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Why The Gmail Image Update Is Good News For Marketers

Market Trends - December 18th, 2013 by Natalie Issa.

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Last Thursday, Google announced yet another major change that will impact digital marketers everywhere. A few weeks ago Google started encrypting nearly all search keywords, and now, the company has made a change to Gmail.

In the past, when someone sent you an email with an image in it, the images were served from the original external host servers. With this update, images will now be served through Google’s proxy servers.

So is this good or bad for email marketing? Let’s take a look.

The Good

Images Will Be Seen by All

You know how Gmail always used to ask you to enable images when you received an email? You will no longer have to do that.

Since the images will now be served through Google’s proxy servers, recipients won’t have to enable images when they receive an email. Rather, the images will be automatically displayed. See below for an idea of what it used to look like and what it looks like now.

gmail-before-after

This means that marketers no longer have to worry about recipients not seeing the images and CTAs they include in emails (although, you really should be using HTML for your CTAs anyway). As a marketer, you can now rest assured that your well-designed emails will be seen at their best, with all images included. You will no longer have to write emails with wording that is intended to convince the recipient to enable images (we’ve all seen this – “Take a look at the amazing thing we did below!”). Rather, you can focus on writing really good content.

Automatically displaying images also means that you know your brand will be reflected properly in emails. While you can force your website to reflect your brand, it becomes much harder when you need the permission of the user to display your logo and images in an email.

And for consumers, this is also good news as it will create a much better and more seamless user experience. It’s 2013; Asking a user to enable images seems a bit outdated. I’m honestly wondering why Google didn’t do this sooner.

More Accurate Open Rates

When a recipient loads the images you send in an email, you’re able to track that they have opened your email. This is how marketers know their email open rates and how salespeople know if you have read an email they sent you. However, in the past, because many people would open your email, but would not enable the images, your open rates would not be entirely accurate.

Now that images will be automatically loaded in the email, you will know whenever a Gmail user opens your email, ultimately giving you far more accurate open rates.

Note: When the update was first announced by Google, many people were saying you would not be able to track opens at all. However, a Google spokesperson (who refused to be named), has stated that this is not true and that you will be able to track whether or not someone opened an email.

The Bad

Can’t Track Multiple Opens

As MailChimp pointed out, while you can track whether or not someone opened your email, you can no longer track if they’ve opened it multiple times. Tracking multiple opens is important for marketers as it can tell you how engaging your email content was. An email that has a high rate of multiple opens has done a good job of creating interest among recipients.

Similarly, salespeople who track email opens are very interested in knowing if a target opens an email multiple times, as that demonstrates strong interest. This helps salespeople score and prioritize leads based on their interest level.

Can’t Track Location, Company, or Device

In addition to multiple opens, another thing you won’t be able to track anymore is IP address. The problem with this is that you will no longer get geographic information on your email opens. For example, you won’t understand if your email resonated better with US vs. international targets. Similarly, the lack of IP information means you will no longer be able to track the open rates of recipients in different companies, which is especially important for B2B marketers. And lastly, you won’t know what kind of devices (e.g. mobile, desktop) recipients are using when they open your emails.

The Verdict

Overall, this is still good news for both users and email marketers. Although I, and plenty of other marketers, am still disappointed in Google for their keyword encryption, this most recent update is a welcome one. I believe marketers have gained more than they’ve lost with this update. Having said that, only time and experience will tell if email marketers will truly benefit from the tracking capabilities we’ve been promised. While comments from an anonymous Google spokesperson are not terribly comforting, MailChimp’s verification of the ability to track opens makes me confident that this update is in fact good news for marketers.

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