In a study of more than 22 million messages delivered across 1.4
million inboxes, email deliverability service Return Path saw that
for the 11% of consumers most likely to read marketers' emails,
read rates for the week after the redesign's roll-out improved by
2% to 59.9% compared to the 90 days leading up to the switch. For
the 88% of consumers considered moderately engaged with marketers'
emails, read rates dipped from 10.6% to 9.8%, and for the 1% of
people apathetic to marketers' communications, read rates dropped
from 2.2% to 0.4%.
Return Path measured a 17% read rate for July 2012 versus 15.6%
for July 2013, but saw that placement rates -- marketing emails
making it into users' inboxes instead of their spam folders --
actually improved, said the company's senior director of email
research Tom Sather.
Return Path's findings demonstrate that Gmail's redesign has
Darwinized email marketers' subscriber lists, improving performance
with the more attentive customers and phasing out the
least-attentive, said Loren McDonald, VP at marketing software and
services company Silverpop. Silverpop surveyed 236 clients, 13% of
whom reported seeing a decrease in email opens and 10% of whom
experienced a decline in conversions and revenue in the wake of
Gmail's new format. "If you're deploying a not-great email program,
it may negatively impact you," Mr. McDonald said. "If people are
already ignoring your emails, they may ignore them at a higher
Responsys exec Kevin Senne described the new layout as positive
for Responsys's clients, which include Southwest Airlines, Whole
Foods and Lenovo, because it puts marketing emails in front of
consumers when they're in the mood to read them rather than
interrupting their flow of personal communications or social media
notifications. "When folks go to a promotions tab now, it's by
choice. They're looking for something specific," he said.
For some marketers, that's not good enough. BuzzFeed
reported earlier this week that Gap has emailed subscribers
asking to be moved to Gmail's primary inbox, as Gilt did. Mr.
McDonald said some of Silverpop's clients are asking to do the same
thing, though he disagrees with the strategy. So too does Mr. Senne
from Responsys, and Mr. Lack from Jiffy Lube said that the brand
doesn't plan to send out such emails though that could change if it
finds the redesign hurting its emails' performance.
Other marketers have tried to trick their way into the primary
inbox. Welcome emails -- as well as transactional emails like
shipping notifications and order receipts -- are delivered to the
primary inbox, and Ms. Aronson has seen some brands' messages
include keywords like "welcome" in the subject line of non-welcome
emails. Those marketers risk catching Google's ire, said Mr.
Sather. Ahead of the redesign and likely because of it, the company
its guidelines for people sending emails in bulk advising them that
"the subject of each message should be relevant to the body's
content and not be misleading."
So what's an email marketer to do? Here are three tips.
Use evergreen subject lines: Because Gmail
users may not check the Promotions tab as often as their primary
inbox, messages carrying the subject line "Sale! Today Only!" may
sit unread until tomorrow and then be deleted for appearing
expired. "Sale! Discounts Up to 50%" is a better option.
Adopt dynamic content: An evergreen subject
line doesn't ensure that one-day sale email doesn't still get
forwarded to the trash folder, especially if the sale has ended.
Companies like Movable Ink specialize in changing the body of an
email based on when and where it was opened. If the sale is over,
it could swap out the message with one promoting clearance
Get smarter at segmenting your subscribers: If
you're a big-box retailer emailing your loyalty card members about
a new product line for newborns, don't send that to the people
purchasing prunes and Polident. Message with relevance and maybe
they'll mark you with a "priority" label or even let you into their