[I’m Reading] The not-so-quaint charm of the email newsletter

Posts with the label [I’m Reading] will be about articles I’m finding interesting. I often find things interesting even when I completely disagree with them. No lawyers approved this message.

If you’ve spent more than 5 or so minutes with me over the past couple of months, odds are very high that you’d have heard me talk about friction (reducing); delight (creating); email (the importance of; how to be awesome at).

First, some background on an important change Gmail made to image caching, and what that means for email senders. Gmail will now show images in email by default (win!) but (there’s always a but) the change means counting repeat opens is going to be more difficult.

From the Gmail blog:

you’ll soon see all images displayed in your messages automatically across desktop, iOS and Android. Instead of serving images directly from their original external host servers, Gmail will now serve all images through Google’s own secure proxy servers. So what does this mean for you? Simple: your messages are more safe and secure, your images are checked for known viruses or malware, and you’ll never have to press that pesky “display images below” link again. With this new change, your email will now be safer, faster and more beautiful than ever.

And from a Mailchimp post on the matter:

Image caching still lowers our ability to track repeat opens, but turning those images on means we’ll be more accurate when tracking unique opens. At least, theoretically it should work that way. By leaving images turned off, Gmail has been allowing subscribers to open emails without downloading our tracking pixel, so those opens were invisible to us. If Gmail is going to display images automatically, those previously invisible opens should suddenly become visible. That’s exciting in a nerdy data way, but keep in mind it doesn’t affect the number of subscribers actually reading your email. It just makes the count of unique opens more accurate. Then again, maybe seeing your beautiful email content will get subscribers to keep opening in the future.

And from The Monday Note, one of my favourite blogs on “media, tech, business models”, some highlights from their recent reflections on email newsletters (any emphasis mine):

Newsrooms who assign junior writers to expedite email newsletters should think again

two critical factors needed to create a valued product: Timing — sending a news briefing at the right time to maximize its impact — and the multi-device format.

A newsletter begs to be read both on mobiles and on a desktop. You can no longer decide for the reader which screen size h/she will read your stuff on. Responsive design is mandatory. But applying responsive design techniques is way more complicated for newsletters than it is for websites. Even large medias such as the NYT are providing single formats newsletters.

Another thing about email design: It must be conceived to be read offline. I live in a 4G city (Paris) but I still get poor 3G or even EDGE service in too many places (French carriers are said to slow down network speed in order to accelerate the switch to 4G). Therefore, the ability to read complete content offline beyond headlines is, in my view, a basic feature. Going a bit further, I would dream of newsletters pre-loading multiple layers of reading, allowing the reader to jump from the main page to one or two levels down — without requiring a connection.

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