Gmail Image Caching: What does this mean for your email marketing?

If you’re a Gmail user, you might have noticed the recent disappearance of the ‘Show Images’ button, which used to have to be clicked if you didn’t want to see empty boxes in the emails you received. If you didn’t click the button, you’d see a grey box or, arguably worse, just an empty white space, with no indication that an image was ever meant to be there. Now, Google has removed the button and images appear automatically. So why the change and why might this have an impact on your email marketing?

In short, the Gmail change has come about because of security, with Google believing it is safer for users to communicate with their servers, rather than the server the image was originally hosted on. Images now get passed to users via Google’s own servers, rather than having the user talking with the originator of the email, which could be a pesky spammer or, worse, someone trying to access your device. This removes the need to ask the user if they feel safe downloading the image.

In the main, this is good news for email marketers, as it means that your beautifully designed emails will now arrive exactly as intended. There’s no more need to worry about how they’ll look should they be displayed without the images and, due to the visibility of your great design elements and use of pictures, recipients will be more likely than ever to engage with your content.

For some email marketing tools though, this poses a challenge in terms of reporting, because receiving images was one of the ways to track whether an email had been opened by recipients.

The good news is that MailFirst will still track initial opens in Gmail, because of the communications route between the Google servers and the image servers MailFirst uses. It will also track multiple opens which was another potential problem, with Google only communicating with the original servers once.

Other potential problems with this new system include an impact on features like Geolocation (because Google now does not provide information on where the open took place) and device tracking, with Gmail and Gmail’s app behaving similarly. The MailFirst team are currently looking into potential alternative options for these metrics but users should be reassured that the most important and frequently used figures – such as opens and click-throughs – are not affected by these changes.