Images In Your Email Signatures – Embedded or Linked?

Today, we’re going to look at the relative merits and demerits of embedding and linking images into your email signatures. First, let’s get the definitions in place so you understand what I mean when I say embed and link. The gist of these two terms is this: embed is to include, while link is to refer out to. It seems a simple enough thing, choosing one or the other, but you’d be surprised. This discussion about embedded vs linked images is very complex in fact and spans personal opinion, the whole history of Microsoft Outlook (and the different actions that each support), and how to use images on mobile devices. Of course, in the end, sometimes you have a choice to embed or link, and sometimes you don’t. But if you do have a choice, you should know which is which – and which is better.  

Embedding Images Into Your Email Signatures

Embedding images is like making them a natural part of your email. When you embed an image, it is treated as an embedment and not as a foreign element. This is why it is so important that you deliver this data to Outlook in a proper and correct format. It is Outlook itself that makes the embedment, and if you do not deliver the images in a correct and proper way, your embedded image will suddenly be treated as a foreign element. And when this happens, it triggers spam filters, results in emails being shown with attachments even though there are none, and often results in no image at all. In other words, it’s bad news. Thus, if you are going to embed, do it correctly!  

Linking an Image Into Your Email Signatures

When you link an image in your email signature, your image resides on a web server. The only difference from a technical perspective is that the images are displayed and not embedded. From a visual standpoint, the recipient of the email shouldn’t know the difference, as the image will display as if it had been embedded. That is, of course, unless the path becomes corrupted or out of date. If you remove the image from its destination and keep its URL in the signature code, you will see a red x where the image should appear. Because your email client is referring out to a URL, it is important that the URL stay active and updated.  

How Outlook Handles Embedded and Linked Images

It should come as no big surprise that the way Microsoft Outlook has handled embedded and linked images over time has been both inconsistent and frustrating. But there is a meaning behind how Microsoft has developed Outlook to handle this aspect of an email signature. I will not dig into this in detail, as I don’t work for Microsoft and can’t claim to understand how they make their decisions (can anyone?), but I can describe, through personal experience, how email images have been displayed over time. We have been handling email signature support since Microsoft Office 98 was the new kid on the block. Make no mistake, the way that email signatures were handled back then was not very good; in fact, both embedment and linked images were causing problems constantly. These problems were first addressed in Office 2000 when it became possible to deploy and use an email signature without too many issues. I say “too many” because there were definitely still issues. But it was better than nothing! Without digging into too many details, all of the previous versions of Microsoft Outlook have had various issues with handling images. In Outlook 2003, for example, both linked images and embedded images would display, but sometimes you would see a red x with little explanation. In Outlook 2007, Word as Editor was made the default editor when composing emails, and that lead to changes to existing email signature designs. Because Word was the rendering engine and not Internet Explorer, this caused new challenges. With Outlook, even a linked image could be embedded, but this was not always the case. Sometimes the link would be kept as a link. There seemed to be little rhyme or reason for Outlook’s behavior. This inconsistency on Microsoft’s part led to Xink’s cloud-based email signature software – we thought, “There has to be a better way.”  

“Would you like to view the image from this source?”

With the advent of Outlook 2007, the inclusion of linked images would prompt Microsoft to ask users, “Would you like to view the image from this source?”The thought behind this strategy was good-natured; after all, it was intended to provide security and privacy. Unfortunately, it was extremely annoying for the everyday user that needed to select “yes” every time he or she wanted to view a linked image. Unfortunately, this functionality still applies to Outlook 2013. As a matter of fact, newsletters are blocked by default. It is commonly accepted now (eight years after the release of Outlook 2007) that users simply click ‘accept’ to see images in an email. It would be nice if Microsoft could refine that feature to join the 21st century, but for now, we seem to be stuck with the status quo. It is possible to control this feature and enable/disable it by applying an administrative template in a GPO, but not many people are aware of this. Even Google now shows all images by default when this setting is selected. By and large, though, linked images still face an uphill battle. Windows 8 for mobile blocks images by default (though there is a setting that can be changed to allow linked images) and the OWA app for iPhone (for Office 365) also blocks images by default if they are linked. For this reason, embedding images is still often the best way to go. Alas, it isn’t always an option.  

Using Embedded or Linked Images in OWA and Mobile Devices

The term “embedded images” is something that refers specifically to Microsoft Outlook. There is no other email application that embeds images in the way that we have come to understand this process. This means that by default, all other email clients only support linked images in the signature – if they support html at all, that is (see the previous section on that). If you want to use the mobile solution using our installed version of Xink, with your own on-premises Exchange server, you can only do it by using a linked image. There is no such thing as an embedded image on mobile when you compose an email. Hence, when using mobile phones to compose an email, you need to make sure that the image is embedded in Outlook and has a unique URL as well. By using Xink cloud, this is handled automatically. Once you upload an image, it will be embedded via the Xink cloud app and receive a unique URL at the same time for use in mobile. It even changes the image to be linked or embedded based on the platform or email client that you’re using to compose your message. That is the benefit of Xink – it enables quick, easy, and stress-free email signature management. In other words, it does everything your email client doesn’t.  

So Which Solution is Best for Images in your Email Signatures?

As you can see, this is a topic that is quite complex, and there are many different solutions depending on your platform and how you want to use it. Thankfully, Xink provides an easy way to manage all of this, so that you don’t really need to think about it. But now you know a bit about the story and what goes on behind the scenes. If you ever thought that your email provider didn’t know what was best for it (or its users), don’t worry – you were right!

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