A few days ago, Google announced a major change to the way images are displayed in Gmail. Gmail will now serve all images through their own secure proxy servers. Images will be displayed automatically (no need to click "display images below") and messages will be safer and more secure.

This is great news for all marketers. The fact that Gmail will automatically show images within messages (by default) will likely lead to an increase in opens, and eventually clicks, since users will see more engaging content by default. This in turn means more traction and more engagement with consumers.

This also means that image URLs within emails may be replaced by a rewritten link that points to Google’s content caching service (googleusercontent.com). There has been some concern among email marketers about how this may affect data tracking, so here’s a rundown of what to expect in the Bronto application.

In short, the impact to the data about your email consumers is minimal and there’s much to gain from this change in terms of the overall performance of your email marketing campaigns.

How will your data be affected?

The data on the consumers and customers who are reading your emails will be affected based on how they access your email messages.

  • The data for those recipients that use Gmail’s web interface in a browser, or the native Android Gmail App, including those that use Gmail for their corporate email on a private domain, will be affected.  
  • The data for recipients that are connecting to Gmail through a client-side app like Outlook, Thunderbird, or Mac Mail, or the iPhone Gmail app, will NOT be affected by this change.

What should you expect?

Regarding the data for your Gmail web UI and Android Gmail users, here is the impact you can expect across the various functions in Bronto. Again, the impact to that data is minimal, and the new image caching will likely increase your opens and clicks over time.

  • Open RatesNo impact. Open rates in Bronto, which are based on unique opens, will not be affected by Gmail’s image caching. We continue to receive, record and display unique opens as we always have. Here’s the place to view your opens in Bronto:

Reporting -> Dashboard -> Contact Performance by Domain -> Delivery -> [Pick Send]

  • Total OpensSome impact. In the few places in Bronto where we report "Total Opens" there will be some impact. Google's new cache will intercept some of the tracking pixel requests, but not all of them. "Total Opens" will show a greater count than "Unique Opens", but it will be less than what it has shown in the past.

    Here’s a specific example to illustrate this. This is the “Opens” sub-section of a Delivery Report. In this test, an email was sent to two different Gmail accounts, and then opened multiple times on a laptop via the Gmail web interface and with the native Android Gmail app. Unique opens shows “2,” which is correct. Total opens is “4,” which is incorrect (the email was opened 6-10 times in total). But, it’s still higher than unique opens. Basically, it appears to be once per device per email. 

Finally, we show a map of opens in this report. Here is the US section, and you’ll note that the opens are incorrectly attributed to CA, since that’s where the caching servers are located. 

  • ClicksNo impact. The IP and user agent is recorded correctly by Bronto, so clicks are unaffected.
  • ConversionsNo impact. Conversions are not related to Gmail.
  • GeoIP info and User AgentSome impact. The new image caching will have an impact on the email marketer’s ability to determine IP address and location, since the requests are now received by Gmail servers. This is the case for all email marketers, including Bronto users.

Note that GeoIP data is always subject to inaccuracies, even beyond those introduced by Gmail. The best way to get accurate GeoIP data from your contact is to ask them to provide their location.

  • Workflow AutomationNo impact. Workflows are unaffected, since they’re not triggered on clicks or opens. Workflows can be filtered based on opens, but whether a contact opens once or 1000 times, they’ve met the filter condition.
  • Send-Time OptimizationNo impact. Since the times tied to unique opens are unchanged, this area is unaffected. Other opens could possibly change the open times, but most of our clients will not have enough opens to make that happen.
  • Segment MembershipSome impact. Segment membership based on opens is unaffected for the same reason that workflows are unaffected – whether a contact opens once or 1000 times, they’re still on the segment. Segment membership based on clicks is unaffected, since clicks are unaffected. The one area of possible impact would be segments that involve GeoIP or user agent info criteria.
  • Dynamic ContentNo impact. This area is unaffected since that content is inserted into the email before it is sent. For example, a person on X segment/list gets image A, while someone else on Y segment/list gets image B, based on some customer attribute. If the underlying HTML code is referencing the correct image (A.jpg in one group’s email, and B.jpg in the other) then it will work correctly. Both sets of customers will see the correct images.

That's it for now. In summary, Gmail's new image caching bodes well for all marketers and promises to increase email opens and clicks for more effective campaigns. Stay tuned for more on this topic.

In the meantime, if you have any specific questions or concerns, please contact your Account Manager.

Damian Trzebunia (Che-BOON-ya)
Product Marketing Manager
Bronto Software