10 Best Practice Tips for Animated GIFs in Email

Illustration by Illustration by Sènga la Rouge Woman looking at computer screen.

There was a time when animated GIFs were a novelty, little more than a fun and silly experiment in internet technology. Today, animated GIFs are commonplace. They’re still fun and silly, but they’ve become a widely accepted and effective means of communication.

Using animated GIFs in your emails, for example, is a means to inject some life into your newsletters and email campaigns, particularly for email marketers who want to use more than just words and static images.

But email is a tricky medium. That’s why I’ve gathered some of the best tips to help you best use GIFs in your emails and newsletters. Each of the tips below will help you find the best possible ways to deploy various forms of GIFs in your email marketing to enhance your messaging and boost your click-through rates. 

Content tips for animated GIFS in email

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. Knowing how and when to use animated GIFs in your static emails can make the difference between a successful email marketing campaign and a whole lot of wasted energy! 

These pointers will help you make sure you’re using GIFs in the right way within the content of your email messages.

1. Have a purpose for your GIF

GIFs are not garnish. They’re not there to make the plate look extra appetizing. When GIFs are deployed, they automatically become the star of the show and nothing in your HTML email is going to challenge their dominance.

That’s why it’s important to think carefully about the purpose of your GIF. For example, a well purposed GIF might:

  • Announce a sale
  • Introduce a new feature or product
  • Enhance the overall mood or set the scene for the email you’re writing
  • Draw attention to new content you’ve created
  • Preview new video content
  • Serve as easy-to-follow tutorials
  • Tell a story
Me Undies GIF email.

Image credit: Really Good Emails.

It’s possible that you may well put a GIF into every email you send out. And it’s possible you’ll save them for special occasions. The trick is to make sure that, no matter what, you have a clearly defined purpose for your animated GIF file.

2. Your GIF and CTA should work together

Every email you write should include some kind of call to action. Indeed, the best emails are not ends in and of themselves, but rather drivers to the next action, whatever that might be in your case.

That’s why it’s worth doing some planning to ensure your call to action and your GIF play well together, guiding subscribers to carry out your desired action.

Headspace GIF email.

Image credit: Really Good Emails.

Email designers have come up with several really clever ways to incorporate CTAs and GIFs together. Some examples include:

  • An animated arrow that points users directly to the CTA button.
  • A GIF image that previews a still from a video with a play button icon that then links directly to the web page for the video.
  • A dancing button that, when clicked, takes the reader to your landing page.
  • A GIF that counts down, encouraging your reader to act quickly.

GIFs will naturally draw your reader’s attention somewhere. The trick is to make sure the call to action and GIFs work well together. 

3. Create a custom GIF that matches your brand

GIFs are everywhere, and it can be incredibly tempting to google around for a free option and embed that into your email. In fact, that might even be the preferred route every once in a while since you don’t have to pay a cent.

But, just as with images or graphics of any kind, the more you can brand your GIF the better.

Venmo GIF email.

Image credit: Really Good Emails.

In many cases, that will mean creating a custom GIF. You can do that in several ways:

  • Putting your own spin on a time-tested meme (you can do this just by changing the words on the GIF).
  • Finding a way to incorporate your watermark or brand logo.
  • Create an entirely new custom animation with a GIF animator that you then export as a GIF.
  • Incorporate an animated GIF into an email design that is already established.
Runtastic GIF email.

Image credit: Really Good Emails.

The only limits here are your creativity! But the nice thing is that once you’ve created a branded or custom GIF, any time that meme gets shared, your business or organization gets a little more exposure.

4. Stay on brand

There’s a temptation when it comes to GIFs to be funny. Humor can be an amazingly effective rhetorical tool, helping to improve click-through-rates and your brand image, all at the same time.

But humor needs to be deployed in just the right way. In other words: you need to stay on-brand. 

If your organization does have a humorous side, some of the GIFs you see floating around as memes may be easier to incorporate into your newsletters. But you’ll definitely want to tread lightly:

  • Avoid memes that are controversial in nature, or reference something controversial (this is, admittedly, something of a minefield, but you can do a little bit of research to make sure you’re safe).
  • If you create a custom GIF, you are in total control of how “on brand” the humor may be. Otherwise, be sure you’re selecting a GIF that doesn’t stray too far from your brand identity. 
  • Remember that memes have several levels: the “joke” itself, the image itself, and the reference to culture or society. You need to make sure your GIF reflects your brand identity on all levels. 
SuperMailQuest GIF email.

Image credit: Really Good Emails.

Technology tips for animated GIFS in email

Some of the primary challenges you might experience when using GIFs center around the actual technology involved. For someone who’s a GIF novice, the idea of creating an animated image from scratch and placing it in your email can be daunting! But these tips might help.

5. Make sure you’re using a GIF

GIFs may seem like a novel innovation of technology, but they’ve actually been around since 1987 when the Graphics Interchange Format was developed and established by Compuserve. And while the GIF has been popular ever since, the format has really come into its own as a vehicle for memes. 

But since image formats are a dime a dozen, it’s important that you actually make sure you’re creating GIFs and not saving your file as a JPEG, PNG, or any other format. This may seem pretty obvious, but if you’re starting out with creating GIFs for the first time, you want to make sure that the animation you’ve worked so hard to create will work.

6. Take note of the file size

The larger an image file happens to be, the longer it will take to load. And that can cause big problems in emails, especially because we’re pretty well-conditioned to expect immediate gratification!

GIF file sizes have the potential to get very large very quickly, impacting the user experience. For subscribers reading your emails on their mobile devices, they’ll be more likely to skip your email or delete it altogether if it takes too long to load.

I recommend keeping your GIF files under 1 MB — the smaller, the better, especially if you have multiple GIFs on the same page.

But there are a few things you can do to keep the size of your GIFs under control:

  • Crop the image to make it as small as possible. You don’t really need to worry about fancy borders or gradients when you’re making a GIF.
  • Remove unnecessary frames. Any animation is just a number of images displayed in quick succession. (Most films, for example, display at a rate of 24 frames/second.) By eliminating the number of frames, you can cut down on the size of the file. No one expects GIF animation to be as smooth as silk: that’s one of its charms. Start with the first frame and keep only what’s needed.
  • Cut down on the number of colors. Every color you add is more information—and more information means a bigger file size.
  • If you make your GIF in Photoshop, you can use layers to ensure that only those parts of the image that require it are animated. A static background image won’t need to be animated in every frame.
  • Compress your file. Sites like Ezgif.com let you optimize and compress GIFs for free.
Adweek GIF email.

Image credit: Really Good Emails.

7. Ensure files are properly embedded

Whether you’re using a third party email program or platform to create and send emails or you’re using MailPoet, you’ll want to spend the time ensuring that your GIFs are properly embedded into your email templates.

Even if you aren’t particularly code savvy, there’s an easy way to do this: test your emails prolifically beforehand. In fact, that’s a good tip for any email you’re writing: test, test, test. (Read: 20 Best Tools for Testing Emails).

GIFs are a particular type of image, and there are several issues that can crop up that might cause an animation to display incorrectly. Testing ahead of time allows you to ensure that your GIF is properly embedded and displaying correctly.

Note: We’re planning to add Giphy integration to MailPoet so you can quickly and easily embed GIF files in your email newsletter during drag and drop. If this is something you would like and use, let us know in the comments below!

8. Don’t forget about accessibility!

Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in the moment of a novel technology that you can forget about those who don’t have quite the same access to technology. That’s why when you’re embedding GIFs into your email, it’s important to remember accessibility recommendations. In this case, you’ll want to ensure you’re using alt text along with your GIF.

When writing alt text:

  • Take a couple of sentences to describe what happens in the image.
  • Try to be as clear as you can.
  • It’s also important to be descriptive and straightforward. 

Alt text is used when someone who is visually impaired is trying to access your email or WordPress website. A good rule of thumb is that you don’t want that person to lose out on anything. So take the time to make sure your alt text does a good job of describing your GIF in a couple of sentences. 

It’s also important to consider flashing and looping when creating GIFs. The BBC has published some excellent advice making accessible animated images.

9. Check email clients for GIF support

Nearly all modern email clients support the display of GIFs, but not all of them. That means that someone who sees your email on an old version of Outlook, for example, might not see the GIF you’ve tried to create. Instead, they’ll see a broken image.

Who can and cannot see your GIF will vary by email service (such as Gmail, Yahoo!, or Outlook, as examples). Litmus has published a useful list of email services that support GIF:

Desktop Clients

✅ Lotus Notes (6, 7, 8.5)

✅ Outlook 2000-2003

❌ Outlook 2007-2013

✅ Outlook for Mac

✅ Apple Mail

✅ Windows 10 Mail

Webmail Clients

✅ Gmail

✅ G Suite

✅ Yahoo! Mail

✅ AOL

✅ Outlook.com

✅ Comcast

✅ Orange.fr

✅ SFR.fr

✅ GMX.de

✅ Web.de

✅ T-Online.de

✅ Freenet.de

✅ Mail.ru

Mobile Clients

✅ iOS Mail

✅ Android (Default)

✅ Android (Gmail)

✅ Android (Gmail IMAP)

✅ Blackberry

If you’re not sure what email clients you’re subscribers are using, check the Google Analytics for your WordPress site. Log in to check what technology, browsers, and devices you’re users are using. Then you can make an educated guess as to which email clients they’re probably using.

In any case, you’ll want to ensure that you have a backup plan. If your GIF doesn’t display properly, you still want your readers to see some kind of image, so always specify a fallback image.

10. Be careful about how you create your GIFs

There are plenty of ways to create GIFs, but not all of them are created equal. Many free GIF creation services, such as GIPHY, have rather specific terms of services, and you might end up making your GIF public.

Sometimes that will be just fine. But there will certainly be times when you want more control over the distribution of your GIF, especially when it includes your branding. In those cases, using software such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, or a GIF maker app, is probably a more effective route to take.

Where to find GIFs

Although GIFs seem to be everywhere, they’re not always easy to find when you need one.

You know that feeling when you’re writing a post or email and you remember the perfect GIF that would fit, but you just can’t seem to find it?

Here are a few different ways to find GIFs, along with how to find a designer when you want a custom animation for the best impact.

Google Images

Google Images is a convenient place to start since it’s easy and free. All you need to do is:

  1. Enter your search term, e.g. hotdogs.
  2. Click on “Images.”
  3. Then click “Tools.”
  4. In the sub-menu, select “Type” and choose “Animated.”
Searching Google Images for hotdogs.

To avoid copyright infringement, it’s a good idea to only use images that are “labeled for reuse.” You can do this by selecting “Usage rights.”

GIPHY

GIPHY is one of the most popular sources for finding GIFs, particularly as it has a vast database used by apps like Slack and Twitter.

To get started, simply enter what you’re looking for into the search bar:

You can also search for GIFs by reactions, entertainment and more.

Although creating and sharing GIFs using GIPHY is a great way to find animated images for your social media and emails, it’s important to remember that GIPHY’s Terms of Use state that you can’t use their copyrighted content for your own commercial gain, i.e. for things like paid ads.

Similar to GIPHY, you might also want to check out Tenor and Reddit for GIF images.

Creating your own GIF

If you need a custom GIF or a branded animation for your business, you’ve got two options: create it yourself or hire a designer to do it for you.

There are a few ways you can create a GIF yourself:

  • GIPHY GIF Maker – GIPHY provides a simple interface for uploading photos or video (or linking to YouTube), which you can then edit, decorate, and download a GIF.
  • Photoshop – Adobe has published a tutorial on how to use a series of photos and frame animation to create an animated GIF.
  • Make a screen recording GIF – Apps like LICECap, Gifox and GIPHY Capture, ScreenToGif, allow you to make GIFs of your on-screen activity.

Make sure to check the terms and conditions of any online GIF makers you use in case they retain the right to reuse your animated image.

Hiring a designer to create a custom GIF

If you don’t have the time or would rather leave the design and creation of your GIF to someone who knows what they’re doing, there’s a lot of talent for hire on Dribbble

Dribbble is an online community where designers and artists showcase their work. It’s also a great place to find inspiration for GIFs and designers looking for work.

You’ll need to sign up for a Dribbble account before you can search and hire talent, but once you do, you’ll have access to a whole world of original talent for your custom GIF.

Dribbble homepage.

GIFs: The language of the (online) land

GIFs have become an important way to communicate in general, including emails. Yes, they’re still something of a novelty, but they’re an important one at that. There’s no denying how important GIFs are as a form of communication, especially to younger audiences.


That means you need to take some time now to master the GIF. You end up bolstering your own credibility when you pull this off in the right way—a GIF shows that you’re confident enough to communicate on a more authentic level.

That’s the kind of thing that increases open rates, subscribers, and click-through rates. These tips for using animated GIFs in emails will, hopefully, help you do all that.

Do you use GIFs in your emails? We’re planning to add Giphy integration to MailPoet so you can quickly and easily embed GIF files in your newsletters. If this is something you would love and use, let us know in the comments below!