Inbox Wars – Gmail images

inbox wars

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As you may or may not have heard Gmail has decided to automatically load images for all of its users.

”yaaaay!” I hear you cry.

“But why didn’t they do this earlier?” … is a great question.

Images are blocked to stop spammers finding about live inboxes and to stop viruses getting into your computers and phones through images. This was a famous way of getting infected back in the late nineties when Outlook used the “open doorway to viruses” that was older versions of internet explorer to render emails. Now Outlook uses MS word, you are far safer, however the rendering is horrific. This is when the preheader “Can’t see this email? click here” was born.

On the back of this almost everyone started to block images for security reasons both in installed email clients and the web-app clients. Except on a Mac as they weren’t targeted with these kind of viruses to the extent Windows was.

Then along came the iPhone and suddenly Windows users were presented with an inbox that didn’t block images; at this point people started to wonder why this wasn’t normal practice.

Since Google is in direct competition with Apple for phones and in direct competition with Microsoft for cloud office, their email services had to keep up with Apple as well as stay ahead of Microsofts Office365 and Outlook.com

Outside of the inbox’s “always show images from this sender” button, Microsoft already had a few auto-load images options:

Senderscore certification: if you qualify, you can pay ReturnPath for a whitelisting which tells most big inboxes such as Yahoo and Hotmail (not Gmail) that you are a safe sender. These inboxes will then let you in and generally auto-load your images. This is particularly good as the images off experience in Hotmail is terrible.

Recently with the rebrand to Outlook.com, Hotmail have been using their background reputation system to decide to auto-load images of some senders. This has not been consistent but a nice change.

Gmail meanwhile was not without it’s own tricks: Gmail’s images off experience was one of the best around. Gmail knows that their audience understand image blocking, so doesn’t go over the top like Microsoft has done previously. Instead Gmail will show alt text in most situations, it will show background colours and will let you style the alt text, Pizza Express used this very well!

Also if a user replies to an address more than twice, Gmail will decide that the sender is a trusted contact and start to autoload the images.

Today, Gmail will lead the windows, online and Android inbox experience with consistent autoloading of images, putting an end to having to load the images each time.

Don’t forget to turn on your Android phone’s email sync!

Hello Gmail Images bye-bye Location and Device reporting

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As announced yesterday on Gmail’s official blog, Gmail will now always show images for all inboxed emails on any device.

This means as long as you use a Gmail official inbox you will not have to do anything to get the images to show once you open the email.

Yaaaay!!!

Just in case you were wondering how Gmail are able to do this safely without the threat of viruses being downloaded through images (this being the reason why they were blocked in the first place), here’s the skinny…

Google are serving the images themselves, not looking them up from your web-space each time!

How, what keh? – I know it’s a bit techy but the point is fairly important, as are the consequences, so bear with me:

When someone, ie: you, opens the email for the first time instead of the inbox loading the images from your image store web space, like a web-page would, Google’s own servers will load the images and save them on Google web space, then the email will load the from there.

Every time you open that email, the images are already at Google and therefore will load much quicker. This also means that Google will have checked every image for security at their end before giving you the images themselves, rather than an unknown party.

I’m not sure how many people visit an email on multiple occasions, but the mobile inbox triage and open by device patterns seem to suggest that people read emails whilst on the go in the day, then click through on the relevant ones when they get home/to work over wifi.

As a receiver and a reader of emails, I am delighted!

As an email marketer I am delighted about the images loading, however I am FURIOUS about the cost!

By caching the images themselves Google has killed off the extra reporting email marketers get when someone loads the images, so no more Opens By Device and Geo-Location reporting.

This is a universal occurrence and will affect all marketers and ESPs a like. It has nothing to do with which software you use to send your emails, it is completely about how Gmail works not how the emails are sent or by who.

The reason why these are affected is because Email marketers’ abilities to have all of this information relies on a single image in the marketing email and the way that image is loaded by the inbox is what tells us which device they use and where(ish) they are.

Now every Gmail open will supply only information about the Google server which caches the images. So you might find that you have a lot of new openers in America or wherever Google’s nearest data centre is.

This is a great pity and I am keeping an eye on the situation. There is a slim chance they will slightly alter the process to let some detail slip through, you’ll know when I know

This will also likely put an end video in Gmail and dull the effects dynamic images.

Video is no great loss, it was only novelty from HTML5 and I’m fine with it being only for web-pages.

Dynamic images are a bit of a loss though. The ability to server up a different image depending on the time someone opens an email is great for sales and deadline offers. If you open an email today you could see an accurate count down timer to Christmas, if you open that email tomorrow the timer will still be correct because it is served dynamically. Now Gmail caches the image you will also only see the first image.

NOT ALL GMail users will be affected – this is only happening to people who use Gmail apps: Gmail browser inbox and Gmail mobile apps; Inboxes like iPhone’s native inbox, Outlook and Thunderbird are not affected!

According to Movableinc: “More Gmail recipients open email on iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) than through any other email service — including web-based Gmail itself, which greatly mitigates the impact of the changes, and is the reason why they only affect 2% – 5% of most email marketers’ subscribers.”

There is rumor that not all ESPs will report repeat opens, any that don’t probably will soon now that EmailExpert has broken the story and given the solution; It is not that worrying for sender, a re-open is very very rare!

4 factors of disengagement

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Engagement is currently one of the hottest topics in Email Marketing success at the moment because more and more ISPs and Inbox Hosts are using their users’ engagement with your emails to decide how to allow your emails in. In order to help optimise your inbox placement, content freedom and open reach: it helps to know what could be causing engagement problems and how to attend to them.

Here are four main factors for disengagement, unsurprisingly deliverability has the most copy about it but it should not be the biggest cause if you collect and treat your data well. All of these things need to be considered when you upgrade your programs to include engagement monitoring and targeting to optimise results

1. Disinterest.
The obvious one is list fatigue. People have been on your list for a while, you’ve been emailing them regularly with the same stuff for a while and some of them deprioritised you. They don’t opt-out but they don’t open.

You can get through to these people by mixing it up a bit, more with subject lines than anything else. These people are whom a re-engagement campaign are for; segment by engagement levels, find the people who have opened at all but not for a while and talk to them differently than those who have recently. These people are not opening your emails so the only touch point you have is the subject line, use it wisely, use it better. Be relevant, be novel, be different and even remarkable. Test, test, test!

And while you are at it, don’t forget: those that see your subject line still see you your subject line! So even if they don’t open the email, you have exposure, so consider the story you are telling them over time. Where is the ending? Christmas? Easter? Summer Holidays? All of them?

2. Abandoned inbox
The owner of this address has got a new primary address and just left this one alone. They have already updated their main subscriptions: Amazon, their bank, Twitter, Facebook etc.  They may have , at some point, intended to check it every so often just in case there is something they want to move over and may have done a couple that they couldn’t live without, eg: Groupon, Wowcher; and left some they found could, eg: Livingsocial etc etc. but now they are continuing their lives in joyful ignorance of the contents of their now long forgotten former email address.

At some point it is likely that this inbox will fill up and start to soft bounce, rejecting the emails because it has reached it’s storage capacity; where possible these should be spotted and opted out after 3 or 5 sends because you know it’s abandoned.

Eventually, the inbox provider or ISP, will see that this inbox is abandoned and decide to close it in order to save wasted space.

Once this happens, emails to this inbox will hard bounce, so as long as you are able to catch and suppress your bounces, you will not longer email it.

On some occasions, the Inbox provider will decide to re-open the inbox after a certain amount of months (commonly 7-14) and turn it into a spam recycled spam trap or a “zombie trap”. This email address will stop hard bouncing and start to accept emails; it will not register any other activity but will be very bad for your sender reputation in that particular ISP. As long as you have been emailing every address at least once a quarter since the day it signed up and you have been efficiently managing your hard bounces, you will catch it at the hard bounce and avoid the trap. If you, however, leave a list too long, try to wake up an old list or attain a list from elsewhere (purchase, rent etc.) you run the risk if acquiring spam traps which you will not know about until you have sent many emails to that list and you segment based on opens or lack of.

3. Typos
It may not be obvious but people sometimes spell their own address wrong. Email to these address might not always hard bounce either, they will simply swallow email up like a black hole.
Sadly some typo black-hole domains have been acquired by email security organisations and act like zombie traps.
It is worth while avoiding getting them on your list in the first place but look out for them as you analyse records which have never reacted to an email from you.
If the typo is in the prefix you may never know it is a typo, so it is best to try to help the user spell it right when they first sign-up.

4. Deliverability

One variable which really helps to eliminate is your ability to get the email in front of the recipient in the first place. You cannot really know if they are worth trying to engage or if they are abandoned etc. if they are not getting the email for some reason or another, so you need to test for deliverability at some stage in a re-engagement process.

Normally this is one of the last things you do in a re-engagement process…

These problems can come in 5 main flavours:

  1. High Risk Content
    Your content, from the copy to the HTML could be triggering content spam filters at recipient’s inboxes causing them to be catagorised as spam and consequently junked. This can from key words, image to text ratio, hidden content, phishing issues and more. How much of the content is tolerated can be decided upon by your sender reputation in that ISP…You get around this by experimenting with safer content just to get a reaction, eg: at least 60% text, upto 40% images & 3 images not all touching; plain text only with one or two tracked links or simply requesting a reply.
  2. Email Address & Domain Blocking
    In clients like MS Outlook, if someone hits the spam button you don’t get to know about it, like you would from an ISP with a feedback loop; this means that when they hit the button your from address is blacklisted in that inbox, probably forever. There are a few inboxes which work this way, some installed clients some server side web-apps etc. Some can even tell the mail admin about it and cause them block all mail from that address to all users. Most of these are business servers of course. Some of these servicesYou can get around this by targeting people who have not opened in a long while from a different email address all together with a reminder of who you are and how they know you.
  3. Bad Reputation
    If your reputation in a particular ISP is not good your inbox placement and general email acceptance can be at risk. As you may or may not already know, your reputation is a direct result of your recipient’s reactions to your emails in that ISP or inbox host. So recipients hitting the spam button a lot is bad and high number of opens and replies is good – the main point is to prioritise messaging rather than marketing and then give users the opportunity to manually safelist marketing emails with various flagging options.If you collect your subscribers in the right way, this should never be a real problem for you and you could explore Sender Score Certification to remove further ambiguity.
    If your data collection methods do push the ISP’s and recipients’ definitions of permission, this is likely to be a problem for you. You will need to do a very good clean of your existing data and alter your methods or collection and emailing, in some cases severely, in order to prove to the ISPs that you deserve the inbox placement you want because you are essentially in breach of all of their Ts & Cs for email senders.
  4. Black Listing
    This is not really an engagement issue but more of a data collection and email compliance issue but will obviously cause lack of engagement because it is a sure fire way to avoid the inbox.
    If you have previously hit space traps or been marked as spam by many recipients, you domain or IP address could have been blacklisted, this could have either been on a specific ISP or a more open backlist which other filters refer to. Most of these will allow you to apply for a delisting but there are correct answers to their questions and they can tell if you are lying. IP backlisting is slightly more common because there are more IP lists out there because it is an older and far more proven tool to stop real spammers. Some backlists are worse than others and some you are likely to know about because your ISP may have been listed as a result eg: Spamhaus.
    The idea to avoid this is to only send to people who have provided their email address in the process of wanting to receive emails, not forced or sneaked; don’t buy lists, don’t scraped from the web and don’t guess addresses.
    Once you have tidied up your act you can ask for delistings, although it would be worth experimenting with a new domain and IP.

Can you think of any more reasons, could some reasons be more important than others, do some reasons only apply to some senders?

[image source cynthiakane.com]

How to do Engagement Targeting – Webinar

Engagement

A week or so I hold a couple of webinars on how to implement and perform engagement targeting:

Here is the recording of the first one

The second one, for B2B Magazine might have had better content, mainly because I was quicker over the first few slides so I had to fill it out later on, but sadly it was not as good quality also because our CEO walked into the meeting room where I was hosting and wheeled out a telly that was next to me – this caused a tiny stutter as it hit my feet.

img src: http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/blogs/the-girls-guide/3950145/One-engagement-ring-to-rule-them-all

Best open times ruined by mobile

In the last … forever … email marketers have studied the best time of day to send an email to get the most people to open it.

On a B2B level you knew they’d be at work 9-5, probably using MS Outlook, with coffee and lunch breaks.
Consumers would tend to be better in the early evenings when they turned their computers on after dinner.

Now we’ve all got smart phones not only can we check our emails on the move at any time, we can even get alerted to a new email by our phone, like we would an SMS.

This means more recipients will open the email within minutes of receiving it. So, to an extent, it does not matter when the emails are sent, a large percentage of the list will open it straight away.
Especially with iPhones loading the images automatically.

It does not, however, mean engagement!

This also means that most of the open times studies are now wrong. It’s no longer about the time of the open it’s about the time of engagement: opportunity, convenience, brand rapport, relevance;

Or has it always been this way and KPIs have simply distracted us?

(image: courtesy of Swagstein)