Google is in the process of rolling out an update to Gmail that changes how images are displayed in the body of an email. There has been a lot of discussion (and confusion) on the Internet lately over how these changes will impact email campaign reports. The short answer is “you won’t notice much of a difference in your reports”, but if you’d like more information, read on.
What Changed in Gmail?
It used to be that Gmail blocked images by default and would only display them if the recipient clicked to turn them back on. When the recipient turned on image loading, their browser would load the images directly from the source. Starting this month, Gmail now has image loading turned on by default, but instead loads the images through a proxy (instead of straight from the source) for privacy reasons.
Why Does this Matter?
Email open tracking works by embedding in the email an image that is unique to each recipient. When that image is loaded, Direct Mail can report that “open” back to you and give you additional information, such as the recipient’s geolocation, email client, etc. Since Gmail has traditionally blocked images by default, your email campaign report has typically not be able to determine with great accuracy how many Gmail users opened your email (unless they turned on image loading or clicked a link).
With these new changes (image loading on by default), you may notice that more Gmail opens are showing up in your report. Remember, this doesn’t mean that more people are reading your emails now, it just means that we are able to collect somewhat more accurate data from Gmail. There are a couple downsides, however:
- Since images are loaded via a proxy now, Direct Mail cannot obtain accurate geolocation data.
- Since images are cached by Google, Direct Mail cannot obtain a 100% accurate account of how many times an email was opened by the same user. The number of unique opens will still be correct, however.
Note that these changes only affect people reading their Gmail via a web browser (on desktop or mobile). Folks reading their Gmail via Apple Mail, iOS Mail, Outlook, or other email clients are not affected.
Google’s recent change to Gmail image loading means your email campaign reports will no longer contain geolocation data for Gmail users, but, on the flip side, might have more accurate open tracking numbers. The Gmail web interface presently accounts for only 3% of email opens worldwide, so the impact on your campaign reports will likely be hard to detect.
It remains to be seen if the other webmail heavyweights (e.g. AOL, Outlook, Yahoo) implement similar changes. If so, we’ll be sure to keep you up to date here. Have a great weekend!