January 23, 2014

How will changes to Gmail affect Email Marketing?

With tabs and image hosting, Google is changing email marketing.

Google has been making a number of changes across its many brands over the past year to 18 months that have caused some significant shifts in both how some of its core products function and how users can work with them. A look at Google Plus sees a large switch in how it interacts with other Google brands like Gmail and Youtube, not without uproar either; but two interesting changes for Gmail while not seismic in their impact on the average user,  could lead to some interesting developments in the world of email marketing.

The first, implemented in the first half of 2013, was the introduction of “tabs”. These tabs were Google’s way of sorting through new messages into three distinct categories – primary, social and promotion. Primary for personal email, social for ones from social networks and promotional for any marketing campaigns. The difference maker? Gmail notifications were now only being sent on primary messages. People were ready to sign the death warrant for email marketing. Six months on, while Gmail open rates have definitely decreased, this isn’t an apocalypse by any stretch, and there do seem to be some other benefits as a result – people *seem* less likely to unsubscribe with the new tabs.

The other change came with Google rolling out a new service in December of last year looking at imaging caching. I’m sure we’ve all opened emails in the past which have had the images blocked by default, this was because previously any email client would have to load the images from an email server, running the risk of downloading something you shouldn’t. Google will now host images in emails themselves, effectively doing the check before the email is opened.

This impacts email marketing in two ways. While repeat opens and other information will no longer be available, open rates previously could only be monitored if someone clicked the button saying “show blocked images”; so people could be opening the emails but not have it registered. Now all opens will be registered, meaning that while newer data from Gmail might be more two dimensional, but it will likely be a more accurate representation of the real data.

Gmail are making moves to change the mechanics of how users receive their emails; these changes could make a difference no doubt, but while it’s only isolated to Gmail own-brand applications it’s unlikely to make a tangible difference over emails as a whole. Keeping up with Google, along with all of the other major email providers, is extremely important in email marketing.

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