Gmail Concerns? Don’t Press the G-Panic Button Yet

At the recent DMA conference, an email marketing executive pronounced Gmail will have about 25 million subscribers shortly after its official launch, and marketers will need to send text-only messages to Gmail subscribers. Yikes! G-exaggeration is alive and well. With this hyperbole and a recent development with the use of DomainKeys in mind, we thought we’d provide a brief Gmail update.

We estimate Gmail probably now has from 1.5 to 2 million registered “users,” which could conceivably grow to 5-10 million in the next year. How does this number translate into reality for email marketers? To gain perspective on the level of Gmail penetration in a typical email list, we compared the composition by major ISP/email provider of a few of our business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) clients:

List Members by ISP (%)
Sample List Hotmail Yahoo AOL MSN EarthLink Gmail
B2B software 5.5 6.9 3.3 0.9 1.0 0.3
B2B consulting 7.9 8.3 4.8 1.2 1.5 0.3
B2B services 2.5 2.4 0.6 0.2 0.2 0.04
B2B average 5.3 5.9 2.9 0.8 0.9 0.2
B2C software 13.2 11.7 10.6 4.8 2.3 0.02
Travel newsletter 13.3 13.6 17.6 3.0 2.0 0.1
Off-/online retailer 15.7 14.8 2.0 3.3 2.9 0.03
On-/offline retailer 16.6 15.9 15.4 2.4 1.9 0.02
Online retailer 15.6 15.0 18.6 4.2 1.9 0.1
B2C average 14.9 14.2 12.8 3.5 2.2 0.1
Note: Sample list composition as of October 25, 2004.
Source: EmailLabs

Gmail’s market penetration is still extremely low, averaging 0.02-0.3 percent. It’s nowhere near the old free email standbys, Yahoo and Hotmail. Taking this into account, Gmail concerns are really not warranted. Marketers definitely have time to prepare for Gmail’s future growth.

Though Gmail has been rumored to be in full swing, it’s still officially in beta mode. Google hasn’t yet officially launched Gmail, probably because of a lack of features when compared to Yahoo and Hotmail and the need to iron out a few bugs. Registration still isn’t open to the public. An existing Gmail member must invite you to join. Once Gmail is officially launched, we expect the adoption rate to increase at a strong pace.

New Features: The Gmail Notifier

The Gmail Notifier is Windows software that lives on your taskbar and continuously checks incoming email. When a new message arrives, the Notifier brings up a small slide-out window that displays details about the message: the sender name, the first 49 characters of the subject line, and the message’s first 200 characters (similar to Gmail’s “snippets” in the Web application).

Our previous recommendations for the Gmail inbox and snippet also apply to the Notifier:

  • Use a short, recognized, and trusted sender name.

  • Keep the subject line fairly short, with 49 or fewer characters. Our recent analysis strongly suggests messages with subject lines of less than 50 characters produce higher open and click-through rates than lengthier subject lines.
  • Consider using either an image alt tag or special text placed at the top of your email to “extend” or supplement the subject line via Gmail’s snippet and Notifier.


Recent messages sent from Gmail accounts have included a DomainKeys signature as part of the headers. DomainKeys is an authentication method developed by Yahoo, which digitally “signs” an email message as having been sent from the domain shown in the sender line. Google has already published and checked SPF (define) records. SPF is the predecessor of Microsoft’s Sender ID authentication scheme. Whether Gmail checks the authenticity of DomainKeys on incoming email and if authentication plays a part in Gmail’s anti-spam mechanisms are still unknowns. As always, Google representatives wouldn’t comment on this and related questions.

Content Formatting

Gmail’s display format can and will alter the way your message appears in a user’s inbox. Images in HTML mail aren’t automatically displayed, and advertising based on AdWords is inserted alongside the body of the message. More important, Gmail strips virtually all CSS (define) code out of HTML messages. If you rely on CSS to correctly format and display your content, the message arrives as an unreadable mess. At minimum we’ve noticed lots of messages with the text font size appearing nearly twice its intended size, but the rest of the message appears normal. To address the lack of style-sheet support, make sure you use inline HTML formatting (such as font tags) to build messages.

Spam Filtering

As is the policy at many ISPs, Google won’t comment on Gmail’s spam-fighting algorithms. It’s safe to say Google’s data-mining and pattern recognition technology is employed when identifying whether to divert an email message to the spam folder. It’s always worthwhile to send test messages to “proof” accounts you’ve set up with the major ISPs. Gmail is no different. If your message is diverted to the spam folder, it’s likely something in the message content triggered a filter system. Try alternate versions of the message, perhaps with less aggressive copy, to see if you can avoid being sent to Gmail’s spam folder.

In coming years, Gmail will clearly be a force to be reckoned with for email marketers. With currently negligible market penetration, marketers should use this opportunity to test, tweak, and analyze their Gmail messages and results.

Till next month, keep on deliverin’.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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