Why Gmail Won’t Ask You to “Display Images Below” Anymore

Google has had a lot up their sleeves lately with the recent announcement of their Hummingbird update followed by their latest news, a change to how images will display in Gmail. This update to Gmail was officially announced on the Gmail blog yesterday.

According to Google, you’ll soon see all images displayed automatically across desktop, iOS, and Android, instead of having to manually click the “display images” link. Google used to serve images directly from their original external host servers, but will now serve all images through their own secure proxy servers.

For Gmail users, this means that your emails will load faster, messages will be safer and more secure, and that your images will automatically be checked for viruses and malware. In the past, Gmail has blocked images by default for privacy and security reasons, but this negatively impacts user experience by forcing users to manually download images. With this change, Google will cache images on their own proxy servers and rewrite image URLs. Images from this proxy server will then be shown to users without having them click on the “display images” link.

Unfortunately, this change will impact email reporting when it comes to your total Gmail open counts. In the past, email opens were recorded in Gmail each time an email was opened and the images were downloaded, even if the email was being opened multiple times by the same person. Now, with Google’s new proxy servers, an email open will be recorded when Google’s proxy server first grabs the image from the host server. Any subsequent opens by the recipient will grab the cached tracking images from Google and won’t be tracked.

As of right now, this change only affects those using the Gmail web interface, but it will be rolled out to mobile email clients in early 2014. Recipients who do not use Google email clients to access their Gmail account (iOS Mail, Outlook, Thunderbird, etc) will not be affected.

So what does this mean for Pardot clients? Like any email service provider, Pardot open counts will be affected by this change, although the impact of this varies based on how many of your email recipients use Gmail. In general, your total open count will be lower than it really is. Keep in mind that automatic opens and image blocking make open rates an unreliable metric to begin with, and that click counts are a much more telling metric for measuring user engagement.

Overall, this is a great change for email marketing, and campaigns should be much more effective with images enabled by default in Gmail. We will keep you updated as more information becomes available!