 1-2 videos and add other videos into your program as you gain more experience and confidence in what works well with your subscribers. Figuring out the exact mix of video and standard HTML email will depend on your business and will require some testing.
  • Make the videos relevant. Make sure the video is relevant to your business, product, and services. It’s very frustrating to open an email that promises one thing but delivers something else. If you don’t send relevant email, your subscribers may complain, unsubscribe or just delete it without watching it.
  • Video length. The length of your video will depend on its use and what your subscribers expect.
    • An animated gif should draw attention to your offer or help set the tone for the message content and is brief by nature (a few seconds).
    • Promotional videos should be about the length of a TV commercial (30-60 seconds), but you may want to keep it shorter depending on your audience and message size (especially if embedding the video in the email).
    • If the video is being used as part of the content experience that a customer subscribes to or purchases, then make sure your audience knows what to expect. Consider breaking up longer videos (over 5 minutes) into multiple parts if possible. For example, instructional and training videos are more easily broken up than videos for entertainment such as a music video or a movie.
  • Synchronize the videos with other marketing channels. You may want to use the same video, or perhaps create a marketing channel video series where the videos complement each other across email, social, and digital advertising to tell a story.
  • Use “video” in the subject line. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series, A Syndacast study reported that using the word “video” in an email subject line boosts open rates by 19 percent, click-through rates by 65 percent and reduces unsubscribes by 26 percent.
  • Use segmentation. Create a segment of subscribers that have watched or opened videos in the past. If you have never used video before, keep track of those that open and watch them. Subscribers that don’t traditionally or rarely open emails with video may want more traditional HTML and text email. Test what works well on both segments to see if you can find a video that does resonate with the non-video-openers.
  • Autoplay. Use autoplay for desktop users. Most mobile devices disable autoplay by default because it can eat up valuable time on your subscriber’s data plan. So, complementing the video with text and call-to-action buttons is important.
  • Provide a call to action. Make sure your viewer knows what you are asking them to do once the video is over. Include standard call-to-action buttons in the email body as well.
  • Describe in text what happens when the video is clicked. Help entice the viewer to click on the video with a short, descriptive summary.
  • Use branded web pages or a branded video playback service like YouTube. Make sure your landing page containing the video is branded to look like your website.
  • Use responsive design. Make sure your email renders well across multiple devices so it is easy to see and click on the video.
  • Use HTML5 if you are embedding the video in your email. Check out this article on embedding HTML5 video in your email at Email on Acid to help get you started if you are doing it yourself.
  • Use a compelling fallback image. Not every email client runs embedded video so you need an image that they will display instead. Make sure the fallback image helps to motivate the subscriber to watch. The Email on Acid article mentioned above also gives some direction on fallback images.
  • Encourage sharing. People often share video content that they like and find useful. Sharing can help increase the reach of your message beyond your subscriber list. Include linked social network icons in your email body or footer as well as the video landing page.
  • Test. Test the performance of your standard email with static images versus email with video. Also, test alternative subject lines with and without the word “video”. Determine your KPIs prior to testing such as reads, number of videos viewed or not viewed, and conversions.

Even if you have the perfect video strategy, great content design and use all of the best practices above, be sure to send to a high quality list of subscribers that opted-in to receive your email. Don’t let all of your hard work go to waste by sending to subscribers that did not opt-in, were purchased, or were harvested from websites or social networks. Not only do you risk having your video strategy fail, but having your IP address or domain listed on a major blacklist can hurt your bottom line.


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About John Pollard

John is a Senior Knowledge Strategist at Return Path. He is dedicated to building and maintaining knowledge and content assets to help marketers maximize the value of their email programs. John believes that sharing knowledge feeds the imagination, fosters collaboration and empowers people to grow and evolve. He has been in the email marketing industry since 2008 and has consulted numerous businesses and ESPs on deliverability and email optimization. Prior to joining Return Path, John worked in the finance industry with roles in business analysis and system administration.

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