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Posted by Patrick Knight, Deliverability Consultant, Adobe

Last Thursday, Google announced they are now displaying images automatically in Gmail, which essentially affects how we are currently collecting data.  This is a big change from the previous option provided in the web client to “display images.” For security reasons, Google will no longer allow external sources to directly serve image content for their users. Instead, they now provide these images from their secure proxy server.  You can read more about it here on Google’s official blog site.

What is the impact on email metrics?

To provide some background: As we all know, open and click tracking metrics are crucial components for measuring engagement. To ensure we provide this insight to our clients, Adobe Campaign places a unique link hidden within a small image file in every email sent from our system. When a user opens the message, a call is made back to our server host which at that point the email is registered as opened.  Each time a user opens the same email, a request for that image is recorded. Additionally, we are also able to obtain further information about the user such as IP address and web browser.

The only downside to this technology is that most ISPs block image content by default in an effort to prevent spam and phishing attacks. Gmail has taken a different approach by turning on images securely for every email message. However, there are a few things to consider:

What marketers will gain from the change? – The good!

–          Increased unique opens and accuracy:

Based on our research the images are only cached when opened, not received. This means we are still able to register the initial open and with more accuracy for engagement instead of relying on the user to display images. Additionally, this will produce an increase in unique opens which will level off over time.

So what marketers will lose as a result?  – The not so bad!

–          Loss of total opens and other user information:

As mentioned, instead of the web browser loading the image directly from the Adobe servers, they will contact a Google cache that will get the image on its behalf and serve it. This simply means we will not be able to capture subsequent opens. The rollout also seem to be affecting Gmail apps for both iOS and Android, however users who have Gmail account and receive mail via POP or IMAP set up on these devices should not be affected.   In addition, information such as IP address, location and browser type will be lost affecting real-time content device data reporting.

We are continuing to adjust reporting and perform testing to better understand the change.

In essence, change is always good, especially if it means better insight on engagement. While this does decrease visibility to some extent, we also gain insight we never had before. Additionally, Google is known for implementing updates that constantly change the email game in order to provide their users with a secure and pleasurable experience.  Senders need to always be prepared to quickly adapted to those changes and expect further updates as Google continues their path to fight spam and phishing attacks.