We live in an age of ubiquitous ‘multimedia’. We’re long past the stage of an Internet composed only of text and images, limited by tiny bandwidth—video-sharing titan YouTube is the third most popular site in the world; high-resolution animated GIFs are the currency of microblogging sites such as Tumblr; and audio streaming is widespread thanks to music services and podcasts.

Using multimedia in emails has always been a little trickier. Even now not everyone is able to view rich content in their emails; it’s easy to get caught out by spam filters; and the necessity of brief loading times is even greater than it is elsewhere on the web.

Nevertheless, it’s still very much possible to incorporate multimedia into your email marketing campaigns and make the most of the modern web.

Marketing or explainer videos

A short thirty-second or one minute explainer video is a great way to introduce potential customers to your product or service in a quick and impactful way. Videos are better at grabbing attention than blocks of text, require less effort than reading, and fit right into Internet users’ habits of distracted content-hopping.

An explainer video is ideal for getting straight to the point and functioning as quick product pitch that will hook people who are short on time. A survey completed by the Forrester Marketing research group in 2010 revealed that an explainer video boosted click-through rates by 200% to 300%, while email marketing company Eloqua reduced the number of unsubscribers by 75% by using a video in an introductory email.

Videos can now easily be embedded into emails with HTML5. The problem is that not all email clients support embedded video, including heavyweights Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo! Mail. As an alternative, set up a landing page on your website with the embedded video and link to it from the email using a GIF or a still image. This way, you can still measure the click-through rate to see how many people are watching.

It’s also worth setting the video on your landing page to ‘autoplay’, as by clicking on your link, users have already registered their interest.

Animated GIFs

Animated GIFs or PNG videos are essentially a series of still images shown in sequence. Though more limited than a video, they can be used as miniature explainers (though without the audio), and a little bit of animation is a good way of making your email a bit more interesting.

In 2014, Dell boosted their revenue 109% through a GIF-oriented campaign, using short animations to visually demonstrate their new laptop-tablet hybrid device. Their click rate increased by 42% and their conversion rate by 103%.

Again, a simple GIF can drive click-through rates by making your emails lively and their impact more immediate.Like videos, however, not all email clients support animated GIFs, including recent versions of Outlook. Instead, they will show only the first frame or still image of the set. As a solution, make sure you choose your GIFs such that the first still image looks good on its own, just in case a reader can’t view the whole thing.

Use sparingly and keep on point

All in all, try to keep your email designs clutter-free. Most email clients are perfectly capable of loading images, but too much going on can distract from the main point of the email, and the design will still need to be minimal due to the limitations of some email clients.

Usually, multimedia should concern itself with a call to action: in emails, it should encourage you to click, and any video itself should encourage or instruct the viewer to do something like buy your product. This way you will see the biggest boost in your conversion rates.

Contingency plans

As the email capabilities of different users vary so wildly, not only due to email clients but also to reading emails on different devices, you should ensure that your email design will always work in as many different contexts as possible.

For example, using text links as well as still images or GIFs is important for those who view text-only emails. As in the previous examples, there should always be an alternative in place for when a user is not be able to view your multimedia, even if this means a text-only substitute.

However, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be using multimedia to accelerate your email marketing campaigns, because the benefits are huge and the capacity for emails to host multimedia will only continue to improve.

Keep it simple and focused and always have a back-up. Otherwise, your email marketing campaigns should make the most of rich multimedia content.