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Google’s Latest Email Marketing Game Changer: Gmail to Auto-Show Images

  |  December 13, 2013   |  Comments

Gmail will soon be showing images in your messages by default. That means no more prompts asking you to show images in your emails! BrightWave's Kirsten Schlau explains.

kirsten-schlauBy guest columnist Kirsten Schlau

Attention email marketers: if you haven't heard the latest, Gmail will soon be showing images in your messages by default. That means no more prompts asking you to show images in your emails!

Just yesterday, Gmail for desktop started to automatically show images in user's messages. According to the Gmail blog, the change is already being seen by webmail users and will be rolling out to Android and iOS app users in ‘early 2014.' This is especially significant as Gmail has over 425 million users. This comes hot on the heels of their recent unannounced update, in which Gmail began to cache images.

Like many of its internet service provider brethren, Google restricted images from automatically showing to protect its users from senders who might try to use images to compromise their computer and mobile device security. Moving forward, Google has made changes so that Gmail will serve all images through Google's own secure proxy servers. Images are normally served directly from their original external host servers, but this tweak means Google can be responsible for the security of images received in emails on its service.

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Therefore, Gmail messages will continue to be safe and secure but you won't have to any longer hit the ‘display messages below" link anymore! As Google puts it, "your email will now be safer, faster and more beautiful than ever."

For marketers, this is terrific news and here's why: 

1. Your creative is front and center now more than ever.

Gone are the days of worrying about ALT Text and planning for images being off. With more of your consumers able to easily view your emails with images on, your creative will soon be able to take center stage, providing a better brand impression for recipients.

Even though your email may have been QA'ed 10,000 times and literally has no breaks, etc., receiving this 100 percent perfect email with images off innately makes the recipient think in some small part of their brain that the ‘email is broken' or defected and in turn your brand reputation takes a tiny ding. Albeit they can turn images on and they'll see that 100 percent perfect email but like they say, ‘first impressions are everything.' Soon as a marketer, you'll be able to wow them with that winning first impression every time!

2. The email user experience will now be more consistent between Apple Mail for iPhone and Gmail for Android.

This change puts the user experience for email consumption on a slightly more level playing field with iPhones.

As my colleague Jay Jhun (@emailrocks) pointed out in his blog post that having images turned off by default is a wasted click. This update now saves the consumer from having to tap to turn on images, giving marketers a few more nano seconds of the reader's attention - which is never a bad thing IMO.

Once the mobile email user experience becomes more consistent, we as marketers will no longer be stumped on how to design an email that works well for both Android and Apple devices and start focusing more on the content that makes up the email, optimizing that content through A/B testing.

In the future we'll be able to tell more easily across the board, not just for iPhones, which creative is more effective and engaging with recipients since images will be on by default.

As a result, these A/B creative tests will give us the ability to obtain more accurate results and in turn more valuable insights.

3. You'll now be able to see the ‘true smartphone platform market share.'

Many of the stats from email marketers are dependent upon images being turned on in order for tools like Litmus, Return Path or Pivotal Veracity to accurately track mobile engagement. As a result, most marketers have only been seeing a small fraction of their mobile audience attributed to Androids, whereas iPhones have been attributing 30-50 percent of audiences. As an industry, we may have potentially been under-reporting the true Android subscriber size. (For example, your Android/iOS subscriber breakdown could actually be more like 50/30.)

The Gmail update will now provide a more accurate view into marketer's audiences which could have a significant impact on an organization's future mobile marketing strategies.

This is also especially important as Android and Apple have been aggressively competing for the greatest share over the past year or so. Images on by default will prove to the naysayers that the Android target market is a power audience that can no longer be ignored.

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So, what should we be doing to take advantage of all of this? For now, I've got just few simple things - Optimize, Monitor & Plan:

  1. Be sure your emails are optimized to a 'T.' With images on, even more people will be seeing your emails. So, it is even more critical for email creative to be optimized, leveraging email best practices.
  2. Continue to monitor your mobile audience over time. As mentioned earlier, the rollout will not be fully executed until early 2014. Until then be sure to continue to monitor your mobile audience and look for any new Android users you might not been aware that you had.
  3. Think about how a greater Android mobile audience could affect your organization's mobile marketing strategy and strategy over all, for that matter.

Think about its impact now, so in the event your Android audience grows exponentially, you'll be ready with your ideas in hand on how to capitalize.

Guest columnist Kirsten Schlau is a senior strategist for BrightWave Marketing, North America's leading email marketing-focused digital agency. An experienced hi-tech marketing leader with extensive background working with some of Atlanta's fastest growing B2b technology and startups, Kirsten's deep expertise in email program planning and management helps clients maximize results and achieve ROI. She has a proven track record of strategy design and implementation of integrated online marketing programs. She served as Client Keynote at Silverpop's 2012 annual user conference and is experienced in building organizational digital backbones here at BrightWave Marketing, Inc. An up-state New York native, Kirsten received her undergraduate degree from St. Bonaventure University and completed her masters at Georgia State University.

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