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How Gmail’s Image Update Will Affect Reports

ROS HODGEKISS - DEC 12, 2013

That Gmail are now displaying images by default has brewed a lot of discussion in regards to both the email experience and tracking. We’ve been keeping an eye on these changes – here’s how they will impact email senders like yourself.

First of all, it’s worth kicking off this discussion with a little perspective. At last count, Gmail market share for both its webmail and mobile clients (as measured by opens) was around the 3% mark. So to run a headline like, “Gmail blows up email marketing” is misleading and wrong. If you put reasonable thought into your campaigns, there are greater issues to consider – like, whether your call-to-action is remarkable enough to get your readers’ attention… Or if the new Hobbit movie is worth lining up at midnight for.

So with that in mind, Gmail’s news is both great and rather irritating for senders in equal measure. But not game changing, by any means.

Images are now displayed by default

First, the good news – we’ll be gradually seeing images being turned on in Gmail inboxes, without having the recipient have to click a “Display images below” prompt first. This means that image blocking should no longer be an issue in this client, which with luck, will have a positive effect on brand recognition and engagement. Having your logo, or a particularly juicy image immediately visible is undoubtedly a good thing… However it comes at a price to email senders.

In order to make automatic image downloading safe for recipients, Gmail has opted to serve all images via Google’s own proxy servers. While this provides an extra degree of safety, not having images downloaded from external sources like Campaign Monitor’s servers is sure to have some impact on reports. This is because all email service providers rely on image downloads to provide some kind of tracking – let it be to determine which email client a subscriber is using, where an email has been opened, or simply that the email has been opened at all.

How will these changes affect my reports?

The skinny is that while Gmail open rates should not be affected in Campaign Monitor reports (we have workarounds), device and geolocation tracking remains an issue for all email service providers. Going forward, some subscribers using webmail Gmail won’t have their device recorded and may show up in Worldview as being located in Mountain View, CA (Google’s HQ). Given the changing nature of Gmail (and our team’s knack for hacks), this may change.

Our postmaster, Andrew, was very quick to report on Gmail’s changes in his Email Experts blog. I highly recommend reading his post for a detailed look at not only these issues, but how email services have continued to track opens in Gmail.

As email marketers, the bottom line is that we should stay focused on sending excellent campaigns – just as previous changes did not bring on the early decline of western world, it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself suddenly lacking the information needed to iterate on and improve your campaigns. For webmail Gmail, images will start being served from Gmail’s servers today, however mobile apps will make the switch during 2014. If you have a question about Gmail’s changes, or want to share your 2 cents, please leave a comment below.

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