Back to the Future: Gmail Turns on Images in Email

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UPDATE: Since this post was originally published, real-time content and re-open tracking have returned to Gmail. Learn more in our latest post on how Gmail handles images.

If you’ve been an email marketer (or user) long enough, you might remember a time when you didn’t have to “click here to display images” in order to see images inside of an email. Several large email services began suppressing images by default in the mid 2000s as part of their efforts to protect users from the rampant, uncontrollable messaging abuse that was taking place back then.

Images in email were a primary mechanism for not only confirming live email addresses to spammers, but also for delivering fraudulent phishing emails and dropping viruses and other types of malicious code on users’ desktops. Anti-spam technology has come a long way since those dark days, and today most consumers rarely, if ever, see unwanted and harmful messages in their inbox.

Last Thursday, December 12, Google’s Gmail email service clarified the reasoning behind its recent image handling changes and announced that going forward, all images will be displayed by default in the Gmail inbox. Gmail openers will now immediately see your email with on-brand creative, offers, and clear calls to action. If you are using agile email marketing technology to personalize emails at the moment of open, then you’ve just been given a much greater opportunity to make the sale.

Auto-enabled images provide a better consumer email experience, and are an opportunity for marketers to present more relevant offers. The majority of what Movable Ink offers still works on Gmail (web crops, countdown timers, creative optimization, video) while others (geo-targeting, weather targeting) will work when passing in the location data you have on file. Device targeting is the one real lost opportunity on Gmail, although if Gmail continues to innovate and decides to support media queries, this could change.

Auto-enabling images will give agile email marketers a better opportunity to deliver creative, memorable, and engaging campaigns that stand out in the inbox, and in turn drive increased customer loyalty and conversions. The increase in the number of opens we can expect to see at Gmail is a net positive and, in the long run, a win for both marketers and their customers.

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