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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.