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Gmail image changes - what this means for you…

News from Gmail

In mid-December Google made a fundamental change to the way it serves images to users in Gmail – images will now be downloaded by default, however, browser / operating system information won’t be available and location based tracking won’t work.

The nitty gritty

Instead of allowing the browser to fetch the image from the hosting web server itself and display within the email, Gmail is now pre-loading (as well as caching) the image.

The image you see in an email is more than likely hosted on a web server, so the same image is thus displayed to many different recipients, e.g. a company logo or banner, etc.

Now, by caching a copy of this email on its own server, Google can display the same image to multiple recipients without the need for each customer’s browser to make a query to the hosted web server.

This will relieve the strain experienced by web servers that host images, after large email campaigns.

The result: faster loading emails for end customers.

Images not showing screen grab

The downside

Unfortunately we wouldn’t really be talking about this if there wasn’t a downside to it.

Open tracking of emails relies on a small image, 1 pixel by 1 pixel in size. This creates a “beacon” which can record that the email has been opened, along with any other information that is normally associated with a web connection, namely, IP address and browser identifications (we’ll come back to this).

How does this affect open tracking?

While there has been some concern that open tracking would be affected (either unique or total opens, or both) since all users would be viewing the same image, we have shown through thorough testing that this isn’t the case.

Striata’s tracking continues to work and all total opens of an email are captured accurately.

The method used by Google to pre-load images, unfortunately, means that we won’t be able to tell what device or operating system customers are using. Instead, ESPs will start seeing an increased number of Google IPs with a generic browser/device string. This also has an effect, especially for marketing emails, where location-based services are useful.

The upswing

There is a silver lining and a compromise of sorts. Google has also decided to turn on images by default, instead of relying on each recipient to enable images within the email.

While this option can be turned off in Gmail settings, we expect that most users will keep the default setting – resulting in better customer experience. This also means that open tracking rates are expected to climb – initially.

In summary, for Gmail users:

  • Email open tracking will continue to function
  • All images will be turned on by default
  • Geo-location and browser/operating system information will cease to function

I am keen to know your thoughts on this topic…

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