Gmail’s recent switch to a promotions tab has generated a fair amount of buzz. Some researchers have taken an early look at what the changes have meant for email marketers, suggesting that they shouldn’t worry too much for now. Open rates may have been negatively affected (depending on the research), but value per open may turn out to increase, at least according to one source. Following are two perspectives on the change.
An interesting piece comes courtesy of Sailthru, which analyzed more than 70 million campaign messages for its analysis. The researcher notes that many of its clients are commerce clients, for whom seasonality is a big issue. As a result, open and engagement rates differ significantly for them from one week to the next throughout the year, making a simple before/after analysis ineffective.
To sidestep that issue, Sailthru compared the degree of difference between the week of 7/15-7/21 to the week of 7/22-7/28 for Gmail versus 3 other prominent ISPs: Yahoo!; Hotmail; and AOL. (Tabs was rolled out on 7/22.)
What they found was very interesting. Among commerce companies, Gmail opens increased by 1.1% (11.5% vs. 11.4%) from one week to the next, but that change was smaller than the 3.7% increase (weighted average) for the 3 other ISPs.
When it came to revenue per open (still for commerce companies only), the week-over-week change was -24% for Gmail, but that was almost 10% better than the -26.6% for the other ISPs.
A similar pattern played out for media companies analyzed. Gmail opens were down 6.6% from one week to the next, worse than the 3.4% drop among the other ISPs. But, the value per open (pageviews/open, used as a proxy for ad revenue) actually increased by 5.9% for Gmail, compared to a 1% decrease for the other ISPs.
The researchers conclude that until they “have a more robust analysis, [they] recommend email marketers apply their focus to gross revenue per send.”
A second piece of research on Gmail Tabs, this time from Return Path [download page], looked only at read rate before and after rollout. Segmenting its analysis by engagement level of the user, the researcher found that the read rate among users with a high engagement level (11% of total users) actually increased by 2.1% after the rollout. For those with a medium level of engagement (88% of users), read rate declined by about 7%. However, the inbox placement rate (flat among highly-engaged users) increase by 1.5% among those with medium levels of engagement.
That means that the most active Gmail users actually read more emails after the rollout, while the vast majority of users (those with medium engagement) read marketers’ emails at a slightly lesser rate, but received more of them.
(Inbox placement rate was up by 7.6% among those with low levels of engagement, while read rates dropped by more than 80%. However these users represent just 1% of the total and had low engagement rates to begin with.)
Looking at read rates by industry, Return Path notes that most were stable, although airlines doubled their read rates and credit card makers and daily deal messages also enjoyed their highest engagement rates in 4 months. The researchers conclude that even “given the freedom to ignore classes of email, most Gmail users are choosing to seek out and read the marketing messages that interest them.”
One final salient point made by Return Path: mobile devices aren’t affected by the change. Given the increasing amount of emails opened on mobiles, the changes wrought by Tabs may not be as consequential as once feared.