The Orchard Agency, Melbourne Australia, eCommerce Email Marketing Specialist Agency


Have your Gmail Open Rates Been Affected?

Back in December Gmail made a significant change to the way it handles images loading in emails. Overnight it decided to no longer require users to download images, and instead opted to download all email images by default.

Most email marketers will understand that Gmail is a major player and can account for a large proportion of your contact list, so let’s investigate why Gmail has taken this step and what it means for your campaigns and Gmail open rates.

Images turned off

Prior to the change, Gmail (and most desktop email clients including Hotmail, Yahoo, and Outlook) did not automatically display images. The recipient would need to choose to download images, at which point Gmail would contact the server where the images were being hosted (usually your email campaign software) and download the images to display. If the user closed the email and decided to open it again at a later stage, Gmail would need to contact the server and download the images once again. Your email marketing report would usually report this as 2 “opens”.

This is no longer the case and it has meant some important changes to the way your email campaigns are displayed and how your statistics are now reported.

Images turned on

As of December, Gmail now downloads images automatically. It also no longer contacts the image host each time the email is opened, rather it now downloads the images to its own server and “caches” or saves the images so if it is reopened, it just serves the locally saved files rather than contacting the original host to download again.

There are some good and bad points to the way Gmail has changed the way it now handles images.

The big positive for email marketers is that recipients no longer have to download images when they read their emails. Your email campaigns require readers to download images in order to know if the email has been opened (your email marketing software embeds a small invisible tracking image file that must be downloaded in order to know if the email has been opened.  Previously someone may have opened an email but not downloaded images (or the invisible tracking file), in which case it does not get reported as an open. Now, by default, all Gmail users who open an email will be reported as the image tracking file used for reporting will always be downloaded. This should translate into higher (and more accurate) Gmail open rates in your reports.

Note that the fact that Gmail is now caching these images also means that re-opens are not being fully reported as an open will only ever be registered the first time the that Gmail downloads the images from your server.

There have also been some issues reported regarding the way in which Google is caching the image files. Gmail users have reported certain images are not always loaded as intended, resulting in users seeing some blank boxes where an image should be.

There is currently no solution or workaround being provided by Gmail so our advice is to make sure all of your campaigns are truly optimized for images being turned on or off. It’s email marketing 101 and one of the golden rules of email marketing so in a way, Gmail’s changes have only served to reinforce the need to be vigilant. Here are some essential tips for optimising your HTML email campaigns:

  • Use a good mix of images and text and never rely on an all-image creative as you can never guarantee these images will be visible.
  • Make sure you use ALT tags (and get creative) to ensure that even with images turned off, or failing to load correctly, you can still get your key message across
  • Concentrate on your prime real estate, the top 400 pixels of your campaign should never rely on images, only creative. Include things such as pre-header copy and key elements such as a headline and some intro copy created as HTML text to ensure your email is easily read.

We’re hoping Gmail can overcome the missing image issues and provide a solution in the not-to-distant  future. If you’ve noticed any unusual email behaviour be sure to let us know or if you have any questions about how Gmail’s changes may be affecting your campaign reports, drop us a line.


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