Gmail Image Changes: What It Means for Marketers

Written on
Dec 16, 2013 
Loren McDonald  |

ADOTAS – Last week, Gmail announced some big changes regarding images in emails. Now, users will see all images displayed in their messages automatically across desktop, iOS and Android. Instead of serving images directly from their original external host servers, Gmail will now serve all images through Google’s own secure proxy servers.

As a result, email marketers can expect to see their “unique” open rates start to increase. This is because historically many Gmail users will view an email without enabling images — which means the open tracking pixel inserting by email service providers also does not load –- along with the images within the email. Because of this (and not just with Gmail –- but their huge footprint had the biggest impact on reporting) — open rates for the last several years have been underreported.

Gmail open rates may now also increase slightly when someone is scanning/going through emails and the tracking pixel loads in a client with a preview pane or the tracking pixel is at the top for the email and loads simply upon scrolling through emails — but the recipient technically never “opened” the email. But this increase is probably very, very small.

On the flip side, “gross” or “total” opens for Gmail will now be under-reported. This is because Gmail will load the images in an email the first time the message is opened by a recipient from the host server (email service provider, client’s site, image hosting provider, etc.) — the open tracking image is counted in this scenario. But Google is now caching the image on Google’s servers after that initial open and therefore the tracking pixel does not ping the email service provider’s servers and so therefore any additional opens are not tracked and reported.

So for this aspect of the Gmail change I think it is generally positive. Unique open rates should now be tracked and reported more closely to the actions that recipients are actually taking. Very few marketers actually use gross or total opens, although some email service providers still do report open rates using gross opens – however this is not the standard, industry-agreed upon method. And for a marketer not knowing that someone has opened an email multiple times will have little to no impact. This is because there are very programs that marketers have built to act on knowing that someone has opened multiple times. There is a metric I call “opens to openers” that is a ratio of how many times people have opened an email divided by the number of people who have opened the message at least once. But it is a niche, rarely used metric that in theory reveals that some subscribers find content in your email of such value that they come back to the email multiple times. So this aspect will again have very little impact on marketers.

So the biggest concern is around email marketers who utilize services to serve up real-time content (images) that can be different on successive opens – so things like countdown timers, testing images that change once a winner is determined, etc. Additionally, location data will now show as being wherever the Google servers are that are hosting the cached images. Some marketers will serve up unique content to a recipient – say a special event or promotion at a store close to a recipient using the IP data.

Loren McDonald is VP of Industry Relations at Silverpop, a leading behavioral marketing automation technology provider. His role at Silverpop is to educate clients and prospects on best practices and emerging trends in email marketing and marketing automation. He has more than 25 years of experience in marketing, consulting and strategic planning. McDonald has held executive marketing positions at companies including Lyris Inc., EmailLabs, USWeb/CKS and Arthur Andersen.

He has written more than 400 articles and blogs, is a frequent speaker and presents roughly 20 Webinars each year. He has won several awards, including the eec 2011 Marketer of the Year and the 2005 American Business Award's (The Stevie's) Marketing Executive of the Year.

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