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Best Video Thumbnails for Email Marketing: Static, GIF, or…?

What Rules in Email Marketing: Images or Videos?

Videos continue to conquer all parts of marketing, but email marketing is not the one to retreat. 

When it comes to using videos in emails, there is always a question of the loading speed of the emails. With heavy video files attached to emails, they might take too long to deliver and open.

At the same time, embedding videos in emails has proven to increase open rates and CTRs.

So, how can one add videos to email marketing without emails getting too “heavy”? 

There are two alternatives to using videos in emails: 

  1. Including a static image with a play button
  2. Featuring a GIF with a play button

However, how do you know if these options work better than a simple static image?  We decided to find out for ourselves and ran an experiment.

Email marketing experiment

Test prerequisites

Recently we conducted a test for the email announcement of Donna Moritz’s webinar. The goal was to test whether a plain static image thumbnail is inferior to the “video-stylized” ones. To do it, we looked at three metrics that are critical for this email:

  1. CTR
  2. Registration page views
  3. Registration rate

For the test, we created three versions of emails. These emails were randomly distributed between three equal groups of our subscribers. They had identical subjects, texts and designs. The only difference was in the visual we included:

1 version: Static image

Donna Moritz - email - static image

2 version: Static image with a play button on the top of the image

Donna Moritz_email_static image with play button

3 version: GIF with a play button on the top of the image 

Donna Moritz_email_gif

The two questions we are going to answer in this post are:

  1. Do video-stylized visuals work better than traditional plain ones?
  2. If yes, then what type of video-stylized images is more effective: static with a ‘Play’ button or a GIF with a ‘Play’ button?


A quick spoiler for this part: the results what a surprise were so unexpected that we even thought to double-check it with another test before publishing this post. But we are lazy transparent and decided to share this as is.

Joey_email experiment results

CTR results

There was no significant difference between the versions: each one of the three versions had the same CTR of 1%.

The emails contained not only links to the webinar registration but also footer links (to our social media, blog, etc.). So, the clicks in the email do not represent the number of people who actually viewed the target registration page, but rather the number of people who clicked on any link, including the registration page.

Registration page views

The number of people who visited the registration page from an email containing a GIF with the ‘Play’ button on top was the highest: 70.1% from all users that came from this email campaign. Not bad and quite expected.

What was unexpected, though, is that the plain static image had a higher percentage of registration page views (66.5%) than the static image with a ‘Play’ button on top of it (64.5%). Somehow, the latter aroused the interest of users in other link: to our social media or blog.

Have a look at these numbers:

Charts: Images or videos in emails

Unfortunately, this result is not significant: there is only a 85% chance that GIFs with the ‘Play’ button bring the highest number of registration page views.

But the result we got in the next part of the test is really pleasing!


The most valuable part of the experiment: conversion to registration to the webinar. The absolute leader was the GIF! 

51.6% of those who viewed the registration page in the GIF group got enrolled in the webinar.

Experiment results_registrations_GIF

The image with the ‘Play’ button got lower registration percentages having engaged 42,5% of its viewers. 

Experiment results_Registrations_static image with button

In closing, the plain static image showed the lowest performance.

Experiment results_registrations_static image

This proves that the lively and dynamic format of GIFs yields better results. Probably, interactivity of the GIF attracted people more effectively to the webinar registration. Pasting a GIF with a real person, Donna Moritz, saying something could also create a feeling of a personalized invitation, which led to high registration rates from the email with this creative.

This result is statistically significant! There is a 100% chance that GIFs with the ‘Play’ button on top will give you the highest number of registrations. Wow!

Exciting experiment results

Video-stylized visuals are effective

So, how should we answer the questions we stated in the beginning?

Despite the fact that the static image attracted more people to the target page, we’ve seen more actual registrations from emails with video-stylized visuals, that was also a statistically significant result. So, we can say that video-stylized visuals in emails work better than the plain static ones.

When choosing between a GIF and a static image with ‘Play’ button, pick the former: in our experiment, it was a clear winner.

Quick tips

To make sure you get great results with your videos in emails, we prepared a few recommendations for you:

  1. When creating a video-stylized GIF, make sure that the ‘Play’ button doesn’t overlap an important part of the visual, e.g. the head of the person. Otherwise, it will look pointless and inaccurate.
  2. Try to feature a person on a GIF to make it more personal, as people love visuals with real people more than with anything else (the only exception is cute pets maybe). In our case, it might have played a significant role.
  3. Test everything, even the results of this study. You never know which things will work and which tactics will be a disaster. Create A/B tests for every little thing: for the type of visuals, for the composition and content of the images, for the size, colors, length of GIFs, etc.

Good luck with your emails and don’t forget that video is the king! 👑

What Rules the Email Marketing World: Images or Videos?

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