What Does Gmail’s New Auto Image Loading Mean for Inbound Marketers?

This morning Google announced a rather significant change to the way Gmail handles images. In the past, Gmail always asked you if you wanted to “display images below or always display images from the sender”. This approval process was a security measure to protect your inbox from unknown senders who might try to use images to compromise the security of your computer or mobile device.

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Today Google announced that images will soon be displayed automatically across desktop, iOS and Android. Instead of serving images directly from their original external host servers, Gmail will now serve all images through Google’s own secure proxy servers. This update will be rolling out on desktop starting today and to Gmail mobile apps in early 2014.

What does this mean for inbound marketers?

Gmail’s update to load images automatically changes email marketing in two significant ways:

  • How emails are tracked
  • Additional importance placed on email design

Tracking Emails

As you may know, most email service providers like HubSpot or MailChimp track email open rates by placing a single pixel image in the email. When someone opens the email and views the images a request is sent to the email service provider’s (ESP) server for the pixel sized image. This image request is what ESPs use to measure email opens for each subscriber.

Since Google hasn’t rolled out this update to the general public yet we haven’t been able to test how this will impact the tracking metrics of popular ESPs, but all things considered, it seems like this will benefit inbound marketers.

Previously, if an email recipient hadn’t marked you as an approved email sender, your hidden tracking pixel wouldn’t load automatically. As a result, data surrounding email opens would be incomplete with the actual total number of unique opens being under-reported. Now, with images being loaded automatically, the tracking pixel will be more effective in tracking initial unique email open rates. However, because Gmail will likely cache the tracking pixel images that are contained within emails, this could have an impact on an ESP’s ability to measure how many times an email is re-opened.

Additional importance of email design

For a while now we have been experiencing a general trend towards larger imagery on the web. It seems as though large images are becoming quite popular on social media sites as well, with LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, and Facebook all rolling out larger header images in recent months.

Some marketers may have previously avoided using images in their emails, suspecting that people simply wouldn’t load them or that images would reduce email deliverability. With Google’s update set to automatically load images, these considerations may fade away in favour of the benefit (either real or perceived) of using more imagery in designing email campaigns.

While just how significant this change will be remains to be seen, Gmail’s dominant share of the email market ensures there will definitely be an impact. Further, it would not be surprising to see other email providers like Yahoo and Microsoft follow suit and start to auto-load images in the near future.

What are your thoughts on Gmail’s move to automatically load images?

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