Gmail’s Coming – Are You Ready?

Gmail’s coming! Gmail’s coming! Google’s free email service is creating reactions among email marketers that range from apathy to serious concern.

Still in beta, Gmail will likely be available to the masses sometime in the next few months (no official timeline has been announced by Google). We believe there’s no time like the present to begin preparing for Gmail’s onslaught.
Why?

First, despite concerns about privacy resulting from Google’s use of email text searches to display targeted ads, Gmail will, without a doubt, be a huge success in a short period of time. For most B2C marketers, 45 to 60 percent of all subscribers are users of one of the current top three email services: AOL, Yahoo and MSN/Hotmail. In the next few years, Gmail will eat into their share, and that of other providers’, to capture five to 10 percent of the market.

The second reason marketers should get ready for Gmail is because it, like all email services and email clients, has specific features and rendering issues they must understand. Ignorance of how the Web-based service treats permission emails could cost both subscribers and revenue.

So let’s look at how Gmail treats your email during the delivery process, and how it treats mail once it’s in the inbox.

HTML Rendering: Gmail uses Javascript to dynamically create and render the Gmail user interface. This may conflict with certain HTML code and cause display inconsistencies. Standard HTML should come through correctly, whereas more advanced CSS or DHTML may be corrupted.
Potential Action: A good rule of thumb to ensure maximum HTML compatibility across all email clients is to use plain vanilla HTML in messages, and to make sure all HTML follows the HTML 4.01 specifications.

Gmail Spam Filter: Based on some initial testing, it appears Gmail uses some form of a content/rules-based filter similar to SpamAssassin.
Potential Action: Until further testing can determine whether Gmail uses volume, bounce and whitelist/blacklist filters, just make sure you send proof emails to a test account before distributing to an entire list.

User Content Filter: A content filter enables users to filter emails by “From,” “Subject” and “To” fields, as well as by overall message content. Users then have the choice of “starring” (a prioritization label), archiving, applying a label or moving the message to the trash.
Potential Action: This Gmail user filter is another argument for using a consistent “From” line and newsletter or company name in the subject line (if you include it). Additionally, consider a note in the email body providing recipients with a list of which domain, email address or word combination they can base a filter on. They can in turn use this to file messages under Gmail’s label system.

Text Ads: Gmail searches the content of an incoming email and then, using the same technology that powers its AdSense contextual ads, displays relevant text ads. Yes, this means your recipients are likely to see ads from competitors in your emails. Possibly, they could even see your own if you’re an AdSense advertiser.
Potential Action: If you’re really concerned about competitive ads alongside your emails, consider creating a separate version of your HTML message that includes its own text box or graphic ad on the right side of the email. Recipients may be less likely to pay attention to the Google ads, and might even click your “house” ads.

Snippets: Following the subject line displayed in the inbox, Gmail grabs and displays the first few words of text it finds in the message. This includes text used in an alt tag, in the beta version at least. The number of characters displayed in a snippet depends on the length of the subject line. In our tests, most snippets range from five to 15 words.
Potential Action: Use an alt tag at the top of your message to display appropriate copy in the snippet. Take advantage of the snippet and choose the words carefully to “extend” your subject line. Elaborate on the subject line or append it with additional product, offer or content copy.

Images: Gmail doesn’t automatically display hosted images, though embedded images are shown. Images are displayed by clicking a “Display Images” link, which must be done on a message-by-message basis. One would expect that in the future, Gmail would enable users to display images by default for all messages, none, or on an individual basis.

“From” Line: The Gmail “From” line appears in its friendly form, such as “ClickZ E-Mail,” not “newsletters@internet.com.” Gmail displays a reasonable 19 characters in the inbox, and cuts off any additional characters.
Potential Action: Nothing unusual here, but if your “From” name is extra long, now’s a good time to get in line with what most email clients display to recipients.

Subject Line: A maximum 57 characters are displayed in subject lines. Longer subject lines are cut off and an ellipse is added after the 57th character.
Potential Action: As 57 characters is more than most email clients display in the inbox, no special action is necessary. In the long run, marketers may want to test how best to maximize open rates using the generous real estate offered by the combination of subject and snippet space.

Forward: A forward feature is provided, but it unfortunately strips out all images and HTML, excepting displayed URLs such as www.clickz.com, which will be rendered as a hyperlink in most email clients.
Potential Action: While this problem is not specific to Gmail, it may be necessary to use a “send to a friend” feature, provided by most email technology solutions, to enable HTML forwarding from a Gmail address.

Forms: Forms come through with little difficulty. One interesting Gmail feature is when any forms are submitted from the body of an HTML email, Gmail prompts the user with a confirmation screen noting the user is submitting information to another site on the Internet.

Printing: Gmail provides a “Print Conversation” feature that creates a printer-friendly version of your email in a new window. The print version doesn’t include Google ads or other information beyond the email message.

Because Gmail is still in beta, some of the above issues are likely to change after public launch. Regardless, Gmail will be a force to reckon with. It’s important email marketers get test accounts as soon as they can to become familiar with Gmail’s features and peculiarities.

Do you have a Gmail account already? Send us a note if you’ve discovered any issues or tips we missed.

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