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Gmail shakes up mobile email, curbs dynamic content

Google is changing the game for mobile email with a change to Gmail that will make it harder for marketers to deliver dynamic content on mobile.

Until now, consumers had to opt to download images in an email, allowing marketers to track opens and views. Now, Gmail is caching all images on Google servers and changing inbox defaults to automatically download the images, causing some new obstacles for email tracking as well as adaptive email.

?Emails will simply look better upon first impression in the inbox,? said Dutch Hollis, general manager of client success at Knotice, Akron, OH. ?The design as intended will show instead of copy surrounding plain boxes where images are intended. In addition, offers and details that are embedded into the images will be displayed on Gmail, which may result in better campaign performance.

?On the downside, this Gmail change could also impact message relevance capabilities,? he said. ?Data such as device type and location will not be available since the tracking pixels in images are being redirected by Google, which means emails with dynamic content will not be possible.

?For example, when images are cached by Google, a dynamic ?countdown to savings? image won?t work ? if the initial open with ?three hours to save? image is cached and served up an hour later, even to the same user, you won?t be able to show ?two hours to save? in the email to replace it, so you?ll have to design around that. Geo-location and device type details are also lost from metrics for many Gmail users.?

Mobile Email
With more and more emails being opened on mobile devices, this news has a huge impact for mobile marketers.

According to Return Path data, 44 percent of emails were opened on a mobile device in June, but only one in four marketers are optimizing emails for mobile devices (see story). 

With the smaller real estate inherent on mobile devices, it becomes even more important to make sure that marketers make the best use possible of that space.

By changing its default settings for images, Gmail will directly affect the way marketers approach mobile email in 2014.

This is not the first time that Google is putting mobile marketers to work. In September, the company uprooted traditional search practices with updates to its algorithm (see story).

Now, marketers will need to adapt to new email settings as well.

Email imagery
On the one hand, marketers can now be sure that the email layout as they designed it will reach consumers. The images will look how they planned.

That is definitely a plus in terms of presentation and aesthetics.

?The experience for both desktop and mobile users will only improve with this change,? said Bob Sybydlo, director of market intelligence and deliverability at Yesmail Interactive, Portland, Oregon. ?With images now loading fully at the time the email is initially opened, the content appears complete and is displayed as it was designed and intended to be viewed by the marketer.

?This means it will be easier for recipients to see the email?s branding, identify the sender, and immediately determine whether an email could be malicious,? he said. ?Users receiving image-heavy emails on new products, will be able to view them fully intact, which may incite action such as click or a purchase right away.? 

Assuming Google can handle all the caching, download times for emails should actually go down since the images will be hosted on Google?s servers.

?Image downloads should actually be quicker now, so no, we don?t advise on including fewer images,? said Tom Sather, senior director of email research at Return Path, New York.

However, the new settings create a number of new problems, one of which being adaptive email.

Savvy marketers were able to create fluid emails that reacted to the time they were opened. For example, an email might read ?Three hours left? or ?Two hours left? depending on when the email was opened.

Now that Google is downloading all of the images itself, they will no longer be able to adapt to open time.

Another challenge for marketers is tracking the emails.

Before the changes, marketers could get a sense of when an email was opened by tracking pixels in images. Now that is no longer possible.

This was why until now, iOS devices showed higher engagement than Android devices. Apple?s default settings always displayed images, leading to higher perceived open rates.

Now both Apple and Android devices will automatically download the images. While on the surface this may appear to be a sign of increased engagement, it actually just means that more users will see the graphics in an email.

?Based on our research so far, marketers may see a drop in their email open rates if they calculate them based on multiple opens,? Yesmail?s Mr. Sybydlo said. ?With this change, Gmail only reports a single unique open instead of recurrent activity if a recipient opens an email four or five times.

?The other significant implication for marketers is that the change will limit the consumer data marketers are able to extract from their Gmail audience,? he said. ?While an open will still be tracked, other information on the recipient will not be available including their IP address and the type of device they are using to open the email.

?The reason for this loss of information is that, once the Gmail server has downloaded an email image, the image hosting link within the email will be replaced with one from their own image hosting server.?

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York