Gmail, Android and the bloated Apple open rates

Personally, it feels like almost everyone I know is on Gmail. It has me baffled how the open rate market share for Gmail has always remained so small, even with the recent introduction of multiple inboxes. Currently it is floating around 3%.

If Android has a 52.5% market share compared to Apple's 34.3%, and the Gmail Android app is apparently twice as popular as the default Android client - How can this be possible? Even with the multiple inboxes disadvantage, this should project Gmail to have an open rate of about 10-15%...

This brings me to my second point - How much of a handicap does the auto image loading on Apple devices really have? I think it would be great for CM or Litmus to publish the projected realistic open rates alongside the typical Apple swayed results.

Doing quick math, if there are 1.5x more (52.5% vs 34.3%) Android users than Apple users, the combined Android client opens should equal roughly the same. Android default client 11% + Gmail 3% only accounts for 14% vs Apple's 24%. Obviously Gmail is cross-device and there are other clients such as Yahoo etc not taken into account, but there is a big discrepancy there.

Considering a 'projected' market share, the Apple percentage would drop, evening out the share with other clients including those like Yahoo and Gmail which have no media query support.

Which brings me to the third point - I think the percentage of subscribers with unsupported clients is larger than many people realize. There also seems to be a lot of Outlook users with media queries being stripped by their Exchange Servers, which is rarely taken into account.

For this reason, I think media queries are an overrated technique (at least for driving the structure of an email). For html-email, a fluid-first design with media queries playing a minor support role seems to me, a far superior option, offering 100% compatibility across major clients. There are also align (float) based techniques that look great on devices, and have far better client support than media queries.

Anyway, that is my 2+2+2=6 cents worth. Anyone else feel like everyone they know has a Gmail account?

How much emphasis do you put on Gmail and other non-responsive clients, particularly on devices? What techniques do you use to maximize compatibility?

Anyone else utilizing 'hybrid' techniques with media queries playing only a support role?

goatlady goatlady, 4 years ago

I have also always been surprised at how low the Gmail open rates are - like you, it seems like everyone I know uses Gmail. However, I've also thought that might be because a lot of the people I interact with are geeks and developers, who are perhaps less likely to subscribe to email lists for large mainstream retail brands (where i think of general statistics as coming from). It's certainly an interesting discussion. I also try to rely on techniques other than media queries, although that's more for simplicity's sake than from considering that the stats might not be accurate.

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syd, 4 years ago

Last winter I did a campaign for a 'cheap' ski lodge. Their mail list had the highest proportion of 'freebie' email accounts like gmail, hotmail, yahoo and uni student accounts I've ever seen... and the weirdest pattern of openings too.

There were almost as many opens on day two as day one and the tail just dragged on for days and days.

So my theory is people with freebie email addresses:
1. are less likely to check their emails every day
2. they use these addresses as secondary addresses
3. they (like me) use them as junk mail repositories and maybe look inside once a week - by which time it's hardly worth opening an 'old' email newsletter

The low Android open rate is also reflected in terms of web site visits by Android devices vs iOS. On many of the sites I design the iOS to Android ratio is 4:1 or more.

All any of this says is that no matter what the sales figures are for iOS and Android devices iOS owners are more likely to use their devices to engage with the internet and email.

JohnP JohnP, 4 years ago

Thanks everyone for your comments

@Syd 4:1 is a huge gap. Due to the many different devices Android users may have, is it possible that their visits are falling into the 'unknown' bucket instead? Maybe because each specific device is less popular, the reporting isn't as developed...?

Also, thanks for your insight on the 'freebie' addresses. Personally, I use Gmail to collate about 10 different non-freebie email addresses (including several of my web domains), so I had never really looked at it as a trash bin for junk email. This obviously could play a role for low open rates for Gmail as a whole, but for me, it still doesn't seem to add up on the Android vs iPhone level. Android users have to use either Gmail or the default client for their 'serious' mail, and the combined serious mail open rates should add up to about the same as the iPhone.

@Goatlady I haven't really noticed the same geek/dev exclusivity with Gmail. It seems to me that the drop-off is with people who are less internet savvy or less engaged with the web in general (Gmail's options can be overwhelming). Those are also the people I'd expect probably only check email once a week.

carl.michael, 4 years ago

I was previously working for a company with an email list of around half a million subscribers.

Gmail was the largest single domain that we mailed to, and more interestingly we were primarily a B2B organisation.

According to Litmus Gmail figures are falling still.

Presumably it's just people not loading images.

supernath, 4 years ago

I think people are forgetting that a lot of people use their gmail account in other clients. I for example, have a bunch of gmail accounts, and I view the majority of my emails on my iPhone. I know for a fact at least 80% of my close and extended family do the same.

I do agree that the reporting is a bit flawed due to images enabled by default, but that doesn't mean iPhones have bloated open rates. Technically all those opens are legit, they just might not be the most valid/engaged open.

Similarly, quite a few clients without images enabled are reporting correctly... although it certainly is frustrating to see someone read a whole email without turning images on and not counting as an open for us.

I guess my point is that it's the flawed way we measure opens that is the problem.

JohnP JohnP, 4 years ago
supernath :

I for example, have a bunch of gmail accounts, and I view the majority of my emails on my iPhone. I know for a fact at least 80% of my close and extended family do the same.

Aside the huge percentage of Gmail users on the web or mac devices, I'm mostly considering the portion that use Gmail on Android as a replacement of the default client. There are 200% more using Gmail, on an OS that is 150% more popular than iPhone. Meanwhile, iPhone has apparently 800% more opens than Gmail. That math doesn't add up IMHO.

Knowing so many people are choosing Gmail on an iPhone as well, also only makes the gap larger. Those, plus all the web opens should be added on top of that equation.

supernath :

I do agree that the reporting is a bit flawed due to images enabled by default, but that doesn't mean iPhones have bloated open rates. Technically all those opens are legit, they just might not be the most valid/engaged open.

True, but "Gmail, Android and the under reported open rates because images were off by default" just didn't have the controversial impact I was after... Thanks for your comments @supernath

Redferret, 4 years ago

I'd tend to agree, I think projected market share is incredibly difficult to predict though. I think that's a real challenge for ESPs, which is why the current thinking of Litmus etc... seems to just display the data as it is.

Responsive at the moment seems to be solely focused at the iPhone mail app, especially now looking at my Nexus 5, the android mail app dislikes display:block on table cells meaning that it's now a huge time commitment to keep everything responsive and working.

Fluid's does seem to be the way to go. Yes the minority that view full screen will have a less-than-perfect experience and yes it means that more than ever,  we need to take control of the design side but it's worth it for a better user experience across the board.

Gmail app apologist
JohnP JohnP, 4 years ago
Redferret :

Yes the minority that view full screen will have a less-than-perfect experience

Using a max-width wrapper div prevents most clients from over stretching the fluid design, keeping the desktop version just as clean as the mobile version is. Outlook '07/'10/'13 are the only clients that you can't prevent this from happening. You can use a media query min-width override for the rest that do not support max-width.

Media queries are the obvious option to take a multiple column desktop layout and turn it into a single column mobile layout. But why go multi-column in the first place?

If we are thinking mobile-first, we are thinking single column. If we are thinking about the flow of the email, leading the eye toward a call to action, we are also thinking single column. Multiple columns are distractions when there is a clear CTA.

Obviously there is a use for multi-column layouts, but in most cases, I think it is better to not segment your design into 2 completely different versions.

If the additional column information is optional (meaning you are happy to hide it or move it for mobile), you could argue that your message is diluted by it being there in the first place. Not always the case, but food for thought...

Redferret, 4 years ago

I agree completely, and if you plan on split testing content, anything you show/hide can affect the results.

Ultimately a lot of advice out there is based on that skewed iPhone figure. I wonder if people would be pushing responsive if they knew the real figures.

Gmail app apologist
JohnP JohnP, 4 years ago

Gmail is turning on images by default. Good timing for this discussion although we'll have to wait until it is rolled out on the Android app in 2014.

Does this mean we can expect a huge spike in the Gmail market share?

@Ros - in your blog announcement you mention that CM has workarounds for image loading. Is this something you have in play at the moment? Does that mean that the Gmail opens will remain the same?

If CM already uses a non-image based technique, that would suggest the numbers will remain at around 3%. I'm still baffled how that can be so small. I'm interested in what your take is on this topic... I assume it is in contrast to mine - you usually pipe in by now ;)

Redferret, 4 years ago

@JohnP  the technique CM use is explained in depth in a link on the article. Basically they amend the HTTP request for the tracking pixel so that it fetches it every time. Clever stuff and yes already in place I believe, it's a small change in terms of implementation.

Open rates for Gmail should go up dramatically BUT there will probably be no differentiating between mobile/desktop or device

Gmail app apologist
JohnP JohnP, 4 years ago

Thanks @Redferret, I did read up about it quickly and assumed it was already being used by CM. But wouldn't that mean that CM (and possibly Litmus) already have the unbiased open rates of Gmail vs Apple? If the HTTP request triggers independently of image loading, then we are already comparing apples with... (well Gmails).

Some clarification would be great...

Redferret, 4 years ago

The fix they've put in place just ensures that every image is requested each time you open, so the accuracy of opens stays the same. However, ope rate will go up due to the fact that images will be downloaded by default.

Gmail app apologist
JohnP JohnP, 4 years ago

Thanks Redferret. Looking forward to the final numbers.

Anyone want to predict the Gmail market share % once the dust has settled? This would be a great polling question/competition for CM to run.

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