With Google’s recent Gmail update significantly changing the way it handles cached images, they have also updated the desktop interface to display images by default. This is the most fundamental change in the default view of an email since Outlook and ISPs began blocking images by default more than five years ago.
The primary reason for the initial change was for security purposes — mainly to prevent viruses from being easily widespread. Now that Google has devised a platform for authenticating images and deeming them appropriate (virus-free) after the first rendering, they have minimized the risk of displaying images by default.
Images, Mobile & Opens — Oh My!
As you probably know, email opens are tracked based on whether or not a subscriber chooses to display images. When a hidden pixel is downloaded, the email is recorded as an open. When images began being blocked by default, open rates dropped. Now that Gmail has devised a system for displaying images by default, we expect other ISPs to follow suit. As a result, we expect to see an increase in open rates.
In addition, more and more emails are being opened on a mobile device or tablet, rather than on a desktop. When email from an ISP (Gmail, Hotmail, etc.) is configured within the native mail app on a mobile device, images are also typically displayed by default. As the adoption of the iPhone continues to rise, so will open rates. And, as more email is rendered on a mobile device, we expect to see an even further increase in open rates.
Why Does This Matter?
This increase in open rates will make it slightly more difficult for email marketers to evaluate year-over-year performance. Marketers should be aware of this trend to avoid attributing changes in the email program to the increase in open rates, when it may or may not be true.
Having a control group to compare against for any changes in the email program will be more important than ever, as it will help to ensure correct attribution for any increase in open rates. Many retailers run comparable creative and offers during similar timeframes year-over-year. When aggregate metrics are evaluated over time, this fluctuation in open rate should be noted to avoid drawing any incorrect conclusions.
Furthermore, click-through rate (CTR) will become a more critical metric for evaluation. A renewed focus should be placed on getting subscribers to click, both for year-over-year campaign performance comparisons and for engagement in general.
Also, keep in mind that as open rate increases, if click-through rates do not increase at the same rate, your click-to-open rate will decline. As I have previously written, click-to-open rate is a great measurement of creative. However, you may see a declining click-to-open rate simply because your open rates increased as a result of the ISP changes. Yet another reason to review your creative and calls-to-action is to ensure subscribers see value and have a reason to click.
A Designer’s Dream
If I am right and other email clients follow Gmail’s lead to turn on images by default, it will be a designer’s dream come true as we’ll finally be able to stop fighting against using HTML text. Email marketers have pushed for designs to include HTML text because this content displays even when images are not downloaded. However, in general, designers have resisted because there are few fonts to choose from that display as HTML for the majority of subscribers, and the ones available are generally not included in brand standards.
You can see in the example from Old Navy below where HTML text is displayed when images are blocked (left) and how the email renders when images are displayed (right). If the need to display HTML text is eliminated, then it may not be necessary to fight this fight anymore.
But again, this is all dependent on images displaying by default across the majority of email clients. It would be refreshing to see this happen. Now, if we can just see some support for an overhaul of email coding standards!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.