I’ve only recently been thinking about Gmail and its trial of grid view, though the trial has been happening since the end of March 2014.

The announcement had passed me by until I chatted to someone from an email build company that specialises in creative use of imagery. See this post on agile creative in email.

If you’re not familiar with Gmail’s grid view, it’s the ‘Pinterest-isation’ of the promotions tab in Gmail’s tabbed inbox, currently only for addresses that end in gmail.com.

There’s an example of such a ‘Pinterested’ inbox further down this post.

The tabbed inbox itself is a bit of a mixed blessing for marketers. On the one hand, it encourages intent on the part of the consumer. She only engages with promotions when she feels inclined to do so, and your message is less likely to have disappeared into the morass of personal or social email in other tabs.

On the other hand, she, the user, may never click on that promotions tab. The implications of such tendencies, I’ll go into further down this post.

But what are the implications of Gmail’s grid view? Here are some ideas…

The open is not the be-all and end-all?

Being able to surface a big ol’ hero image on an unopened email means that even if your recipients aren’t opening email, they may still be engaging with your brand in a way they wouldn’t with a subject line.

In some cases, an image can be used to convey pretty much the entirety of a message. An example, Kate Moss’ collection is launched at Top Shop. All the hero image has to do is show some nice threads and a date and bang I’m running out the door looking for that special blouse? Blouses are still a thing, right?

There has been some confusion about whether Google’s caching of images to its servers might stop senders from knowing if an email has been opened or not.

From what I can gather, this seems to be solvable with a no cache header, and Gmail’s showing of a hero image won’t interfere with open rate measurement. 

gmail grid view

The perfect use-case for agile creative?

Senders can use live images in this spot, like they can within an email. See the post I allude to in the intro to this post, for more detail on agile creative.

Essentially, one can download different images depending on time, location or device of opening. And if that hero image is pulling in live web content, conceivably the sender can change the offer, product, info therein.

Another reason to get on G+?

The little thumbnail image you can see in the image above, with a brand’s logo, this is pulled from verified G+ accounts.

So you better optimise this, like everything else you do. And there’s no better way to get verified than by taking the platform (semi)seriously and posting to it, increasing the fans in your circles until Google takes notice.

Guess what, you’re doing what Google loves, letting it know who you are, and letting your Google identity become your web identity.

Subject lines become less important?

This goes without saying, but I’ll say it. Those tricky subject lines designed to lure you in don’t matter anymore.

Sure the hero image can be used for the same purposes, but at least the recipient has more to go on. A picture paints a thousand words, which leads us on to..

Visuals now more important than text?

We’ve seen how much visuals can increase engagement rate on social. See the tweet below, which hauled in double the retweets it would have without a pic.

Facebook has also weighted images heavily compared to text, Twitter now shows them in its feed and allows for slideshows. Vine and Instagram allow lovely moving imagery in feed, too.

If you’re not on the beautiful bandwagon of beautiful imagery, you’re missing out. Not using an image in grid view will mean 'white space of death' in the preview box.

Of course, with grid view, you can specify which image displays. See Google Developers for more detail. 580 x 400 pixels is the optimum size for this spot.

Will Google further monetise Gmail?

Gmail, the free version, already shows ads of course.

But some people have pointed out that the tabbed inbox and grid view combined might allow Google to monetise this part of Gmail by charging senders.

The grid view means it would be ‘less weird’ if an email was pinned to the top of the inbox. Perhaps these emails could be shifted to the top of other tabs, where the ads currently display.

This might feel less intrusive to the recipient and be more valuable to senders than advertisers. 

These are just some early thoughts on the implications,  please let me know what you think below.

Ben Davis

Published 8 May, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (7)

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Jordan Cohen

Great article Ben. We love the new, more visual inbox! We recently put together a webinar with recommendations and resources for marketers interested in optimizing for the Gmail Grid View - available here for anyone who's interested: http://info.movableink.com/Gmail-Grid-View-Webinar-Scrubbed


Jordan Cohen
Movable Ink

over 4 years ago


Neil Hendry

Thanks Ben....not seen this new approach to delivery in my Gmail account yet.....it makes sense, subject line in emails are competing against the deluge of other emails that people receive daily. Open rates have no doubt suffered as a result.

This new delivery method seems to also draw upon Facebook's newsfeed ads, where an image and brief text are used to capture the attention of the viewer. Allows for greater creativity for the advertiser.



over 4 years ago

Joe Hawkes

Joe Hawkes, Digital Marketing Manager at Grant Thornton International

This is brilliant - signed up to the field test and looking forward to the new look.

I work in professional services and see a lot of companies still sending plain-text promotional emails. It will be interesting to see if any decide to up their game to HTML in order to compete in the Gmail inbox.

over 4 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Here's a simple example to demonstrate a personalized real-time image that could appear right there in the Gmail grid view in-box.

Pretty much anything you can do in an email can be done in the grid view image, from simple personalization like "Dear First Name Last Name to personalized product suggestions as in the example above. Just one exception: it's a single image and clicking it anywhere opens the email - you can't (yet?) setup an image map to route different clicks to different places.

Here's how to do the mark-up:

over 4 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

Great info. Thanks Pete!

over 4 years ago

Jordie van Rijn

Jordie van Rijn, email marketing specialist at emailmonday

Hi Ben, I made an overview of all posts and interesting articles that have been published about Gmail Grid View, here:


over 4 years ago

Ankesh Kumar

Ankesh Kumar, CEO at socialmail

These are good first steps on how email marketing is going to change. The do not fundamentally change a broken paradigm. Marketing emails do not belong with a users inbox. Email is two way communication, text based and a lean forward activity.

Marketing emails are content discovery, a lean back activity, visual and one way communication.

We at Socialmail believe that as opposed to pushing content into a users inbox, users should be able to search for what they want when they want it.

about 4 years ago

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