Being the Director of Technology for a marketing agency is full of surprises. The best surprise was learning that everyone is an expert. Yup; regardless of experience, or knowledge, you're going to run into all sorts of people who know everything about subjects that are incredibly complex and deep.
This was made apparent the other day when I received a link to an article called Hot Ecommerce Trend: Embedded Video in Email.
The article starts out with the general, and true, premise that linking to videos is a good way to improve click through rates:
Anna Yeaman reports one retailer boasting a 20-27% click through rate without linking to video, and 51-65% with links to video. And Forrester Research reports video in email can increase click through by 2-3X.
Of course there's no mention of what the campaigns were about, or who the sample targets were in relation to previous email campaigns. But what the hell, it's the Internet, so we grain of salt the numbers and don't give them any real weight. Interestingly, though the article never comes right out and says it, from the tone of the article it looks like the idea is that if linking to a video is good embedding the video directly is better.
The article goes into some detail about the obvious challenges of actually embedding a video in an email, instead of just linking to the video, (like spam flagging and file size mostly) but just doesn't offer a satisfactory response on how to accomplish it. Basically, it says embedding a video is a good thing to do but doesn't provide any solutions to do it.
This is probably because, oh, I don't know, IT'S NOT A GOOD THING TO DO (hmm, bold, italics, all caps? serious text). Just don't do it if you want your email to, you know, be seen by people.
According to the article:
What’s so tough about embedding actual video in email?
Forgiving for a second the nonsensical flow of the second paragraph, it seems there's a service called Goodmail that, somehow, allows email to bypass the spam filters. Unfortunately, Goodmail is currently only in use by AOL at the moment so it's not realistic unless you have a list of only AOL users. Does anyone, besides AOL, send to just AOL? Exactly.
Next the article talks about sending to just gmail; provided the recipient signed up for YouTube video embedding in their gmail account settings they shouldn't have a problem. This, too, suffers from the Goodmail problem of only working with one email provider. Not much of a solution really.
But, all of the above are minor issues that don't really deal with the larger problem; email wasn't made for embedded video. Sure, it can do it, in a kinda-sorta, if you squint and tilt your head kind of way, but it's similar to how HTML isn't a design language but has been re-purposed for that use.
Email was built for text; attachments weren't even a possibility until 1996 with the introduction of RFC 2045. (The initial specification only allowed for text communication using 7bit US-ASCII as the encoding and had a limit on characters around 1,000 total.) Email with embedded video wasn't even a thought at the time.
How much was video not considered an option? Just take a look at the complete lack of support for certain HTML tags required to embed a video in the popular email clients.
To be honest, there weren’t a lot of surprises here. The OBJECT and EMBED tags remain as poorly supported now as they were 3 years ago. This instantly wipes out Flash, Quicktime, and Windows Media formats. As predicted, Java support was also a no show.
So, what are your options then? That really depends on whether quality matters.
If quality actually means something to you then you definitely should avoid the much touted animated gif "trick". Years ago this might have been a good idea but now, in the 21st century, it just looks dated. Once, videos and animated gifs were almost comparable but now the quality of online video just shines way too bright compared to an animated gif. It may be easy to do but definitely looks like amateur hour.
On the other hand, you could always link to the video. Why, for the love of god, this has to be stated plainly escapes me but c'mon people; just use an image and link to the video on your site. This has the added benefit of creating visitor to your property at the same time, and you never know, maybe they'll think about sticking around.
To be honest, I don't really see video in email EVER being a viable option. There are just too many problems inherit with the idea to make it possible, much less practical.
First, you have bandwidth, which is still one of the biggest barriers to doing anything cool online. Videos are big and delivering them via email is a sure way to drive people crazy. Have you ever tried to download an email with a big attachment? Same thing.
Second, as mentioned above the email clients don't even support the HTML tags required to render a video even if it's downloaded. This one is pretty big because those tags aren't allowed for a reason: malware. If an EMBED or OBJECT tag is used the bad people have a bigger sandbox to play with. The rule of not opening attachments to help protect against malware goes right out the window. Changing the email client programs is just not going to happen. Sorry.
So, let's all get together and recognize that this isn't going to happen. Ever.