It’s a fact of life: email coding is outdated and in many respects inept, being reminiscent of the Web in the 1990s. As we all eagerly await for email to catch up with the Web, there are tricks you can use to get creative and produce sophisticated and captivating communications. First on our list is the GIF.

What was once associated with the early days of the Internet has become a widely popular tool for sharing a simple story. But GIFs aren’t just for Internet memes. They also offer a simple, effective, and widely-supported method of adding animation to an email. If done correctly, GIFs can improve interactivity, draw the eye, and elevate the quality of an email in a tasteful, non-disruptive way.

If you’re familiar with Photoshop, making GIFs will be easy. There are hundreds of tutorials online, but CreativeTechs has a nice one with practice files available for download. Just remember the following tips and you’ll be golden!

Simplicity is key
Use GIFs sparingly. The goal is to create discreet, subtle animation that enhances your communication, without overshadowing it. Keeping it simple will also help you when it comes to restrictions on file size.

Keep file size small
When creating GIFs, it’s crucial to keep a watchful eye on file size. Ideally, you want to keep a GIF under 50 KB. GIFs are preferred over video or Flash because they lend themselves well to small file sizes, but complicated animation with multiple frames can easily tip your email file size over the limit and produce slow downloads. Especially with the increasing use of mobile email, it’s important to keep file sizes as small as possible in order to satisfy mobile limitations. You’ll usually be safe with GIFs that include simple graphics such as arrows, lines and colors, but be wary of photo-based ones.

Focus on the first frame
GIFs are widely supported by desktop and mobile email clients, with the exception of Outlook 2007, 2010, and 2013. Outlook will only display the first frame, so be sure it’s an image that can stand alone and includes all important information. And, as with all images, this important information should also be included in the HTML alt and title tags in case a user has images turned off.

Have a clear objective
Make sure your GIF adds value to the email, whether it highlights important news, draws the eye to the call to action, or offers a glimpse of a video. Including GIFs simply for decorative purposes is risky as it can easily distract from the main points of your email. No matter how pretty it might look, you don’t want to compromise the communication’s message.

Take a look at our recent testing results to see just how widely supported GIFs are across all email clients. We also tested the support of background images  and were pleasantly surprised to find that they are even more widely supported than GIFs. Another option available to you creative types.

The decision to include GIFs in your communications will depend on your audience, your content, and your goals. GIFs are a simple way of making a communication stand out from the masses, and they’re definitely worth some A/B testing. You may be pleasantly surprised at how your audience responds.