12 Tips for Choosing Email Marketing Pictures That Convert

When it’s time to research ways to rev up your marketing campaigns, upgrading the way you select email marketing pictures may not be the first strategy that comes to mind.

But it should definitely be at the top of the list.

Think about this: The brain is able to process dozens of pictures within 13 milliseconds, much faster than previously thought, according to an MIT study published in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics.

And with digital content being generated by the millions each day—including 500 million tweets, 79.7 million new WordPress posts and nearly 95 million Instagram photos and videos, it’s clear that you need a hook to get attention out there.

Email marketing pictures, GIFs and other visual images, when selected strategically, can be the key to increasing engagement with your email subscribers.

Take a look at the following 12 tips for choosing email marketing images that can help you increase conversions.

1. Avoid the shortcuts.

It can be extremely tempting to simply conduct a search, type in a keyword phrase, pick out a pretty good image and download it. Although it’s common practice, don’t do it. In most cases, photos with a copyright will be labeled as such. However, many may not be.

This practice of swiping photos (some call it stealing) has become so commonplace that Google recently made it more difficult for users to view an image and download it. The changes came after Getty Images threatened legal action against Google because it allowed users to retrieve its high-resolution images without going to the original source. Yep, they consider it stealing.

Copyright infringement is a possibility if you’re not carefully selecting royalty-free images (that give you have permission to use them free of charge). To avoid the risk altogether, purchase stock images or use original photos that have been shot in-house or outsourced. The latter option is ideal—you can be assured that all of your images will look nothing like those of your competitors.

2. Establish a budget.

Now that you’ve acknowledged the importance of images to your marketing strategy, set aside a monthly budget for email marketing pictures.

Factor in numerous options, from outsourcing photography and design to subscribing to a stock service. If your marketing team determines that the budget should be zero dollars (after all, there are plenty of free stock images out there), don’t forget to calculate the hours spent by employees searching for options. It’s possible that a combination of paid and unpaid sources could be just as cost-effective.

Your options may be dictated by your business model. If you are in the retail space, an investment in professional photography— in-house or outsourcing—could be a critical way to highlight your products. If you have a distinct brand of clothing or products, like Anthropologie, stock photos can’t serve as a substitute.

Delivra - Anthropologie Email Marketing

If you’re part of a local organization, there’s no need to use stock. Have someone take photos at events to provide an authentic view of your events and activities, like in this example from Newfields.

Newfields - Email Marketing

3. Say something about your brand.

Support your brand image by selecting images that follow brand guidelines. If your B2C company projects a fun, engaging experience on its website, make sure that tone remains consistent with your email messaging and imagery. Choose lighthearted pictures and bold graphics to match.

If your audience consists of B2B executives, a more streamlined graphic approach with charts may be a more effective way to get attention. Think about the experience you want your subscribers to have. Make sure the email marketing pictures you select deliver that same vibe.

If your brand has been around for a while, your communications could be an ideal way to communicate a new direction.

Tiffany & Co., which is switching things up to appeal to a younger generation, including millennials, recently underwent a rebranding initiative—which was played a role in increasing revenue, according to a CNN news report—boosting their sales.They’re using imagery as a powerful way to convey that new strategic direction.

Tiffany - Email Marketing Photos

4. Personalize email marketing pictures.

One of the most important strategies in digital marketing involves creating a personalized 1:1 experience with your subscribers. You want them to feel a human connection in this digital world—a meaningful connection.

This is backed up by research. According to the marketing and sales firm McKinsey & Company, shoppers are seeking a personalized experience that is tailored to their interests and needs.

That’s why you should tap into opportunities to use images of people (and cats) over inanimate objects. Images of people can be more effective in helping you make a human connection via email.

Take it a step further by using photos people can relate to, based on gender, age, and other demographics and interests. In this way, images can play a critical role in your personalization strategy.

5. Explore free stock image sources.

If your budget is tight or nonexistent, you still can get quality images thanks to a growing number of free stock photo libraries. A search for “free stock photography” will turn up dozens of options. To get started, explore the following sites:


Unsplash has an extensive collection of high-quality images with a search feature. A search for “cow” turned up 856 free options, while “milk” delivered 873 options. Not bad if you’re in the dairy business. Since Unsplash only publishes photos that are licensed under Creative Commons Zero, you can download each of them free of charge, without the need to give attribution. But, as Unsplash notes on its site, attribution would be nice.

Delivra - Email Marketing Pictures

Creative Commons

Creative Commons offers a way to search for more than 1 billion creative works, including videos, photos, and audio that have been shared as part of the community. The use of the images, as with the other works, is free to use under the Creative Commons licensing agreement.


While its selection is not as large as Unsplash, StockSnap also offers quality, high-resolution photos for free. When searching, you will also see options for Shutterstock images, which must be purchased.


If your brand is all about being quirky and fun, this site could be your perfect match. It bills itself as “the world’s quirkiest collection of free high-resolution pictures.” And the images are free. Just as with StockSnap, you’ll come across images from other sources as well.

Delivra - Email Marketing Pictures

6. Subscribe to a paid stock image service.

When you need a high volume of images or illustrations that are specific to your brand, subscribing to a stock photo service could be worth the investment.

iStock by Getty Images and Shutterstock each feature extensive selections (in the hundreds of millions) of photos, illustrations, video and audio to support your marketing efforts. With the number of options available, you may have an easier time sticking to a look for your images.

This is particularly the case if you decide to use illustrations in your marketing campaign.

Subscription rates for iStock, for example, range from $90 to $199 a month for 50 images per month. The price difference depends upon the quality of images you select—Essential or Signature.

7. Always select high-resolution photos.

Even if you find an image that seems perfect (it really gets your message across!), don’t compromise on the actual quality of the image. Those with a resolution of 300 dpi are optimal for all marketing purposes.

With online use, you can go as low as 72 dpi. Otherwise, your images will look fuzzy and unprofessional—all of which reflects poorly on your brand.

Photos should look crisp, especially if you’re trying to entice your subscribers to purchase your products.

8. Select stock photos that live up to your brand.

Too often, in the rush to get things done, we can end up settling for “good enough.” Choosing the right photo from among thousands of options can be a time-consuming process. It’s important to find the right ones for each post.

Avoid the cheesy-looking photos of businessmen grinning while enthusiastically shaking hands. Rarely do you see people constantly grinning while working on their laptops. In the average workplace, it would raise some red flags.

Not only does it look unrealistic, it can make your brand come across as outdated. With so many more quality images available, you no longer have to settle. Keep searching until you find images that look like they were shot today — not 10 years ago.

Instead, go for an authentic look whenever possible … you want your images to accentuate your email messages. You don’t want them to be the center of attention in a bad way — like a joke.

In this image from Unsplash, two guys working on laptop, heads down near a bag of carrots, seems completely natural.

Delivra - Email Marketing Pictures

9. Mix photos with illustration.

Don’t be afraid to mix photographs with illustrations. Or stock photography with your brand photography. Or any other combination of image sources. If you have a designer on staff, it could be the extra effort to have that person add a distinctive look to your newsletter.

It can create a more engaging visual presentation from the moment subscribers click to view it. In a recent newsletter, a Honda car dealership used a combination of images provided by the car manufacturer along with stock photography.

Honda - Email Marketing

TaskRabbit created a similar presentation with photography as the lead image and illustrations throughout the remainder of the email newsletter.

Task Rabbit - Email Marketing Pictures

10. Further customize your images.

Even if you use stock photography, you can still make it original and more personal to your brand.

Create some original GIFs to add some movement to your email messages. Programs like Giphy give you the ability to add animation to your images for more attention-getting impact.

Canva, another source for stock images (more than 1 million of them), gives you the ability to personalize your images with your brand logo, tagline or an event/campaign message.

Canva - Email Marketing Pictures

11. Deliver an emotional message.

Use your photos to actually say something — just in case your subscribers never get around to reading all your carefully crafted copy. For example, nonprofits can use images to generate emotions about your cause.

Show the promise of your cause for literacy, for example, by depicting an adult fully engaged in a book. Or show people gathering water if your nonprofit works to enable them to access to clean sources of water. Also, keep in mind that images of real people (get permission) shot by your volunteers or staff members will come across as more authentic than a stock photo.

Charity: Water excels at using photographs to tell the story of their mission. No words needed really. Or at least only a few words, because the picture says it all about the impact donors are making.

Charity Water - Email Marketing Pictures

12. Encourage user contributions.

There’s nothing quite as effective as subscribers sharing their own experiences with your products. It’s brand advocacy at its best. And it’s one of the ways you can encourage a sense of community.

You can invite subscribers to submit photos showcasing them using or wearing your products. However, one of the cons is that the quality of the photos may not be ideal … especially if you’re trying to showcase fashion or similar products.

Make the invitation anyway. With some photoshopping, you should be able to add a few user photos in the lower portion of your email message. The impact could be well worth it, especially users won’t necessarily expect professional quality photography from submissions.

Wrap up

Pictures, illustrations, design and other visual aspects of your email marketing campaign shouldn’t be underestimated. They can be an effective way to increase conversions among your subscribers. With Delivra’s user-friendly email software platform, developing attention-getting emails is easier than ever. Contact us for a demo on how it can help transform your email marketing campaigns.

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