Already 12 years have passed since I created my Gmail account in 2007. That was pretty much the time when I first needed a more professional email address that includes my real name, not a nickname that I used to use for gaming or MySpace (Wow, I instantly felt old when MySpace came to my mind). These days most young people create their first email address when they get their first smartphone. I bet that the majority of these kids create Gmail addresses because they surely know by the age of 8-10 about Google. Not surprisingly Gmail has over 1.5 Billion active users officially (October 2018) and as such serves as the primary email address for most people on the Globe. Maybe only a Chinese email provider could do better than Google, but email is dead there, actually, it wasn’t really born at all (they use WeChat for nearly everything). For the rest of the world, email is here to stay, and clearly Gmail is the biggest player in the field and as such it’s a very common topic in every email marketer community. No matter how often it comes up I couldn’t find a resource that would list out everything an email marketer should know about Gmail, so I decided to dive deep into the topic for you guys.
Subject line length in Gmail
Most people view emails on iPhones and Gmail, so you’ll need to optimize your subject line for both of them. I found a couple of resources that mentioned that subject lines should be between 41 and 70 characters for this reason, but I was a bit skeptical about the 40 character mark already. I ran some tests that included a Galaxy A40, an iPhone 8 and an iPhone Xr and found that the safest subject line length for Gmail App is 30 characters only. Check out the screenshots below if you need “real” evidence, not only my words. Gmail App on Galaxy A40 (2,340 x 1,080 px resolution) Gmail on iPhone 6 – 8 (1,334 x 750 px resolution) Native Mail App on iPhone 6 – 8 (1,334 x 750 px resolution) / dark mode Outlook App on iPhone 6 – 8 (1,334 x 750 px resolution) / dark mode Gmail App on iPhone Xr (1,792 x 828 px resolution) Native Mail App on iPhone Xr (1,792 x 828 px resolution) Of course, the Gmail webmail can accompany much longer subject lines especially when viewed on a full HD screen, where even 100+ characters could fit in one line but still I wouldn’t advise you to go any longer than 70 characters or so. The fact that only 30 characters can fit into one line on the Gmail App doesn’t mean that you can’t write longer ones for sure. Just be prepared to deliver the essence of your subject line in the first 30 characters for better engagement.
Preview text length in Gmail
In Gmail’s web client the preview text length depends mostly on your subject line length. For example with a 40 character long subject line still, 57 characters of preview text were visible on my screen in Gmail (screen resolution was 1440×900 when I tested). Mobile email clients typically show less of your preheader text and as such it is advised to keep your preview text in the 30 to 55 characters range. There’s a little preview text heck spreading in the community that can help you to make your preview text include only what you really want to be there. You only need to add – a chain of zero-width joiners and non-breaking spaces after the preview text that you want to be displayed. This way only the given text will show up in the email client, and no other content from your email. The downside of using this hack is that it will increase email size a bit, depending on how many times you add these placeholders to your email code. So use this with caution and test how many extra placeholders are needed for you to fill the preview text space.
Is the Promotions tab the heaven or hell for marketing emails?
Gmail introduced the tabbed inbox already over 6 years ago (in May 2013) but the debate has been still unsettled in the email marketer community if it’s good or bad for us from a marketing perspective. There are many marketers looking to find a way to get their messages delivered to the Primary tab instead of Promotions. Although there are ways to make it happen, I believe that the right place for your marketing emails is definitely the Promotions tab and not the Primary inbox. Why?
- Gmail users look for marketing emails under the Promotions tab. That’s just a simple habit Google helped them to build up over the years.
- Let your subscribers choose when do they want to view your marketing emails. This way you can make sure that they are more prepared to make a buying decision when they actually spend time browsing through the Promotional emails.
- There’s a higher chance to be marked as SPAM with your marketing email if it ends up in the Primary inbox.
- According to Returnpath‘s study from 2017 the average read rate for messages in the Promotions tab is 19.2%, while read rate in the primary inbox is 22%. This 12% difference is not something that should motivate you to fight for a bit more attention. Rather focus your efforts on making your messages as relevant to the receiver as possible – of course with personalized content.
- Almost the half of those people who use Gmail with the tabbed inbox check their Promotions tab at least once a day while 70% check weekly at least.
I personally advise you to give up on getting your marketing emails delivered to the Primary inbox, and…
- Stop asking your subscribers to add your Sender’s email address to their Gmail contacts.
- Don’t ask all subscribers to move your email to the Primary inbox. This sounds like an easy shortcut to get more attention, but do you really think it’s a good idea to beg for some extra care from everybody? If you want to add such an email to your funnel, make sure to identify your most loyal customers, who already purchased from you at least 3-4 times, and then make the ask.
- Take advantage of Google Annotations to make your emails look better in the Promotions Tab. Annotations show images, discounts, codes even before a subscriber would need to open your email. This handy little tool from Litmus will help you to make more of your emails.
Gmail clips messages
Gmail clips any email that’s weight exceeds 102 KB “officially” but based on email geeks’ tests the limit is not exactly 102 KB, so you should aim for a bit less, let’s say 98 KB. Only the weight of the HTML matters, not the images that you included in your emails via links. Those play a significant role in email loading times, but won’t affect clipping at all. This is something that often causes headaches for email marketers, even for large companies like Twitter. For example, I got this digest email from them recently, and it was clipped by Gmail well before the end, although it only included highlights from 6 popular tweets from the people I follow. You’ll easily hit the 102 KBish limit with a long email that features a series of products. It’s especially hard to be prepared for this if you send automated emails that include dynamic content and are generated on the fly – for example, abandoned cart emails.
Gmail loads images automatically
Google introduced image caching in Gmail at the end of 2013, and since then images are shown by default in all emails unless a user decides to turn images off. It means to you that 95% of your Gmail subscribers will see all images in your emails when opened because only a very few people change default settings in reality.
Gmail breaks emails when forwarded
We occasionally receive feedback from some users who use Chamaileon for email design, that their emails get messed up when they forward it from their Gmail to one of their colleagues. This is when we need to explain, that no matter what we do, Gmail will mess up the email HTML when it’s forwarded and will cause the email to lose some styles that were originally there and might even break in some cases. There’s no known hack to make email forwards work like a charm, so this is something we just need to deal with as email marketers. Thankfully, this is not a huge issue nowadays for subscribers because they don’t really forward emails. We see that email forwards mostly happen for in-house review and approval purposes, but instead of solving this issue we implemented features like the test email sending and the share link that help with the review/approval processes. According to Litmus’s Viral Email Report from 2015 even for the most viral emails, the Forward-to-Open Rate was only in the 1.91% – 5.04% range. While emails in the 50th percentile were only forwarded at a 0.16%-0.30% rate. It means that the fact that Gmail breaks fancy HTML emails when forwarded will only influence a small fraction of email marketers. To be able to know if you fall into that lucky group you need to make sure that you include “Forward to a Friend” call-to-action in your emails because only then can your ESP track if your email was forwarded to somebody or not. I browsed through 50 promotional emails from random big brands like Fitbit, Bose, Google, Asana and National Geographic on Really Good Emails to check how many include the Forward to a Friend option, and found that only 6% had it in the email. Of course, this was not a large-scale study but it already shows that only a minority of email marketers believe that their emails are viral enough to be forwarded, so I think you don’t need to worry too much about the fact that Gmail breaks forwarded emails, but still, it’s something you should know.
The good news is that Anchor links do work in Gmail when used in the browser or on Android devices, but it doesn’t work in many other email clients.
“I wouldn’t consider it a good practice as emails are not meant to be a one-stop destination with so much content that you need an anchor. Also, there is no support for it in IOS which has a huge amount of users.”
Michael Stephan, Digital Campaign Specialist at www.lidaaustralia.com.au
I agree completely with Michael that it’s generally speaking a bad practice for email marketers, but maybe it can work for some in-house newsletters when HR knows who receives the email and what email client will they use.
Gmail doesn’t support custom fonts & Google Fonts neither
How funny is that? No matter how reliable source Google Fonts, Gmail still won’t display most Google Fonts. Instead only web-safe fonts will show, so you need to make sure that you either use web-safe fonts in your email or need to test how your email looks in Gmail. Only Google Sans and Roboto will render properly in Gmail, and they only render because these fonts are included in the actual user interface and as such will load automatically.
Currently only Gmail supports AMP for email
AMP is an open-source technology designed to improve the performance of web content and is used to add some interactivity to the emails. The AMP properties are not added to the HTML of the email, but as a separate part in the final sent email so many email service providers are not prepared for it yet. Gmail was the fastest to implement AMP for email support and most likely because they wanted to make the use of Google Drive and Gsuite even smoother for their users. AMP for email definitely provides marketers the option to add some interactivity to their emails, but we are a bit early to the game until it’s only Gmail that supports AMP. Outlook.com, Yahoo! Mail and Mail.ru all announced that they are planning to support AMP for email as well, so most likely by the end of 2020 we’ll be able to use more and more interactive elements in our emails.
At least 25% view emails in Gmail, so you should care
No matter how happy you are with the fact that your emails end up in the Promotions tab or that your message might be easily clipped at around 102 KB in size, you still need to deal with it because at least 25% read emails in Gmail according to Litmus. Bear in mind the above-listed issues with Gmail, and always make sure to send a test email from your email design software or email service provider to a Gmail account before pushing the “SEND” button.
Gmail Inbox Rules for Marketers cheatsheet
Use this TL;DR Cheat Sheet containing all the information mentioned in this article, summarized into a one-pager.