What marketers should know about the new, redesigned Gmail.

2018 has been nothing short of an electrifying year for Google’s Gmail. While Google celebrated its 20th anniversary on September 28, its flagship mail product Gmail marked its 14th year of existence last April. In fact, when Gmail was launched on April 1, 2004, many thought it was a stunt, a part of Google’s popular April Fool’s Day pranks.

Over the past 14 years, Gmail has come quite a long way. Initially dubbed “Project Caribou,” Gmail started as an interesting side project and has grown to be the world’s most popular email service, with more than 1.4 billion active users. Yeah, that’s a “b,” you read it correctly. Gmail’s user interface and features have evolved over the past decade, including a “streamlined” new look in 2011, and a flurry of new features and functionality added in, such as notifications about forgotten email attachments, undo send, priority inbox, tabs, and TLS encryption padlock warnings, just to name a few.

Most recently, last April Gmail announced its biggest makeover to date. The redesign, dubbed simply “the new Gmail,” introduces users to features designed to increase productivity and security right from your inbox. It also includes innovative functionality like “offline mode,” hover-over actions, improved GSuite app sidebar, enhanced security notifications, “confidential mode,” and “nudging”. They also threw in features first introduced with the soon-to-be-defunct Inbox by Gmail like AI-powered “smart replies” and the ability to “snooze” emails and choose when they reappear in your inbox.

Made available in a global phased rollout since April 2018, the new Gmail is now generally available to all Gmail and GSuite users and will permanently replace the legacy Gmail coming up on October 16, 2018. Soon after this date, any users who opted out of the new Gmail or held fast in switching over will be automatically migrated to the new experience.

Impact to Email Marketers

As with any news coming from Google about Gmail, the email marketing industry holds their breath. …Ok, they often completely freak out. Anyone remember the fallout from the Gmail Tabs? That was because Gmail dominates the global webmail service landscape and any change tends to have a ripple effect felt across the email marketing community.

According to research by Litmus, Gmail is trending to surpass the iPhone as the most popular mail client in market share (27% to iPhone’s 28%). The timing of Gmail’s rise in market share aligned with the redesign soft launch back in April. Will we see Gmail surpass the iPhone mail app before the end of the year? I think so.

What is the impact on open rates, engagement, and deliverability?

Let me save you the suspense. I believe the new Gmail redesign will only improve the experience and engagement of subscribers managing their inbox. It is clear Gmail does its research and sets the bar for what a mailbox client UI should feel like, with other webmail providers following suit. Brady Edwards, 250ok’s director of sales, weighed in on this topic in a recent Media Post article stating, “Gmail owns the majority of inboxes in the world now. But they’re not trying to become the sole monopoly — they’re giving users a fresh look, with more functionality.” By creating a more organized and productive mailbox, average subscribers will have an easier way to manage their inbox, leading to increased opens and engagement.

Features like nudge notifications and snoozing emails are likely to have little to no impact on email performance metrics, as they function the same as ignoring an email or just flagging an email for follow-up.

If any of the new features impact engagement or deliverability, it will be the new smart unsubscribe feature available for the iOS Gmail mobile app (Android coming soon). Marketers should understand if they are sending to subscribers who haven’t engaged with their brand in a long period of time. With this new feature, mailbox providers like Gmail (and Yahoo) will suggest email subscriptions from which to unsubscribe, reducing inbox clutter.

Keep in mind, unsubscribing is a healthy way for recipients to opt-out of your emails, rather than hitting spam and complaining. David Thacker from Google added, “Using intelligence, unsubscribe suggestions appear based on cues like how many emails you get from a sender and how many of them you actually read. You’ll start to see these notifications show up in your inbox over the coming weeks.” I believe this feature will find its way into the personal webmail and GSuite accounts soon.

Conclusion:

Change is hard, and after we get accustomed to the look and feel of an app, website, or mail client, it’s difficult to adjust. Since its inception in 2004, there have been numerous Gmail innovations and all of these have been made to improve user experience and increase productivity.

Gmail will continue to pioneer innovation and lead by example among webmail providers, and it’s important for marketers to take note. As with any new redesign, time will tell how the new Gmail redesign will impact email performance and engagement, but so far the impact has been minimal.

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