Very recently GOOGLE applied a fundamental change to the way images are served within their webmail client.
What have they changed?
GOOGLE is now re-writing image links within emails they receive; images are now served via a proxy for all Gmail users.
So this means an image with the scr:”http://site.com/image.jpg” will be replaced by Gmail with a URL like https://ci3.googleusercontent.com/proxy/…#http://site.com/image.jpg.
This change hasn’t been applied to older emails currently within the mailbox, but it has generated a lot of understandable concern from marketers about how it will impact engagement metrics.
So what will these changes mean to marketers?
- Tracking multiple open rates may be impacted. The first open will be tracked, but when further opens take place the image will be requested from the Google cache, so the open won’t be tracked. This is not an issue for dotdigital users (see below).
- Geolocation has been impacted as Google will not provide information about where the open took place.
- Device tracking will not display the correct browser in all cases. Tracking of users browsing emails with the Gmail app and the Gmail web application will be impacted.
- Real-time content targeting will break as images are no longer fetched every time the images are loaded. This impacts any images that are being served based on location.
Sounds bad? Don’t panic!
The Gmail changes will not affect tracking of initial unique opens, as the cache will fetch the image from the sender.
However, the good news is we can report that dotdigital is tracking multiple opens.
Device tracking is also unaffected for Engagement Cloud users where the email is opened on iPhone and Android. When an email is opened using the Gmail webapp and phone app, these opens are being reported with Firefox 3 as the client.
What are we doing about these issues?
The team here at dotdigital are investigating some possibilities on how we can exclude the Gmail server IP from sections of the reporting.
However, it’s important to remember that key metrics of unique opens and link clicks are not impacted in your reporting. The issues are only with geolocation and device detection.
What does Gmail have to say on the matter?
Just recently at Interact2013 an ISP panel (GOOGLE, AOL, Comcast & Microsoft) discussed preserving the email ecosystem. One of the topics raised by Microsoft was that a better job should be done to communicate with ESPs when fundamental changes are released.
All the panel were in agreement with this, so we can only wonder why no forewarning was given to ESPs about these Gmail changes.
So far the Gmail team has released an update on their blog explaining how their changes will allow them to turn images on by default to enhance the email consumer experience.
This could mean that marketers will be able to track people who were previously ‘invisible’, i.e. those who may have read your emails without downloading any images or clicking any links.
We have reached out to our contacts at Google to see if we can get some additional information on this and if we should expect any additional updates to this new way of serving images.
This situation will be monitored very closely by the team here at dotdigital and we will communicate any updates as soon as we get them.