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Marketers and Gmail, After Tabs and Image-Caching

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February 24, 2014 - By Linda Vetter - Email Marketing News

The four major Internet Service Providers (ISPs)—Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, and Gmail—make up more than 60% of marketers’ subscriber bases. Just shy of a decade old, Gmail is a relative newcomer to the webmail game: AOL was established in 1991, Hotmail in 1996, Yahoo in 1997. However, a new Yesmail report reveals that Gmail is the top performer in terms of user base growth and activity.  In Q4 2013, 19% of Gmail users had been active (opened, clicked) within the last year, compared to just 10% for AOL, 12% for Hotmail, and 14% for Yahoo.  What’s more, Gmail accounted for nearly half of all new subscribers (defined as users who had opted into a marketer’s database within Q4).

New subscribers (opted-in within Q4) by Domain

These positive figures come after a series of controversial changes to Google’s email service. Last December, Google announced that images would load automatically in Gmail and recipients would no longer have to click “display images below.” Google now hosts all email images on its secure servers to eliminate the risk of viruses or malware, and mask information about where and how users read messages.

While this update was intended to improve security and privacy for customers, companies have wondered about the tradeoff, asking “How does this affect my email marketing?” Yesmail took a deep dive into a media client’s emails opened by Gmail users, and found that, as of the end of January 2014, Google’s image-caching had little to no impact on the ability to collect user agent information. Meaning, details like device and browser/email client used by readers, as well as opens (even after the initial occurrence) are still relayed to the client. Of course, it’s still very early to assess long-term effects of this Gmail practice, but our preliminary look found no significant changes in reporting.

Before Gmail started caching images, many marketers were concerned about its new Tabs feature, which automatically filters incoming messages into categories such as Primary, Social, and Promotions. Businesses anticipated that Gmail users wouldn’t see promotional emails, but when analyzing Q4 performance results, Yesmail found that user engagement over the past 90 days was the highest with Gmail (11%) relative to the other major ISPs: Yahoo (8%), Hotmail (7%), and AOL (6%). These four ISPs make up more than 60% of marketing databases, with Gmail subscribers comprising 14% of that figure and growing as more users sign up every day.

 Worries about Gmail Tabs were unwarranted and unless email marketers experienced deliverability issues with Gmail, they could treat their Gmail subscribers like the rest of their audience and keep their strategy the same.  “If Gmail starts to show partial filtering or the engagement rates have dipped, we work with marketers on mailing Gmail differently. Often our recommendations relate to targeting, such as removing inactive Gmail subscribers from the list or utilizing secondary IPs for the inactive group,” says Brad van der Woerd, Director of Market Intelligence & Deliverability at Yesmail. Additional program adjustments could include sending ‘Add to Address Book’ reminders specifically to Gmail users or taking other actions to improve marketers’ Gmail reputation. In essence, van der Woerd’s team recommends maintaining email deliverability best practices instead of focusing on the actual institution of the Gmail Tabs feature.

About the Author
, VP, Marketing - Linda is a tactical demand generation expert with over 10 years of experience implementing strategic lead generation marketing programs. Linda is instrumental in managing the go-to-market programs and extending Yesmail’s reach in the marketplace. Most recently, Linda was the Senior Marketing Manager at Experian where she was responsible for generating demand for Experian’s Customer Intelligence Platform via strategic multi-channel marketing programs. Prior to Experian, Linda was the Director of Brand and Field Marketing at Alterian. There, she increased lead generation by 88% by strategically managing go-to-market activities for their lines of business. Linda also grew the leads generated by their monthly webinar series program by 432% globally. With the implementation of an asset deployment strategy, content, such as whitepapers, ebooks, presentations, etc., was repurposed and made more widely accessible via multiple online channels. This was a vital element to the success of Alterian’s inbound marketing strategies, which improved their online footprint and garnered such accomplishments as an 86% increase in blog traffic, 200+% increase in YouTube viewership, 65,000 Slideshare views - which collected 330+ leads. Born and raised on the north side of Chicago, Linda needs to be regularly talked off the ledge as she is incessantly tormented by the latest dismal Cubs season.