HTML Email + Alt Tags = More Bagels Sold

Tonight I received an email from Panera Bread. Like so many email programs nowadays, my email application automatically blocks images. As a result, here’s what the email looked like:

Panera HTML Email with all Images and no alt tags

Not too compelling… especially for a beautiful email that actually looked like this:
The same Panera HTML Email with Images displayed

I can’t imagine how many people deleted the email without reading it because… there was nothing to read if you didn’t download the images. This is a real problem with HTML emails… but it’s very simple to avoid.

Two Best Practices to Help Open Rates on HTML Emails

  • Don’t display text as images… display it as text. Sure it’s not going to be quite as beautiful, but it will be readable – a huge difference. Panera should have broken up the imagery and text in the email.It probably would have taken their designer a few more minutes, but they could have sold a lot more bagels!
  • If the designers were absolutely set on utilizing a 100% image-based HTML email, they could have utilized alt tags on each of the images to add compelling text. For the percentage of readers that have programs that block the images, they could have at least read about the new Mediterranean Salmon Salad, Asiago Bagel Breakfast Sandwich, Black Cherry Smoothie and Morning Bagel packs from the contents of the alt tag.

Spending an extra few minutes and filling out your alt tags (alt is alternative text and is displayed when images are not) will improve your open rates and conversion rates on an HTML email like this. It appears these emails were developed with Fishbowl… my understanding is that they have an advanced email editor in all versions of their application that support this.

Food commands imagery… and no doubt that some compelling text will draw more subscribers to download the images and add the email address to their safe list.

As well, I believe many Internet Service Providers flag emails that lack any content and are all images because it’s a means for spammers to send through crap. Panera can probably improve its deliverability rate as well by using more text within the email.


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    Just an add-on: one way to maintain some level of design/brand integrity would be to shape the inline styles of the email around the ALT text of an image. So making ALT text act as a headline by surrounding it with <h1>, just as a simple example.

    One philosophy I have always heard is to assume that images will be off — using images as an easy, but unnecessary, complement to an email offer. Always good to remind the designers!

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    Nice post, I’m sure everyone has seen this in their own inbox, although the example above is particularly bad! It’s a great tip that so many email programmers forget.

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