In December 2013, Google announced that images within emails would be displayed automatically for all Gmail users, regardless of whether or not they clicked “Display Images Below.” Google will now cache images and serve them through their own secure proxy servers to protect users from viruses or malware that could be associated with externally hosted images. The change was also made to speed up the open time for each message and make the user experience more consistent with mobile email.
How will this impact email marketing?
The biggest change for marketers will be with unique open rate data for Gmail messages. Since the image cache will only serve the first image, email marketers will only be able to track unique opens for Gmail users.
Google says the change will have a positive impact on open rates since marketers will no longer have to depend on users both opening the message and loading the images. This may in fact lead to Gmail open rates increasing, as well as boosting total opens.
However, while open rates may increase, Gmail will no longer be sending the IP address information of their users, effectively limiting the amount of data collected from opens. Tracking geolocation and whether users view it on mobile, desktop or web could prove to be a challenge.
Gmail is reported to have over 425 million users, so this change is definitely worth noting, especially if it starts a trend within the email industry. It also means email marketers should focus on the appearance of their design more than ever. Gmail recipients will no longer have to click to see images, so the message will be front and center upon first viewing. Placing emphasis on email best practices and strong email design can help you maximize the increased visibility and make a great first impression.