3 Steps to Understand the Impact of Gmail’s Images Change on Your Email Marketing

In December 2013 Google announced that it was going to start automatically serving up images in emails for all Gmail users.

Announcement to Gmail Users

So if you’re a Gmail user you’ll start seeing images automatically without having to ask to see them. Google’s slowly rolling this out across desktop and mobile. This means both good things and bad things for eCommerce businesses, and there are some actions you should take to allow for how this is affecting your business.

Good things about the Gmail Image Changes

There’s only one (and it’s a biggy).

Your customers who use Gmail will now see your emails with the images. They’ll see your great artwork with all it’s calls to action. This should increase the performance of your emails – more clicks, more conversions.

Bad things about the Gmail Image Changes

It’s causing havoc in email reporting.

Open Reporting

Most Open rate reporting works by tracking the download of a small image (usually called a “tracking pixel”). The way Google is now serving up the images means that this will only be tracked the first time it’s downloaded, so you’ll only see a single open per email – uniques not gross opens.

That’s quite frustrating, but all the email service providers are working on it.

Clicks and conversions are unaffected so you can still get the key data about each launch, and you can compare performance pre and post this change by looking at the click rates as a percentage of delivered.

Geographic and other techy reporting

The changes also mean that some of the more techy reporting can’t be gleaned from Gmail anymore. Things like where the recipient is etc.

3 Steps to Understand the Impact on your eCommerce Business

These changes open up a world of questions – but (as ever) it’s important to focus on the key information you need in your business, and these 3 steps are designed to help you do just that.

Step 1 – How Important is Gmail to Your Business?

The first thing we need to understand is how many of your customers are using Gmail? If it’s only 10% this is a much smaller thing for you than if it’s 90%.

To work that out just identify how many of your database have an email containing “gmail” or “googlemail”. Often you can do that using a filter within your email service provider’s software, or using Filters in Excel.

Then divide the count by the total size of your database, to get what percentage of your customers are on Gmail. This won’t be 100% accurate as many people use their own domain with Gmail (as we do at eCommerce MasterPlan) but it will give you a good indication.

If you have a low percentage (under 30%) then you don’t need to worry too much about the changes, you don’t need to proactively check their impact. If you have a higher percentage though – please do follow the next 2 steps.

Step 2 – Keep an Eye on Your Headline Results

The change over started in December 2013 and is ongoing right now – so you need to keep an eye on your email performance and see what impact it’s having.

If you have a high percentage of your list using Gmail I suggest splitting that data out for a few launches in order to see how it behaves compared to the rest of your data. How are the Opens coming through? Are the images causing higher conversions?

You might not be able to do very much to affect these changes, but you should understand what impact it’s having on your business.

Step 3 – Find out what your Email Service Provider is doing about it all

Most ESPs are working on / have implemented work arounds to get you some / all of the data and to make sure you’re seeing accurate results in the reporting.

So speak to yours and see what they’re doing so you know how to interpret your results in the future.


Overall this is one of those changes that you can’t proactively do much about, but which may have a big impact on your email marketing in 2014. So it’s important to be aware of it, and be looking at the impact in your business.