Google Quietly Updates Gmail to Cache Images: Impact for Email Marketers

  |  December 31, 2013   |  Comments

Continued from

4. Cookies

Cookie synchronization for ad serving and retargeting may be undermined. Advertisers are increasingly performing cookie synchronization between ad data management platforms and their CRM databases. The benefit is more relevant ad targeting and more timely and relevant email. Gmail may become a black hole for this activity.

5. Timing

Tools that deliver images dynamically based on time (think time-limited offers) will be negatively impacted. Once the recipient sees the image, it will not be downloaded again and so will not be able to change.

6. Counts

Since images are cached they will, at most, be downloaded once per recipient. Total opens will fall. Tools that use multiple image downloads to infer read times and repeat reading will be negatively impacted.

One other impact of the Google image cache is that it restricts images to 10MB. Any image larger than that produces an error. While not an issue for most, this can be significant for animated images.

If you're wondering why Google would make these changes, I can think of a couple of reasons.

The first is privacy. Unlike most other webmail providers, Google has always hidden the submitting IP address of emails. This change also masks the IP address of readers, as well as other information about them that might be considered sensitive (browser information could be used for exploits, for example).

The second is performance. Google's cache service is fast, but some senders' image delivery isn't. This can provide a better experience for Gmail users.

There are other possible reasons, but most of them require ownership of a tin-foil hat so I won't get into them right now.

As for what to do about it, talk to your email provider. For most email marketing, the impact will be on reporting and analytics rather than functionality. If your ESP provides gross or total open rate numbers, these will likely shrink. Providers that collect and report on statistics around location, device etc., are already working to exclude or adjust for the Gmail data and see if there are other ways to obtain the same information.

The larger impact though is if you're delivering images dynamically based on device, time or location. In these instances, you will certainly need to make changes. The most likely outcome is that Gmail users will get a degraded experience, rather than the improved experience Google was aiming for.



Derek Harding

Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.

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