MarketingSherpa.com yesterday published an article entitled Special Report on Google Gmail: Six Concerns & Three Solutions for Emailers. It’s an interesting piece, and does bring up some issues that anyone doing email marketing should consider; it doesn’t, however, present much of anything that’s actually specific to Gmail.
Let’s start with the potential problems that they note…
Their first concern is the “related links” to Google News that appear below the AdSense ads:
More hotlinks equals more distractions from your message
Yes, more links means more distractions, but Gmail’s interface is actually much cleaner and less distracting than many other Web based email readers. When viewing an email sent by a major computer manufacturer, my Gmail account shows three “sponsored links” and four “related pages” (and many of the messages I tested generated fewer links). Hotmail/MSN splashes up two big graphical banner ads when you read any message, and Yahoo tips the scales at five graphical ads (one banner, four small logo/text ads).
Possibly more significant, though, is that fact that when you set aside third-party ads, Gmail only has one link on its message page that isn’t dedicated to gmail functionality or information: a single link to the Google home page. Hotmail/MSN has about half a dozen such non-required links, encouraging you to sign up for or use other Microsoft services from MSN Shopping to their free newsletters, and Yahoo more than thirty (though in their defense, most of their links appear in the page footer and might not always be obvious to the user).
The second issue is also “related links,” but more hypothetical at the moment:
Danger: $30 press releases can show up in new “related Pages” section
The article notes, however, that “in our beta of Gmail, AdSense and ‘related pages’ links didn’t appear follow a regular pattern. Some emails showed up without ads or links, including third-party ad emails that should have been ad magnets, such as diet aids and financial investments.” So while press releases could, in theory, be used as a sort of gmail-specific contextually targeted advertising, the fact that the selection algorithm for these links is unknown, unpredictable, and subject to change at any time without notice makes it seem unlikely that this could be reliable enough (or profitable enough) to become a widespread practice.
Now we move on the the more technical issues raised in the article…
#1. Gmail blocks all HTML on download.
For now, say good-bye to the little 1×1-pixel image that tracks whether recipients opened your email […].
Well, you really should have started saying goodbye to that little image some time ago. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the “open rate” reports generated from those images were never much more than a back of the envelope estimate of the number of opens, and Gmail is just following the larger trend in email readers in disabling image loading by default. Open rate will hang around for a while, but unless a new technological approach to open tracking comes along, its days are numbered.
As long as we’re on the subject, I might as well mention that I’ve never really understood the value of open rate tracking, anyway. The most cynical part of me remembers that open rate became a popular metric at about the same time that response rates for many email lists were tanking, and views it as a sad effort to substitute a warm and fuzzy metric-lite for the sometimes ugly but clearer clickthrough and acquisition metrics.
#2. Gmail may someday block click tracking.
Gmail may do a lot of things, and this doesn’t even make the list of possibilities that worry me. They would simply be eliminating one technological approach to click tracking. It’s inconvenient to have to change how you track, but redirect tracking is generally more reliable than referrer logs anyway, so it’s worth doing.
#3. Gmail messes up HTML email forwarding.
I’m a bit biased on this one, not being a big fan of HTML email in any case, but it still seems more significant that the other items. Of course you should always have a compelling plain text version of any email you send, and the creative is only a part of what makes a successful email campaign (list quality, targeting, offer quality, creative), but it’s unfortunate to have an appealing HTML creative that your recipients can’t share with others. As with the other concerns, there are ways to work around this, but if Gmail becomes popular it will force advertisers to re-evaluate their approach to email creative — maybe drastically. (I’ve also seen some really remarkable response rates with plain text only creatives recently, but that’s a discussion in and of itself.)
#4. Gmail “disappears” much bulk email in the spam folder.
Like problem #1, this is just a continuation of what’s happening everwhere else; Gmail may accelerate the process, but it’s an issue that marketers have to deal with sooner rather than later, with or without Gmail. If you’re not (at minimum) checking your outgoing messages against common filtering tools like SpamAssassin, or better yet analyzing the final allocation of your messages using your own test accounts at the big ISPs — or one of the commercial providers that offers deliverability analysis — you just don’t really know what’s happening to the messages that you send.
Because this post has gotten horrendously long, and because I actually more or less agree with MarketingSherpa’s three recommendations, I’ll deal with them all at once…
#1. Create a good-looking text version of your email.
#2. Experiment with tweaks to both your HTML and text mailings […]
#3. Chart subscriptions by domain
Again, with or without Gmail in the picture, you should be doing all three of these things. A surprising number of people (like me, for example) still check email using programs or devices that read text, not HTML. Without a good plain text creative you’re automatically dumping a section of your audience. When you’re developing your creative, don’t assume that everyone is using Outlook: Hotmail/MSN, Yahoo, Outlook, AOL, Eudora, and Lotus Notes may all display your message differently (to say nothing of the dozens of other email readers and sites). Check to see how your message appears in a variety of readers, and adjust it accordingly. And finally, if you don’t know what the domain breakdown of your housefile looks like, you should. That, too, is a topic in and of itself, though — if there’s interest I’ll post on that another day.