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Is Google Waging War On Email Marketers?

First it was Gmail Tabs that irked marketers. But now, with changes to how images display in emails, Google has taken away marketers' ability to track the success of campaigns.

For years, Gmail turned off inline images by default, requiring users to manually display them if they so desired. That changed Thursday, when Google announced it would serve Gmail images through its own secure proxy servers: Inline photos will be displayed automatically without posing a security risk to recipients. Inadvertently or not, the rollout of this feature gives Google an upper hand against email marketers.

When companies send marketing blasts to customers, they can collect a gamut of information by affixing images with unique identifiers. That includes location, device type, and the date and time the email was viewed. Though users could avoid being tracked by choosing not to load these images hosted on third-party servers, today's news means Google is taking away companies' ability to measure the success of their email marketing campaigns. Instead of tracking by images, the only metric they have remaining is whether users click on links embedded in their emails.

Marketers are already miffed about Gmail Tabs, introduced back in May. A way to help users prioritize important emails, the feature hid company and marketing emails under a secondary "promotions" tab, and emails from social networks were given the same treatment with a "social" tab. This change prompted a slew of companies to send emails urging users to move their marketing messages to the primary tab. A study by marketing firm Epsilon found click rates for Gmail declined in June—and have yet to recover.

[Image: Flickr user Dvortygirl]

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  • SixEleven SeoStaff

    The reason that marketing is so important to businesses is that it is how you get customers.

  • Brian Mantel

    It would be best if gmail automatically put all those emails in the trash bin so I don't have to delete them myself.

  • Gemma_Laming

    I'm with Matt here. When you say the only "metric they have remaining is whether users click on links embedded in their emails" - do you need anything else?

    Just make sure that the stuff you're writing is going to get read. Make sure it's engaging: and Google gives you all the tools to find out just that. After all, if you've got a 15% CTR, you'll know what interests your market - and you'll only have that kind of CTR if you know how to use Google. That means you know how to handle email - and where the valid metrics lie.

    In your server stats.

  • Luke Benjamin Perkins

    I love the gmail changes. Nobody likes receiving a slew of marketing emails, including the marketing execs who send them. Gmail is doing us all a favor, and it's exciting that those in the marketing industry will have to think of new strategies for reaching their audiences.

  • tipweekly

    MailChimp had a post on this topic which seems to be relevant to the topic. "You’ve got to love Google for shaking things up every now and then. Gmail’s tabbed inbox changed how subscribers opened our emails, and now image caching changes how we track those opens. The good news is that we’re still able to track unique opens for each and every one of your subscribers."

  • tipweekly

    This is great news. It will definitely help the marketers. Not only they will have better CTRs, but it will help with deliverability. Another advantage I am seeing is from the ESP's perspective as they will be able to track more effectively the open rates. Even though some of the images will be cached , so they can't track if a customer viewed the email multiple times, still it will be great.

  • Mat Lewczenko

    Okay, so they lose tracking, but now the images can do their job by increasing engagement and relay the intended info. If the email content, image and call to action are sound, the 'new' tracking for effectiveness should be the increased traffic or response to the call to action. No? I'd rather know that my image and content are getting the "touch" I intended. I say good move Google.

  • Omar Khafagy

    Knowing that they took the intended action is great. Knowing that they opened the email matters too, when you're trying to figure out what went wrong.

    Without this metric, measuring the effectiveness of a headline is much harder.