In the second of a series of posts on email best practice, we’re exploring the evolution of the Gmail Inbox, and some tips to ensure your emails have the best chance of being read.
Since its introduction in 2004, Google have looked to combine their stellar search technology with a webmail service, ensuring end-user experience always comes first. Much to the annoyance of marketers, the platform has evolved drastically over time, making it harder than ever to ensure that your customers see, read and engage with your email marketing.
With Gmail fast becoming the largest email service provider globally, it’s now more important than ever to ensure that marketers are keeping up with the technology giant.
So let’s look back at some of the recent major changes Google have introduced and what impact they’ve had on Marketers.
1. May 2013: The Tabbed Inbox
Gmail redesigned the inbox experience with its introduction of Tabs. Tabs allow consumers to have their email automatically organised into the following categories:
Primary - for friends and family correspondence
Social - for social media notifications
Promotions - for marketing discounts and offers
Updates - for alerts, bills, and receipts
Marketers initially panicked, believing the Promotions Tab would act as the new spam folder; diminishing response rates and any resulting revenue. Recent studies however have found the very opposite for active customers (ReturnPath, 2013). Tabs enable them to spend less time searching for personal correspondence and more time reading each message, thus engagement with marketing emails were found to have risen remarkably.
Last year, Microsoft followed-suit with a tabbed Inbox in their Outlook Android app. Although not as sophisticated with just two Tabs (Focus and Other), it has yet to be seen what impact this is having on consumer engagement.
TIP: Many brands have since tried getting customers to move their emails to the Primary tab by sending instructional messages. Some consumers have reacted badly to this with complaints and marking senders as spam. Our advice, the tabbed Inbox weeds out unengaged subscribers and maintains your sender reputation, let it do just that.
2. May 2013: Quick Actions
In the same month, Gmail introded ‘Quick Actions’, allowing users to perform actions without needing to open the email first. At present four types of Actions are supported:
RSVP – displays event details with the option to respond with Yes, No or Maybe
Review – aimed at giving a 3 star or written review of restaurants, films or other products and services
One-click Action – a simple call-to-action that can be completed within Gmail such as registration confirmation
Go-to Action – for more complicated actions that need to be confirmed on a landing page
Although marketers feared the effect on open rates, quick actions can revolutionise email marketing. Marketers can prompt direct action; or transaction from their customers.
TIP: Quick actions offer a great opportunity to test and learn. Where appropriate, add a quick action to your email whether it is event driven like a sale or click-through to some engaging social content. Watch out for a drop in open rates.
3. December 2013: Automatic caching and enabled images
Gmail started automatically caching and enabling images for users accessing their email via Gmail’s webmail interface and mobile app. This allowed images to be stored on a proxy server so that they could be scanned for viruses/malware and viewed without having to be downloaded, each time the email was opened. They would also be displayed without needed customers to click to enable.
Although this makes for a better user experience for your customers, the change affected tracking, meaning CRM providers were no longer able to distinguish where email opens occurred - desktop or mobile. The silver lining; increased accuracy in tracking email opens, especially in the native android browser. It should also be noted that emails sent to Gmail accounts but opened in other browsers remain unaffected.
TIP: Images tend to be the most attention grabbing content on emails; improve their effectiveness by ensuring they are relevant, convey the content of your email and allows customers to act or click-through.
4. February 2014: Automatic unsubscribe
Gmail simplified the use of their mailbox further, by adding an ‘Unsubscribe’ button next to the sender's address at the top of emails. Although the function allows consumers to remove themselves from mailing lists with ease, the process acts as a Feedback Loop allowing senders to retrieve this ‘unsubscribe’ as a complaint. Marketers are able to remove inactive customers and improve their sender reputation by allowing them to Unsubscribe rather than mark the email as Spam.
TIP: Pay attention to unsubscribes, ensuring they are opted-out within 3 days. To help, Atreemo automatically setup Gmail’s ‘list-unsubscribe header script’ in email headers, enabling the Automatic-unsubscribe feature for all our client’s.
5. March 2014: Grid View
Gmail began trialling a thumbnail view of the promotions tab allowing emails, brands and subject lines to be displayed in a more visually-appealing manner. The feature is still being trialled to opted-in webmail customers and there has been no news yet of when it might be rolled-out on mobile or to all users. It is too soon to confirm what impact this will have on email engagement and open rates although it certainly makes the Inbox a more visual place.
TIP: If you have a large Gmail subscriber database, get ahead of the game by adding the required code to your email HTML specifying images and links to use.
6. September 2015: Block Sender
Gmail recognise that there are a number of ways in which users will want to remove email:
Delete – deleted individual message
Unsubscribe – uses Automatic-unsubscribe or the sender’s unsubscribe link an email to prevent receiving messages in future
Report Spam – directing future messages from the sender to the Spam Folder and potentially making it more difficult for the sender to deliver email to other Gmail users
Report Phishing – reports the sender as untrustworthy
Block – Gmail will ensure that the subscriber never sees email from this sender again
They understood that the ‘Report Spam’ button was being used as a convenient unsubscribe and so would require users to report a sender as spam a few times to take effect, causing much frustration. The ability to block selected senders with one-click is yet another example of Gmail’s consideration for their end-users.
The function however has a significant impact on legitimate email marketers. To counteract this, ensure your email makes use of Gmail’s automatic-unsubscribe, your email has a prominent unsubscribe link and always ensure to stay relevant; making use of segmentation, personalisation and other tools and techniques mentioned in our recent blogs.
TIP: Preference centres allow your subscribers to manage the frequency, channels and content of marketing messages they receive from your brand. Include a preference centre to your email program allowing subscribers to decide how they’d like to hear from you. This will ensure that content is always relevant and keep customers actively engaged.
Gmail will continue to keep marketers on their toes for years to come. We need to take advantage of these changes and see them as opportunities to enhance your subscribers’ experience and engagement with the brand. It’s clear these new features give marketers more reason than ever to send targeted, relevant content.
If you’re interested in finding out how Atreemo could help you to get to grips with Gmail and improved delivery to the Inbox, please get in touch and you can speak to one of our best practice experts.