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Impact of Gmail Prefetching On Email Marketing Metrics

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False open rates have become a big concern for email marketers since the launch of Apple Mail Privacy Protection (AMPP). This feature doesn’t allow businesses to know their customers' open rates, IP addresses, and precise location.

Now it seems that Google is also making it harder to track open rates by prefetching images in Gmail under certain circumstances. Since Gmail has 28.13% of email users, the Gmail prefetching is impactful enough to give you a false sense of high open rates.

Keep reading to know what Gmail prefetching is, its impact on your marketing metrics, and how to minimize its negative consequences on your future campaigns.

Table of contents

What is Gmail prefetching?

Gmail prefetching is a process where Gmail prefetches images even before recipients open their email, which is different from Gmail image cache which happens when recipients open the email.

As analyzed by Sparkpost, Gmail prefetches images under these circumstances:

  • When a user logs into their Gmail app on the web or mobile and has an active session.

  • The email's sent when the user has an active session.

  • Comes from Google’s IP address.

  • The following user agent–a software that acts on behalf of users–was used for the request: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/42.0.2311.135 Safari/537.36 Edge/12.246 Mozilla/5.0. This string's opening indicates that the emails have undergone Gmail prefetching.

What are the impacts of Gmail prefetching?

Gmail prefetching leads to an inflated open rate under any of the circumstances mentioned above, giving you an unreliable and misleading number to measure. But, the impact is still fairly light compared to the impact of Apple’s MPP launch in September 2020.

A study by Sparkpost found that false opens accounted for only 1-6% out of all open events they tracked. But, the impact of Gmail prefetching depends on how many of your subscribers are using Gmail to open your emails.

But you still need to take steps to tackle this issue, or you’ll get a false sense of high open rates.

Besides that, you’ll just end up sending emails at the wrong time. That’s because Google will download the images even before the user open the email, triggering the open-based emails. But your user won’t have an idea about why you sent them this open-based email, so they’ll lack context and most likely won’t open that email.

So Gmail prefetching has caused many marketers to itch their heads in a similar way to AMPP. But both of these processes do differ and here’s how.

The difference between Gmail prefetching and AMPP

Although both Gmail prefetching and AMPP include prefetching of content, they serve different purposes and work under different conditions.

Gmail prefetching Apple Mail Privacy Protection
The intention is to provide a better user experience to Gmail users by reducing the email load time. The intention is to improve the privacy of Apple users.
The prefetching conditions include an active login session, involvement of Google’s IP address, and a request from a specific user-agent. The prefetching conditions include having upgraded to iOS 15, opted into MPP, inbox synced with the Apple Mail app, etc.

Related guide: Apple Mail Privacy Protection: What It Means For Email Marketers

Top 3 ways to tackle Gmail prefetching

Mailmodo’s many features can help you to tackle Gmail prefetching.

1. Tracking email quality score

Since the open rate isn’t a reliable tracking metric after AMPP and Gmail prefetching, you need to look at other metrics like email quality score. It is calculated using the formula below.

Email quality score = [1 - (unsubscribers/responders)] x 100

This metric shows you how many people like vs. dislike your emails which gives an idea about your users’ engagement quality. And at Mailmodo, we give all the necessary information like unsubscribes and responses data for you to calculate your email quality scores easily.

2. Avoid using open-rate-based triggered campaigns

Do you send triggered automated emails when users open your email? Well, you shouldn’t be anymore. You’ll just send emails at the wrong time due to Gmail prefetching. Gmail will load email even before user has opened your email and your contextually designed email will be triggered and sent to the user, leaving them confused. Instead, consider the read rate–which shows you if users have read your email for a certain time–as your metric since it’s reliable.

With Mailmodo, you can send triggered email campaigns based on website visits, order confirmations, webhooks, and not just open rates. You can even connect Mailmodo with other platforms such as HubSpot, Shopify, Customer.io, etc., and trigger emails from flows configured in those platforms.

3. Analyzing Gmail users' share in your ESP

Knowing how many of you use Gmail or Apple Mail will prove to be beneficial because it’ll let you predict how severely Gmail prefetching affects your open rate statistics. If Gmail users comprise most of your audience, you’ll see higher false open rates. And vice versa.

As you can see above, Mailmodo shows you how many users use popular email clients including Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, Apple Mail, and Others.

Conclusion

As big tech companies introduce privacy-driven features that make user tracking harder, it’s important to not be a victim of sudden changes and be prepared beforehand. Using reliable metrics like read rate and CTR instead of open rate is a good first step.

Apart from Gmail prefetching, Google plans to introduce another feature that’ll make online tracking a pain. And that is the drop of support for third-party cookies in 2023.

But you can keep yourself prepared for this drastic change by learning about hashed email addresses. They don’t depend on cookies to track user activity and allow marketers to observe their customers on all platforms. Read our guide on hashed email addresses to know more.

What you should do next

Hey there, thanks for reading till the end. Here are 3 ways we can help you grow your business:

  1. Talk to an email expert. Need someone to take your email marketing to the next level? Mailmodo’s experts are here for you. Schedule a 30-minute email consultation. Don’t worry, it’s on the house. Book a meet here.

  2. Send emails that bring higher conversions. Mailmodo is an ESP that helps you to create and send app-like interactive emails with forms, carts, calendars, games, and other widgets for higher conversions. Sign up now and send 10k free emails/month. Sign up here.

  3. Get smarter with our email resources. Explore all our knowledge base here and learn about email marketing, marketing strategies, best practices, growth hacks, case studies, templates, and more. Access guides here.

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