Having to click a button to download internal email images adds unnecessary hassle for users within your organization. Moreover, if images are not displayed, it may distort your understanding of the true impact of your campaign. Read on about why image download matters and what you can do to ensure that images are downloaded consistently for all recipients in your organization.
Barred for Good Reason
Images are just one component of a great internal email. The explanation of why images are not initially loaded boils down to two things. First, most companies’ systems are set up not to download images because images can eat up a lot of data storage space.
Another reason is security: it is possible that photos can contain malicious code in order to exploit a vulnerability in the software that displays them. Therefore, recipients will have to click a button to download the images.
Saving data and protecting against security threats are sufficient to explain why image download restrictions is a standard practice across most email clients. However, if neither of these issues are relevant in your organization, it makes sense to configure your environment so that images are loaded automatically when staff open your emails. What is more, there’s another good argument to make images as available as possible.
Why Care About Image Download?
In the emails that you send through providers like MailChimp, MailerLite or our own JungleMail, a small invisible image – usually just one pixel in size – is inserted at the bottom of the HTML body. This invisible image is also called a web beacon, tracking pixel or a pixel tag.
When a user opens the email an opts to download images, an individual web beacon is also downloaded, requiring the user’s computer to send a request to the host company’s server, where the beacon was stored. This request would provide identifying information about the computer, allowing the host to keep track of the user.
If a user clicks on a link in the email, the action is registered as an open regardless of whether the images were downloaded or not. However, if no images were allowed and there were no clicks, the open will not register in your internal campaign reports. If you have hundreds of recipients in your company, the number of “lost” opens may be significant.
In short, automatic image downloading allows to track email opens more consistently, thus providing marketers with more accurate email metrics reports.
If you are sending emails to recipients outside your organization, it’s up to the users to download images or to configure their email client or browser for automatic download. However, when it comes to internal email campaigns, network administrators have a lot more control over the default behaviour of email clients.
Automatic Image Download in Outlook
Microsoft Outlook is the most popular email client for corporations. Thankfully, it offers a way for administrators to make email images download automatically for all users in the organization. Basically, you will need to add your expected sending address to the Safe Senders list. This is best implemented company-wide as a Group Policy setting.
Note that even though junk email settings are correctly deployed to client workstations, they may not be initially used by Outlook because of missing values in the Windows registry. To fix this issue and to configure Outlook properly, follow the steps outlined in this Microsoft Support article.
After you configure junk email settings in the Group Policy, users will still be able to manually add or remove entries to the Safe Senders tab. However, as an administrator, you will be able to determine whether the additional entries will be overwritten by the ones specified in the Group Policy. Read more about it in the support article linked above.
Whitelisting Image URLs in G Suite
While Outlook is the choice of established businesses, G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Work) is very popular among startups.
It is important to know that Gmail uses Google’s proxy servers to download images that might be included in emails. This way, Gmail protects its users and domains against image-based security threats. Because of the proxy, links to images and sometimes cookies will not work.
However, Gmail has the Image URL proxy whitelist setting. This setting lets you fix broken links to images by creating a list of internal URLs that'll bypass proxy protection. You can also insert a set of domains or a path prefix to specify large groups of URLs.
To configure the Image URL proxy whitelist:
- Log in to your Google Admin Console.
- Go to Apps > G Suite > Gmail > Advanced settings (to see Advanced settings, scroll to the bottom of the Gmail page).
- On the left, select your top-level organization.
- Scroll to the Image URL proxy whitelist section.
- Enter image URL proxy whitelist patterns and click Save.
It is a good idea to consult with your security team before making changes to the Image URL proxy whitelist, since it can easily expose your users and domain to security risks if done carelessly. Still, if you have a domain that is controlled by an administrator within your organization and is completely trusted, then whitelisting that URL should be a safe move.