Written by Greg Elliott on December 14, 2013
in Digital Marketing, Email Marketing, Technology

A couple of days ago Gmail announced some significant changes to the way it handles displaying images on emails received. Previously like most other email providers Gmail would make a request to load images from an external server, hosted by the sender every time an email was opened.  However, the Gmail changes now involve Google downloading the images once, and then storing and caching them on their own servers.

What does Gmail image caching have to do with email marketing?

As you may know, Email Marketers complete Open tracking by using a tiny, single-pixel-sized image in each email. When someone views the images in the email, the sender’s server gets a request for the pixel sized image, and then that request is used to track opens, and relate it to the subscriber. Every time the request is made to download the image, an Open is tracked.


With Gmail now caching images there is potential to interfere with open tracking for senders. Because images are no longer being loaded from an external server, senders will not be able to track opens in as much detail as they did previously. The Ariad team has been completing some testing, and it appears marketers will still be able to track “Unique Opens” as Gmail still needs to make an initial download request to the external server in order to save all the senders images, including the tracking image.

Is this good or bad for Email Marketers?

Gmail’s changes have some good and bad implications for email marketing. The most obvious bad, is that marketers are no longer going to have as much detail around open engagement with their subscribers who use Gmail. However, with the change, Gmail is now displaying images as ON by default. So gone are the days of subscribers having to “allow images” in order to see your content. This is obviously a big win as your content will always be displayed, meaning a better chance to get your message across, even if your tracking of it is more limited. Remember, Gmail’s changes do not affect Click Tracking in any way, so having good content and creative with clear calls to action is still the top priority.

So far the changes only seem to be when using Gmail via desktop, and as of November 2013 this was the 8th most used method to check email (http://emailclientmarketshare.com/). It’s not clear yet when and if the changes will roll out to default Android mail clients, and the Gmail App.

The Ariad team is continuously testing these Gmail changes, and accessing the impact on our clients. For now it seems to be a win for content and creative, and a bit of loss for tracking and analytics. Stay tuned, and please reach out to the Ariad Email Team with any questions.

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