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.