So what does this mean for email marketing?

In Gmail’s own words;

So what does this mean for you {the recipient}? Simple: your messages are more safe and secure, your images are checked for known viruses or malware, and you’ll never have to press that pesky “display images below” link again. With this new change, your email will now be safer, faster and more beautiful than ever.    

Gmail is doing this by rewriting image queries to go through its own servers. If it doesn’t have a copy of the image, it will call it from the original source, if it does, Gmail will serve it up!

What this means is that an image within an email will be served the first time when someone opens an email, but then it gets cached by google. Google takes a copy of this image and when the recipient opens the email again, it will be Google serving the image, not one from the ESP.

So, does this have the potential to impact email marketing? In a nutshell, yes. On the positive side, Gmail will now display all of the lovely images in your creative, presenting the email the way the marketing department intended.

This will improve engagement, especially for new subscribers who have not yet had the chance to mark you as a safe sender. But what about that ‘other’ image on the email, the one that no one can see and the one that email marketers love. The tracking pixel.

What’s the effect on open tracking?

The tracking of an ‘open’ in an email sent to the recipient, is done by inserting an invisible one pixel image into the email body. When the email is opened, the one pixel tracking image is served, and an open is recorded by the sending ESP.

So as you can see, this has the potential to affect the way that open tracking works, as it is only the first image call that is served from the ESP, subsequent calls are made on the images served from Google.

There has been speculation within the industry, of what the potential could be and whether there could be an impact on open rates and the ability to track user behaviour.

From what we have seen so far, unique open rates seem to be remaining the same, but if you like looking at your total open rates, this might be affected in the future, as Google will serve up all of the subsequent tracking image calls.

The other service that seems to be affected, is the geo location data. Device tracking too, is likely to be impacted as Google are blocking the user agent string as well.

Gmail concedes that the following services will be affected:

  • Senders can’t use image loading to get information like your IP address or location.
  • Senders can’t set or read cookies in your browser. 
  • Gmail checks your images for known viruses or malware.

And then a note on ‘open tracking’:

In some cases, senders may be able to know whether an individual has opened a message with unique image links. As always, Gmail scans every message for suspicious content and if Gmail considers a sender or message potentially suspicious, images won’t be displayed and you’ll be asked whether you want to see the images.

It’s not all bad news…

So, Gmail is accepting for the time being, that marketers will still be able to track opens. Antony Ha, reporting in Tech Crunch, obtained this information from an unnamed Gmail source:

…marketers who track open rates through images will still be able to do so — indeed, they suggested that the data might be more accurate now since open rates will count users who read the emails but don’t load the images. What won’t get tracked, however, is other user data like users’ IP address.

In brief:

  • Unique opens should not be affected.
  • The tracking of subsequent opens is affected.
  • Device tracking is affected.
  • Geo location is affected.

This is a big change in the way Google treats email, but the net effect seems to be relatively limited and potentially quite positive. No doubt marketers will be thoroughly investigating any further potential impact this could have on tracking.

First was priority inbox, followed by tabs and now image serving, I wonder what little surprises Gmail will have for us next?