Email marketers have always faced the technological challenge of having to quickly adapting to the unknown, often in a matter of hours.
This week is one of those, where we find that Gmail has made changes to the way it handles images. At first, I can appreciate that this may sound insignificant, but it affects all of us.
In this blog post, I will try to demystify these changes for you.
What are the changes to Gmail?
Traditionally, when you open an email, the images download. When you go back to the email, a second impression of each of those images is recorded.
However, this week Gmail has changed this so that when the email is opened for the first time, Gmail changes the image links so that upon any further impressions/opens, they are served from the Gmail content platform.
How does this affect email marketers?
The following elements of your email marketing are some of the areas that you are likely to be affected:
You will not be able to track Gmail opens beyond the first open. Here’s an example scenario: email@example.com opens an email from you. If firstname.lastname@example.org then goes back to that email and opens it for a second time, it will not be tracked on the second open or any future opens.
Only the first instance of the open will be reported. Therefore, you may experience a lower gross open rate.
Location-based live content is likely to be inaccurate, as this is image-based. Currently, all geolocation content is showing as a Google server address, rather than the realtime location on the recipient, even on first open.
We are seeing this already, in all locations worldwide.
- Countdown timers that are fetched in real-time, will not update and fetch the new image upon the second time the email is opened. The original image will be shown again. This is currently not affecting users in the UK, but that is likely to be because Google are still rolling this out.
- Any analytics-based tracking by platform (webmail, desktop, mobile), and device will likely only count the first open in Gmail, rather than all of the opens.
- If you want to make a change to an image in an email that you have already sent out, perhaps because there is an error, you can of course overwrite the image in your ESP platform. However, Gmail recipients will not see the new image - just the old one.
Matt Hayes, Co-Founder of, Kickdynamic added
It is important to remember that images still have the same impact for email marketers as always. When users go back and re-open the email for the second time the same image is also displayed as normal. The user experience remains unaffected.
Live content still works at the first open. Subsequent opens will display the same image as the first open, which still has significant relevance and personalisation to the customer. Therefore, live content and open time personalisation still has a significant impact on email engagement.
Are there any workarounds?
Currently, there aren’t any known workarounds. It isn’t clear if Google will change this back at some point in the future, and sometimes we have seen changes like this quickly reversed when the impact on the industry is fully understood and taken into consideration.
But for now, the situation remains as I have explained here.