Written by Matt Morris on December 12, 2014
in Email Marketing

Over the past year, Google has rolled out some pretty interesting updates to its widely used Gmail email platform. First they refreshed and introduced a few tweaks to the automatic tabbed folder/filing system, released to the world a “new” way to experience email with Inbox, and most recently, updated their system to make emails more mobile friendly. Although we can spend countless hours hypothesizing why Google are making updates and what the future holds for Gmail and email as a whole, we’re going to focus on the most recent changes; the “ad-hoc’ responsive emails.

Before we dive into the most recent changes, it’s important to note that the native Gmail app (iPhone & Android) has never supported true responsive emails and the media queries that accompany them. Media queries and responsive emails (for those unfamiliar with the terms) work when lines of code built into the HTML of an email tell the message when it’s rendering to stretch (or shrink) the display of certain images or content based on a number of different criteria such as screen size, device etc. (here’s great infographic on responsive email design). The obvious goal of responsive emails is to have the best user experience possible, regardless of how or where the individual chooses to open and interact with the message.

To many, the most recent changes were thought to be a changing of the guard at Gmail, in that they are finally embracing media queries and responsive emails.  A newly opened email is now coupled with a message that states “This message has been modified to fit your screen. Tap here to show original” (Fig 1). Once a user clicks this message, it’s clear that the original email has been resized and optimized for mobile (Fig 2).

Fig. 1

gmail_update_fig1

 

Fig. 2

gmail_update_fig2

Now for the million dollar question; “is this email truly responsive?” The answer to this is, unfortunately, no. Gmail is making adjustments to the email, but it is not allowing for fully responsive versions.

So, what does this mean for your email campaigns? Well, there should be more emphasis on testing, specifically on mobile (and in Gmail specifically). Early tests have shown that the changes are tending shift or break table layouts, and overall, simply place content in the wrong spots. Secondly, embrace the change. If history has taught us anything, it’s to be long on Google. They have obviously made this change for a reason. Maybe this is just a small part of their plan to change and evolve email or to wean people off of the native Gmail app and over to Inbox (the “ad-hoc responsive” emails are not appearing on Inbox at the moment). What is clear is that Google cares very deeply about email, both from a UX/UI perspective as well as how it affects its business services and offerings.

Matt Morris is an Email Marketing Specialist at Ariad Communications.

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