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Social Media and UGC

How Pixlee’s E-Mail API Helps Brands Supercharge E-mails with User-Generated Content

Emails are a tried-and-true way for e-Commerce brands to engage with their customers across the customer journey. However, many marketing emails can feel impersonal, poorly targeted, and stale. One way to enhance marketing emails is with user-generated content (UGC.) These photos and videos created by real customers are not only authentic but highly engaging. At Pixlee, we’ve found that when our clients connect Pixlee to their email service provider and display user-generated content in email campaigns, they see an average increase in click-through rate of  2X!

Welcome Email Example
Source: Example of Pixlee’s email widget in a welcome email campaign.

In this article, we’ll examine how Pixlee’s email widgets work and give you insight into the technology behind the magic, along with some of the cool use cases that have been enabled for the first time thanks to our email technology.

What Does it Mean for a User-Generated Content Widget to be Dynamic?

Every Pixlee email widget is dynamic. This means that every email received by a subscriber will contain different images based on the different sorts and filters Pixlee offers.  This is done through our email specific API that allows us to efficiently query images and call to action links (cta’s) dynamically from your Pixlee library.  In practice, a single image in a Pixlee email widget looks something like this in its HTML form:

The HTML structure of an image in a Pixlee Email Widget

For each image in a Pixlee email widget, we use 2 URLs that each hit our email API to dynamically grab a corresponding Image:




And a corresponding CTA:




As you can see, there are a few different parameters added to each URL, which are used by the API to power this feature.  

Let me walk you through some of these key parameters so that you can have a better understanding of what each parameter means, and how they are used by our API to create a dynamic email experience.

Photo Number is used to specify a photos place in your widget. This is important for two reasons; so that there are no duplicate images in your gallery, and so that we can sync the content returned by the image URL and CTA url throughout your gallery. (Remember that for every photo in a pixlee Email widget there is a image URL link and a sister CTA URL link)

Photo Size lets you specify how your photos should look.  Common sizes are original and square, but this parameter can also allow for some pretty cool advanced use cases which we will talk about later!

Photo Count tells the API the number of photos present in your display.

This gives our API information that allows us to efficiently query and cache the photos we are serving.  Pixlee currently serves over 33 Million photos through our email API every month, so speed and reliability are always at the top of our mind.

Filter Id is perhaps the most important parameter of them all! When a user creates an email widget through the Pixlee Control Panel, a filter_id is generated that encompases important information such as the album that we pull photos from, the sort order of those photos and the different filter parameters that can be applied to your photos.  

The combinations of these different options is what truly makes a Pixlee widget dynamic, allowing you to do cool things in your emails like; display your most recently collected photos while omitting any photos tagged with an out of stock item, or show photos that have been marked as permissioned through the Pixlee Control Panel while being sorted by the highest engagement rates.

How Does Pixlee Use Merge Tags to Personalize Email Content?

Merge tags are a very important tool for email marketers, as they provide us with the the ability to create personal and dynamic emails. We won’t go over merge tag basics in this article, but if you’re looking for a refresher, Mail Chimp has great resources that can help you understand this simple yet powerful marketing tool.  At Pixlee, we use utilize Merge Tags for 2 main reasons: Tracking and Personalization

Merge Tags for Analytics

Using Merge tags for analytics is a fairly common practice used throughout the email marketing landscape.  

It allows for a marketer to gather a ton of useful insights about our User’s email campaigns, including which campaigns perform the best and which users are making purchases after seeing and interacting with a Pixlee email widget.

More specifically, by using merge tags to pass the Email API a unique Campaign Identifier, we can track all of the campaigns that are sent out using the pixlee widget.  

This allows Pixlee to tie the performance of a Pixlee email widget back to a specific email campaign, so that our users can see exactly which email campaigns are gaining the most value from including a Pixlee email widget.  

In practice passing this to the Pixlee Email API this would look something like this &email_campaign_id={{campaign.id}}Another use case of Merge Tag Tracking that Pixlee employs is using a unique Subscriber Identifier to provide a subscriber tracking for our users. We use this param to track a users action after they click on an image in a Pixlee email widget.  

This allows us to do cool things like attribute the exact photo from a Pixlee email widget that led that user to their purchase, so that we can identify which photos covert the most in any email over any given period of time!  In practice passing this to the Pixlee Email API this would look something like this: &email_subscriber_id=={{user.id}}

Merge Tags for Personalization

Personalization is one of the most exciting and powerful use cases for merge tags, and yet they are extremely under-utilized in today’s Email Marketing Landscape.  Let me walk you through some of the ways that Pixlee uses merge tags to enable our users to easily create a unique experience for their customers.

What are some of Pixlee’s Product-Specific Email Use Cases?

The Sku parameter is one of the most powerful tools that Pixlee’s email API has, because it makes creating Product Specific Triggered Emails quick and easy! The most prominent type of these emails is the Abandoned cart email, and for a good reason: in 2016, approximately $4.6 trillion worth of merchandise was abandoned in e-commerce shopping carts, with about 60% of it being recoverable!  When you combine the Pixlee Email  API with the sku parameter, it’s easy to create emails that feature product specific UGC for each product in a customer's abandoned cart.

an example of an abandoned cart email
Source: an example of an abandoned cart email with complementing UGC photos by American Giant

Of course, abandoned cart emails aren’t the only types of triggered emails that you can personalize with Pixlee.  

Almost any event that occurs on your e-commerce store and includes product information can be used by your ESP and the Pixlee Email API to create a dynamic, personalized experience that just wasn’t possible before. For example, you can create Product Recommendation Emails where each recommendation is accompanied by fully shoppable pieces of UGC featuring the product that is being recommended. You could also create Post Purchase Emails where UGC of the purchased product(s) is included to inspire the purchaser and to encourage them the share their own UGC once their product arrives.  

While the abandoned cart email is an important tool for any marketer, we believe that these other types of triggered emails are equally important, after all, a study by experian has revealed that triggered emails generate about six times more revenue than other email campaigns!The best part about the sku param is that you can just include Pixlee’s Triggered Email Code in an automated/triggered campaign and never have to worry about including fresh and relevant images for all of your products; the magic Merge Tags along with Pixlee's email API will take care of all the complicated stuff automatically! In practice, this would look something like this in your email html: sku=={{cart.product.sku}}

Custom Parameters

The Pixlee email API makes it easy for you set up custom merge tags that you can map to any of the content that has been collected for your brand through Pixlee.

This allows any email marketer to do things like create a personalized email campaign that targets specific segments of their email lists. For example, you can have a campaign show only photos containing men to you male customers and only photos of women to your female customers.  Want to only include summer pictures during campaigns being sent out in the summer months and winter pictures in campaigns being sent out in the winter months? Pixlee makes this super easy!  All you have to do is tell us which of your custom merge tags you want to include and Pixlee will handle the rest!

How does Pixlee Customize Photos in Email Widgets?

When Pixlee collects UGC through all of the social media channels, it’s often the case that these photos are all kinds of different shapes and sizes, which can make these photos a little difficult to deal with at a large scale.  

The good news is that Pixlee does a lot of processing on all of these photos to make sure that we can have a correct image size for any occasion, including for use in your emails!As mentioned earlier, by using the Photo Size parameter our Email API can take advantage of various photo sizes to allow our users to create pixel-perfect Pixlee email widgets.  However, this parameter also allows us to do cool things like show dynamic attributed photos in our email widgets.  

This is a great way to give credit to your loyal customers who have generated UGC for your brand!

 a user attributed email widget by Carnival Cruises
Source: an example of a user attributed email widget by Carnival Cruises

An even more advanced use case of this feature allows us to create a dynamic rollover experience using some HTML and CSS magic. By using this, along with custom parameters as mentioned above,  Cosabella was able to create dynamic rollover displays in 5 different languages (Italian, German, Spanish, French&Japanese)!  

Source: Cosabella email example, with rollover and personalization, localized to German

Advanced Features

We’ve covered all of the basics of the Pixlee Email API, so now let me show you some of the advanced features that we have that allow you to create even more dynamic and engaging email experiences.

Widget Scroll: when a user is redirected from a Pixlee Email display to one of your web pages where a Pixlee widget resides, the page will automatically scroll to that widget so that your customer can enjoy a seamless UGC browsing/discovery experience!

Open Lightbox: when a Photo is clicked on in a Pixlee email widget, and the user is redirected to a page with a Pixlee widget embedded in it, that image will open up automatically in a Pixlee lightbox, so that your customer can easily shop photos directly from your email!


While there is still room for innovation at the crossroads of email marketing and user-generated content, Pixlee is at the forefront of helping brands to build interactive and dynamic shopping experience through their email marketing. If you have any additional questions about Pixlee’s email API, please reach out to us at hi@pixleeteam.com

Kyle Wong
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