Impact of Gmail’s Latest Image Loading Change on E-mail Marketing [Demystified]

Google announced on December 12th 2013 that the behavior of images loading inside Gmail messages is changing significantly. Here’s how.

Google announced on December 12th 2013 that the behavior of images loading inside Gmail messages is changing significantly. This has significant implications for email marketers world-wide.

Gmail's Image Load Feature
Gmail’s Image Load Feature

First, some context

Gmail has well over 400 million users. With that sort of size, any feature change in Gmail is bound to have an impact on an email marketer’s strategies.

Typical email marketing platforms insert a 1×1 sized tracking pixel inside every email newsletter to enable open and click tracking. When the end user opens the email and clicks “Display Images” inside Gmail, the pixel gets loaded from the email marketing platform’s server and hence the open is recorded, along with information like recipient name, operating system, device, location, IP address, etc.

So, what’s changed in Gmail now?Gmail New Loading Behavior

With this change, images inserted by you in your email newsletters will get stored and served directly by Gmail servers to the end user.

The end user will not have to click on “Display Images” anymore to view the images in an email anymore. Images will load by default as soon as the user opens your email.

Opinions from around the web

A lot has been written about this change in the past few days.

  • Ars Technica says this will hide any open tracking, unless a user clicks on a link the email.
  • Marketing Land says this will display previously unseen opens – the ones who opened your emails but didn’t click on “Display Images”.
  • ClickZ says these changes are terrific news for email marketers.

There is some confusion on the exact impact this has on email open monitoring. Things are getting clearer though as the change rolls out to more Gmail users around the world.

How this affects the end user / reader

  • Gmail users will now see your images by default.
  • Since the images are being stored and served by Google’s server, the images should load faster. Google has forever been obsesses with speed and they will use optimized delivery networks to ensure your images load from the nearest servers.
  • Gmail users have higher protection from websites sending malicious emails with spammy images.

How this affects you, the email marketer

  • Since images load by default, the open rates you see will be more accurate and probably higher than before. Earlier, you were missing out on open rates from people who opened your emails but did not click “Display Images”
  • You will not get visibility into the second or subsequent times the user opens your image. It’s only the first open that you will be able to track.
  • There should be no direct impact on click-through rates. There may be secondary impact on clicks as your email will appear different (better) than before.
  • You will not get visibility into Gmail users’ device and IP/location information any more.

You need to focus on content

This change puts even more focus on your content (images and text). Gmail users will see the entire email as you designed it right from the start. This puts more emphasis on the first impression your email creates as it loads. If you create high quality content, your emails will get opened and you will see an accurate statistic on your open rates. This will help guide you on what content is working well with Gmail users.

Using high quality and useful images in your email will help you engage with your users better as they will by default see your images. So pay close attention to your images.

This change is intended to make life easier for end users, which it surely will succeed in doing. So as an email marketer, this is good news for you. Your users will likely engage with your email more after this change.

Happy emailing!

About the author

Rahul Lakhani is the CEO of Canvass, which helps businesses with its all in one marketing software. Prior to starting Canvass, Rahul spent time getting inspired by great minds at Google, Advanced Micro Devices, Georgia Institute of Technology and the Indian School of Business.

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