In case you missed it, Google recently rolled out a pretty big change to their Gmail system: tabs. The new layout comes standard with a few, but you can also add your own. One of the standard options is the “Promotions” tab which, as you can imagine, is quite good at catching and segmenting marketing emails. This is great for users, but scary for marketers, especially given the data MailChimp just released.
Email was king of canvass-style marketing there for a while, but in recent years has played a lesser role thanks to the growth of social media. Lesser, but certainly not anywhere close to extinct. I work with a lot of advertisers and marketing professionals and I’m continually met with folks interested in either advertising via email or firms looking for those savvy with email marketing strategy. But when a massive email host changes the way we do email, sometimes there isn’t much any of us can do in this department.
Gmail’s new system is having a discernable effect on marketing email open rates. I specifically subscribe to certain emails (like from Sigma, Canon, Gilt, Amazon, etc). Before, all emails were treated equal and vied for my attention in order of receipt. However, now that they are segmented in their own box, sometimes I don’t even see them. And I have personally noticed that my inclination to open those emails has dropped off.
Apparently this isn’t just a personal symptom.
MailChimp, my personal favorite email service, recently conducted a study of pre and post Gmail change data. What MailChimp’s Matthew found was that “before the tabbed layout, open rates to Gmail had been above 13% for 15 weeks. They never dipped below that threshold unless there was a specific holiday. For instance, weekday opens for Gmail fell to 12.5% on the week of Valentine’s day. Open rates between Christmas and New Years are an abysmal 10.5%. Something about spending time with loved ones just isn’t conducive to combing through your inbox. Weird, right?
"What bothers me in this case is that open rates stayed down for 3 consecutive weeks. From looking at a year and half’s worth of data, I can say that kind of behavior isn’t normal. I’m not willing to declare an emergency just yet. After all, I don’t even know what the adoption rate is on Gmail’s side. However, I would say this is an early indicator, and we’re definitely keeping our eye on it."
If you are running email campaigns to help your business, know that this affects your audience and therefore your bottom line. A huge number of people use gmail, and a single digit percentage point fall in open rate can translate into dollar bills in your wallet, depending on how much you rely on email for your message.
And I’m sure you’re thinking that there is a way to get your emails out of “Promotions” and into “Primary.” Though there might be, Google is too smart for this to work in the long term. Matt says “Gmail is really good at what they do. I’ve messed around with a ton of different content and header configurations, and anything that looks like it came from an ESP (has a list-unsubscribe header, unsubscribe links in the content, etc…) goes to either the Promotions tab or the Updates tab.”
They’re still trying and working on tests, but just keep these changes in mind. This is precisely why it is good to diversify your marketing methods. You never know when a large, or even small, change will upset your apple cart.