Google's introduction of the Promotions tab to the layout of Gmail earlier this year has elicited grumbles of frustration from email marketers across the globe, who are concerned that the new design of the inbox will result in their email contact lists reading marketing messages much less frequently.
The tabbed Gmail design, however, isn't the only update that Google has made this year to the way its email service works. The firm has introduced another change that problematizes both email layouts and list segmentation practices: image caching.
Google's image display protocol disrupts email marketing
In a recent column for ClickZ, Innovyx CEO and founder Derek Harding discussed the impact that Gmail's switch to caching the visual components of emails will have on long-standing marketing practices. The basic principle of the change is that now, instead of downloading the images every time a user opens an email, the graphic files are downloaded once per recipient and stored in the browser.
It may not seem like a major update – but it has important repercussions for several aspects of email marketing, Harding noted. First, and perhaps most expected, are the effects the Gmail change will have on email design itself. Image caching takes some of the sophistication out of what marketing teams can do with email graphics. Specifically, timed image downloads will become impossible to execute for recipients who use Gmail.
"Tools that deliver images dynamically based on time (think time-limited offers) will be negatively impacted. Once the recipient sees the image, it will not be downloaded again and so will not be able to change," Harding wrote.
Another set of impacts that Gmail image caching has on email marketing falls under the umbrella of data collection practices. Harding pointed out that companies will no longer be able to determine the locations of their email list contacts, as the cache hides IP addresses. The update also makes it more difficult for marketers to synchronize cookies, a practice that helps them process reader information for more relevant email content in the future. And email marketing solutions that monitor campaign performance through data analytics won't be able to detect multiple opens by a single user through number of image downloads.
Since image caching limits the data that marketers have access to, it makes it more difficult for them to segment their email marketing lists based on relevant consumer information. Firms can't simply ignore this change in Gmail, one of the most popular email platforms. It's key to find ways to work around the update rather than resign oneself to the negative effects.
When in doubt, return to best practices
Given the reduction in image responsiveness caused by caching, making your written email copy as clean, effective and dynamic as possible is paramount. In an interview with The Next Web, Forward Push Media's Chief Strategist Marc Apple emphasized the importance of content in the current marketing landscape, especially for companies that target millennials.
"Content by far is what a millennial is looking for when a business reaches out to them via email," Apple told the news source. "It's just not any content; it must be relevant and relatable content."
Furthermore, while Gmail image caching may make it more difficult to use the most sophisticated data collection techniques, marketers can return to tried-and-true methods like simple A/B list testing, sending different versions of the same campaign to two customer segments to see how the messages perform. Apple insisted that running basic tests is crucial no matter what other methods a marketer uses.
"Every brand's audience is different, which is why I am a big believer in testing, and then testing again," the Forward Push Media executive remarked, according to The Next Web.
Perhaps the update offers marketers an opportunity for a refreshing return to basics.