Pay attention email marketing geeks!

Just a few weeks ago, Google made a seemingly small but significant change in the way it processes email images. Rather than prompt recipients to click a link to “display images,” Gmail now auto-loads the images by default.

Hooray for readers!

But what about for marketers?

That’s where it gets a little tricky.

First, let’s talk about how email marketers typically track email open rates, or when you actually open an email.

Usually, it’s done by inserting a small image into the email. When that image is loaded, we know the email has also been opened. There’s not much to it, really.

An email marketer tracks the percentage of people who open an email as an open rate. Historically, open rates have been under-represented amongst Gmail users, simply because recipients would have to take that extra step of clicking “display images” for the image to load. Only a small group of users who opened an email would click “display images.”

Introducing, Gmail Image Caching

I’ll promise not to get too technical, but what Google is doing here is pretty remarkable. They’re loading images by default, but loading them via a proxy server and caching the images.

gmail email open rate image tracking

This is VERY important for marketers. Using images to identify a recipient’s browser details, like whether they’re on a phone or iPad or using Chrome, or even for tracking their geographic location, will no longer work.

Also, since the images are cached, marketers can no longer track subsequent opens. Only the first open by a recipient will be tracked.

Still with me?

More Accurate Open-Rate Analytics!

Image caching scares a lot of marketers, but I’m actually quite happy about it.

Here’s how Google Product Manager John Rae-Grant weighs in about this recent change.

“So what does this mean for you? 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.”

Now that the images are shown by default, Gmail users will no longer be under-represented in email open-rate analytics.

Also, and this prompts an entirely separate discussion, as an inbound marketer I’m not nearly as interested in email open rates as I am click-through rates or landing page conversion rates.

Those numbers are far more compelling.