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Open tracking in Gmail is now more accurate

Gmail open tracking

Back in December Google made an exciting change to how Gmail works. Going forward they’ll be loading images by default, rather than prompting customers to click a link to display images.

Gmail autoloading

Why does Gmail auto-loading images matter?

On the surface, the initial change is that your customers will be able to see any images you’ve included in your email without taking further action. However, the way Google is loading the images comes with a downside–only the first open by a user will be tracked, subsequent opens won’t be.

How do email marketers track email opens?

Email providers track opens by inserting a small image–unique to each subscriber–into the email. When that image is loaded, we know the email has been opened.

Email opens have historically been under-represented with Gmail users. People would have to explicitly click “Display Images” on an email in order for an open to be tracked. Not all emails had images and only a subset of users who opened an email clicked “display images”.

Gmail market share was seriously underrepresented

Anecdotally, looking at Litmus’ email client marketshare numbers, Gmail may have been underreported by almost double. Jumping up 2.91% in Litmus’ reporting of market share in December from 3% to 6%.

Gmail jumps to 6%

Gmail image caching leads to more accurate reporting

Now that images are shown by default, you’ll see a more accurate unique open rate from people using the Gmail web client or Gmail app. The default will be to have the initial open tracked, unless people change their settings. People using other clients to access their Gmail accounts will bypass Google’s image proxy.

The downside of Gmail image caching

However, Google added a twist to loading images by default; they’ll be loading them via a proxy and cache the images. This means that using images to identify the recipient’s location and browser details won’t work. Since the images are cached, all subsequent opens aren’t be trackable.

The sky hasn’t fallen, though. We’re excited about these changes. It means Google is giving Gmail customers a similar experience to many other email clients, by not prompting for image loading. You’ll still be able to tell if a specific person opened an email. Since images are loaded by default, you’ll be better able to see who loves your emails and who doesn’t.