Incase you haven't heard #Google has done something really smart. They have #announced that they will automatically show images in their users inbox. Rather than waiting for the user to give permission and download the image, #Google will download the images from the original server that the image came from onto their proxy server allowing their users to immediately view images included in an email.
Yipee For Users!
This is great news for users as they will be able to see images without having to go through the hassle of downloading each one which takes time and often way too much effort than a quick glance at an email deserves. It will also give the user access to more information, as in my opinion we often miss a lot of valuable information in emails as we either cannot download or do not have the time to download an image. Therefore, if the image is automatically downloaded and opened we will get direct access to the content our emails contain. On top of this great new direction in user experience, it will actually be much safer for users with regards to spam and dangerous content. #Emails requiring users to download an American Airlines ticket or Amazon receipt are becoming more and more common these days leading the vulnerable user open to viruses. If images are downloaded by Google, these vulnerable users will be able to sift through their mail in a much safer manner.
Uh-Oh! For The Email Marketer
So, great news then? No!... it might be great news for the end user but what about the email marketer? The problem here is that if the images are automatically downloaded to be viewed at any time, we will not now be able to assess our open rates. If the user doesn't download the image when they actually view the mail, how will we know if they have read it or not? Analytics will only report to us the initial download by Google and not how many times the viewer subsequently views the mail.
Another problem that email marketers might incur is not being able to tell the location of their users. When users downloaded images we were able to check their IP address and subsequently find out their location, now that the images will be downloaded by Google we will only know the location of Google. This information was important to many marketers in being able to recommend and provide their customers with useful information, for example where they could find the closest store to redeem a voucher.
One of the biggest issues I foresee, is that with this new cache we are not going to be able to determine the browser our customer is reading our email on. If we cannot distinguish on what type of browser our audience are engaging with us upon, we cannot determine the type of devices they prefer to use. This data is becoming ever more important to us as we continuously try and produce more responsive designs that will allow better user-experience. Even worse yet is the fact that sending the right image to the right device will be virtually impossible resulting in reduced user-experience and highly reduced engagement.
All in all I must admit that I like Google's new way of thinking and while many of us are moaning and complaining about the changes, I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Change is always hard and we never like to embrace drastic changes, but drastic change always brings about innovation. By the beginning of next year new tools will have been introduced allowing us marketers to do what we do best and assess the data we so much want and need.
We have already began thinking of ways in which we can overcome these small little glitches and continue to offer 110% to our clients and continue providing detailed analytics and reports. It really isn't the end of the world, if that's what it takes to ensure our customers can browse their mailboxes safely then we must respect that. We must also bear in mind that we could expose ourselves to even more potential customers... without them having to download our images themselves an original and innovative image could now be more important than ever.