Email marketing analytics - Implications for marketers following latest Google changes

10/12/2013

Google seems to be making email marketing analytics a little harder, as Gmail starts caching images. Image downloads act as the window into engagement data for email and if Gmail switches this off, a major segment of consumers will ‘disappear’ from the stats. Here’s why…

gmail.jpg

In a controversial move, Google has started caching images and serving them via their own proxy servers, a potentially game-changing update that could affect marketers who rely on images to track email opens or geo-location for dynamic content.

While emails are fairly static once sent, images within the message are often used by marketers to monitor if they have been downloaded- providing a way to ensure an email has been read by the recipient.

For a recipient to be counted as "having opened" a message sent via a given ESP, the recipient would have to view the images in that HTML email message. One of the images contains a unique per-subscriber tag that allows to tie this type of engagement data back to a specific set of subscribers.

However, under the new scheme from Google, all Gmail users will be harder to track, as marketers will not have control over seeing if those images have been downloaded.

How it works

The rendered output of the received HTML email message looks the same, but the HTML source is significantly changed. Previously, where an image in my HTML message might be hosted in the "/members/images/" directory over here on good old "www.exacttarget.com," it is now actually showing as being hosted at a URL under "googleusercontent.com."

Three key Implications for marketers:

 Just the initial unique open from Gmail users will be reported in analytics- subsequent opens will not be reported

 The location of users will be distorted, as email analytics programs will now pinpoint the Google server (eg. Mountain View) rather than where the recipient is

 It will be harder to target by device (eg smartphone, tablet, desktop PC)

The Gmail caching issue was first picked up by Laura Atkins on her ‘Word to the Wise’ blog, Read more here.

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