Recent Google changes have created an environment where email optimization is mandatory for companies with high quantities of Gmail users. Google is working to improve the user experience for search and Gmail. Email marketers have to adapt or die. Continuing to use the standard template favored by many companies that includes a promotional headline and untagged images is not adapting. New designs have to be created that minimize negative effects and capitalize on the benefits.
There are two changes that create the Google effect. The first one is the new Gmail interface that introduces a tabbed inbox. Messages from companies are automatically routed away from the Primary inbox into Promotional or Update tabs. This reduces the effectiveness of email marketing for companies with Gmail users in their database. Failing to plan for this is risky business.
There are plenty of opinion pieces on the web that use global statistics to show that the new inbox will have minimal effect. Those opinions will be accurate for some companies. Others will find a dramatic decrease in response rates because people will not see their emails in a timely fashion. Global statistics are interesting but they mean little for individual marketing strategies. Common sense dictates that removing marketing messages from the primary inbox will reduce the visibility. Reduced visibility lowers open rates and lower open rates mean fewer sales.
What will happen to your company’s email marketing program? It is impossible to know at this time but you need to plan now to minimize any negative effects. When planning, you should know that the second Google change can be leveraged to improve visibility. This needs to be factored into the plan so you can maximize the return from your email strategy.
Enhanced search is the second Google change. The field trial that has been going on for about a year is being rolled out. Search results for Google users are no longer limited to information on the web. Google also searches Gmail, Google Calendar, Google+, and Google Drive to find the answers. The initial rollout includes flights, reservations, package delivery info, plans, and photos. When the field trial becomes fully active, emails relevant to search are expected to be included also.
It’s too early to know how everything will work together but we do know this: Search bots cannot “read” images. Those image heavy emails without alt tag descriptions will be invisible to the bots. Optimizing for search means that the emails have to have text with good keywords so they can be found. There isn’t a down side to this because optimized emails also improve visibility for the people receiving them. Lowe’s combines text and images well in the following example.
This is how it looks without the images view:
Viewing the images changes it to this:
There is a good mix of text and images for humans and bots. Getting the most from your email marketing requires content that speaks to people and is searchable by bots. To leverage the Google effect:
- Create emails that fulfill recipients’ needs. Messages from companies that educate, entertain, and enrich people’s lives will be found and read. Fulfilling a need is the first step to getting a response.
- Write great subject lines. The decision to open emails is made in an instant. Subject lines are like headlines. They need to capture attention and make people want more.
- Use ALT tags well. Creating good ALT tags that communicate to people and bots improves response and searchability. Invest the time to do it well.
- Remember to include keywords. Working keywords into the text increases the likelihood that bots will find and show your emails.
- Test, test, and test. Global recommendations need to be tested to see if they work for your company and customers. Testing helps you find what works best.
For tips on how to optimize your emails, check out 31 Ways to Supercharge Your Email Marketing.