A few weeks ago, we reported on a study conducted by marketing services firm Epsilon. The study, which evaluated how the introduction of Google’s Gmail tabs has been affecting email marketers by looking at four million sets of emails over a period of seven months, evaluated Gmail’s performance in comparison to competing providers Hotmail and Yahoo!. The findings revealed some concerning results: while the three ESPs experienced similar open rate patterns throughout the study’s duration, Google’s click rates dropped in June and never recovered. But on the heels of these results, Google actually delivered some good news to email marketers, too.
Google announced that thanks to a variety of security improvements, images will now load within an email automatically, without a link prompting users to “display images below.” Through a series of updates, Google has altered the image loading process to be more secure—to get rid of virus and malware risks, all images will be hosted on Google’s own servers.
There has already been some concern surrounding a potential drop in email open rates as a result of the changes, but Bob Sybydlo, director of market intelligence and deliverability at Yesmail, assures me that the potential drop is not necessarily a cause for alarm. “Only marketers that calculate open rates based on multiple open rates will see a drop,” Sybydlo explains. “This is because with the changes in place, images will only load once and Gmail will report this as a single unique open. Many marketers, however, look at unique opens rather than recurrent opens anyway, and they won’t be affected by this change,” he adds.
Still, there is a downside to the news. According to Sybydlo, the change will limit the extractable consumer data marketers can gather from Gmail users. Information such as the IP address or the device consumers are using to view an email might not be available because “once Gmail has downloaded an image, the image hosting link will be replaced with one from their own image hosting server,” he explains.
Overall, though, the effects on email marketers should be positive ones.
“The experience for both desktop and mobile users will only improve with this change. With images now loading automatically at the time the email is first opened, the content appears complete and is displayed as it was designed and intended to be viewed by the marketer,” Sybydlo says. “This means it will be easier for recipients to see the email’s branding, identify the sender, and immediately determine whether an email could be malicious. Users receiving image-heavy emails will be able to view them intact, which may incite action such as click or a purchase right away.”
News of this update comes at a crucial time, with 54 percent of consumers agreeing that an online shopping site must have enhanced visual imagery to be considered excellent, according to Walker Sands’ recent survey Reinventing Retail: What Businesses Need to Know in 2014. Walker Sands’ findings speak to why Gmail’s move is a good one for retailers—consumers are looking for a more visual experience across channels and Gmail is doing its part to deliver it.