Mailbag: What’s the best way to handle video in email marketing?

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Today’s mailbag question is an oft-repeated one:

“What’s the best way to handle video in email marketing?”

The answer is: it depends. What it depends on most is how your audience reads the email you send to them. Implementation of HTML5 video standards is highly irregular, to say the least. The bulletproof way that I handle video in email is like this: a simple placeholder image that goes to a dedicated landing page on a responsive site using a YouTube video. Let’s deconstruct that statement.

Placeholder Image

I like to use placeholder images for two reasons. First, it asks people to load images (giving you a more accurate open rate) as long as you use ALT tags correctly. Here’s an example from the SHIFT Happens newsletter (which I recommend you subscribe to if you like my style of newsletter, since I write SHIFT Happens, too).

Content Feedback Loop

As you can see, it’s a screen grab of the YouTube player with a recommendation to click on it to play. The link is typically tagged with a target=”_blank” anchor so that clicking on it opens to a new window.

Dedicated Landing Page

I put the video on a dedicated landing page on a website I control so that I can see not only who clicked on the video link in the email itself, but then I get all of the goodness of Google Analytics data once they hit the page.

Devices - Google Analytics

If you don’t have an email service provider or marketing automation vendor that provides detailed stats on your audience’s device usage (WhatCounts Publicaster is one of the very, very few that does, which is why I still recommend that platform even though I don’t work there), then this is the best way to get that data.

YouTube Video

I strongly recommend and encourage that you host the video on YouTube. Why? Of all of the video platforms, YouTube does one of the best jobs of automatically serving up the right format of video for whatever device you’re using. Thus, if you’re viewing the email on a mobile and you go to the landing page, YouTube will auto-detect your device and serve up a mobile-compatible version of the video. YouTube will also give you reasonably good aggregated insights about your video, too, such as how engaging it was.

Analytics - YouTube

Obviously, if you’re aiming for a specific social network like Vine or Instagram, use those embeds instead, but be aware they may not fall back as gracefully on some mobile devices.

Put these three techniques together and you’ve got a reasonably good strategy for handling video in email in the most compatible way possible as of the time of writing of this post.

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One response to “Mailbag: What’s the best way to handle video in email marketing?”

  1. Eric Guerin Avatar
    Eric Guerin

    Great post! Other than the point about YouTube, I completely agree. For a number of reasons I recommend using a video hosting service like Wistia or Vimeo Pro. Both automatically serve up the right format to the viewer and allow you to implement custom calls to action so you can guide, engage and convert more site visitors. The analytics built into Wistia to measure engagement and video effectiveness with heat maps are also hard to beat.

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