December 17, 2013
With 425 million active users, Gmail is the largest email service in the world. So understandably, when big changes are made to the way Google serves images, marketers are going to take notice. But instead of playing the old-school game of operator where the facts get diluted as the message gets passed around, it’s important to separate the facts from the unfounded fear.
Here are the facts. Rather than serve email images from external hosts (the way they always have), Google will now check the images for viruses and malware itself and serve them directly through its own proxy servers. So instead of users being asked whether or not they want to display images in their message, images will now automatically be shown by default.
At the most basic level, this change means that certain information, such as the user’s location, type of device being used, and time of day might not be communicated back to the sender, depending on how they access Gmail. But the impact really will be minimal.
It’s been estimated that only 2% to 5% of the typical consumer email list will be affected—and all it means to these subscribers is that they’ll receive standard, non-personalized messages in their inbox. Why the small amount? Because this change only pertains to people who access Gmail on a desktop browser or the Gmail app—not those who access it via Apple’s Mail app, Outlook, or any other desktop email client. And since more Gmail users open email in iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads than through web-based Gmail itself, the impact will be pretty minimal.
What happens to emails that feature real-time content? In reality, not much. For the vast majority of recipients, the real-time, personalized messages will render exactly as planned at the first open. If recipients come back a few days later or refresh their inbox, the same relevant cached image will appear. But since 97% of people open each marketing email only once, there shouldn’t be much, if any, impact.
So what does this all mean to a marketer? It just shows that open-time personalization is more crucial than ever to make that first message relevant and engaging enough to get recipients to take action.
Ultimately, this is a big change with very minimal effect. The key is to continue having meaningful interactions with your subscribers every chance you get—the rest is all hype.
Nicole Kerr is a senior product manager at Monetate where she oversees the company's Engage email product. She was previously a product manager at Nokia Location & Commerce (formerly NAVTEQ) where she helped define, develop, launch and support Nokia/NAVTEQ's location-based mobile ad platform. She also spent time at Yellow Book USA as a New Media Product Manager.