Gmail's Quality Paradigm: Email Opens Down, Conversions Up

  |  December 19, 2013   |  Comments

Gmail's tabs have changed the game for marketers who see higher conversions and purchase values while experiencing lower open rates. Changes are forcing marketers to rethink their KPIs.

Emails sent to Gmail users now drive higher purchase values while scoring lower open rates, according to studies conducted by email marketing firms.

Open Rates Fall

Sailthru published its Black Friday and Cyber Monday report, confirming ClickZ's earlier prediction that the rolling out of tabs would be more of an opportunity than a threat: open rates fell 12.8 percent for Gmail on Black Friday and shrunk 7.5% on Cyber Monday. This compares with an aggregated 5.2 percent increase and a 17.5 percent boost, respectively, at Yahoo-AOL-Hotmail for the same periods. One may argue that the time period is too short, but we have to keep in mind that those two days represent the highest online shopping tide of the year.

Mailchimp's study shows the same trends, but this time based on the analysis of 29 billion emails over a 25-week period, from May to October 2013.

Mailchimp's graph showing the most striking verticals:

Conversions and Purchase Value Up

Figures suggest, however, that despite such drops in open rates, purchase conversion rates and revenue per open have both improved for Gmail.

Sailthru's domain-specific data highlights a clear 7.2 percent YoY increase in Gmail's purchase conversion rate, while Yahoo-AOL-Hotmail's shaved off 1.7 percent. Revenues per open at Gmail rose by almost double that of Yahoo-AOL-Hotmail, at 44.8 percent versus 24.1 percent on Black Friday.

Lowest Unsubscribes

Unsubscribes are less frequent on Gmail, both email marketing firms agreed. Sailthru's holiday sample show a clear increase of opt-outs overall, but with a milder impact on Gmail (3 percent) than Yahoo-AOL-Hotmail (26.2 percent).

Mailchimp explains that tabs allow Gmail to shield its users from the slew of promotional offers in the runner up to end-of-year holidays, hence, cut down the unsubscribes to zero. On the other hand, users of other domains with no such protection experience holiday fatigue and opt out, as they get snowed under in promotions and end-of-year deals.

Mailchimp's visualization of unsubscribes is quite telling:


New Consumption Habits

Another data point by Mailchimp is worth looking at more closely from a marketing perspective: the timing of opens.


The traditional curve of opens within the hour of receiving an email is less pronounced than for other email services. Opens are slower because of tabs: users can keep those emails for later consumption. Tabs make it possible to mass check promotional emails; what used to be reserved for incoming spam is not extended to marketing emails.

It is interesting to see that in that perspective, consumer behavior mirrors that described by Netflix for movies consumption on its platform: binge viewing. Users like to know they have the content at hand and can choose to look at it at a time that is more convenient for them. For them, it is easier that way to find offers that match their needs and expectations, while also being able to ignore other promotions without having to bother going through the unsubscribe process.

Long Tail Rethink

Gmail's changes are gradually forcing marketers to make adjustments
The tabs mean:

  • a stronger likelihood for prospects to eventually become consumers since they remain on their lists even if they don't particularly like this or that campaign.
  • better opportunities to test what works and tailor offers to satisfy prospects/readers and increase CTR and conversions.
  • a shift in time frames towards the long tail, as consumers take their time to open.

More Upcoming Challenges

With the recent roll out of automatic image display within emails, marketers will also need to shift their attention towards different KPIs. Unless opted out of, the auto-show option is set as default on Gmail, meaning that images will no longer be traceable the way they used to, as they'll be downloaded on Gmail's servers automatically first. Repeat opens will be harder to track than unique opens.

And finally, with the email open cookie disappearing, Sailthru recommends taking the additional step of dropping the cookie at the point of onsite login. IP address and location data will also no longer be available directly through the email open data, but directly via onsite or mobile activity.

Evidently, for users, the privacy implications of the image auto-show are important. But that's another topic altogether.


Liva Judic

Liva Judic joined Search Engine Watch and ClickZ in May 2010 as a news blogger. She has lived and worked across the globe in Madagascar, Switzerland, London, NYC, Asia and is now based in between New York and Berlin.

Her background is in government relations and financial media where she started out as a journalist at Bloomberg and became senior editor at AFX news (now part of ThomsonReuters). Prior to forming her own consultancy Judic was head of international PR for a head of state.

Judic focuses on facilitating brand and marketing transitioning for European startups moving to the US. She has been named one of the Top 50 Industry Influencers of 2014 by AGBeat 

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