March 7, 2013

Don't Open Until...Never: How Google's Search Experiment Impacts Your Email Program

by Greg Zakowicz, Marketing Strategist

Imagine the next time you send an email your subject line reads like a product heading rather than one persuading the subscriber to open the message right there and then. And imagine the reason for doing so would be to target those who won’t necessarily open the email but rather archive it. While this does not seem like something that would be consistent with a successful email program it may be closer to reality than you think.

Google is currently conducting a Gmail Search Field Trial and this may make us rethink email subject lines. While the field trial makes user-specific improvements to Google’s search results I’d like to focus on the ramifications of bringing Gmail messages into those results. Look at this example from the field trial website.

Google Search Experiment

So what does this mean? Let’s say I receive an email from a shoe company. Instead of their subject line reading “20% off all shoes & free shipping” it instead could read, “20% off Men’s and Women’s Nike shoes + free shipping.” Not much of a difference but the next time I am in the market for a pair of Nike shoes and go to Google to type in my search that email mentioning Nike will show up.

Possible Implications

Importance of Segmentation: Companies who can effectively segment based on a subscriber’s product interest will have the greatest advantage. Considering the emails which will show in the search results are those from a Gmail account, segmenting only Gmail users will limit the possible variables here. If you are not already, you should be collecting subscriber information at signup and/or through a manage preference page.

Will this lead to subscribers saving emails in folders in lieu of deleting for just this reason? Many subscribers (including me) filter messages automatically. Most people don’t have time to read every email every day (with the exception maybe being Bronto’s Jim Davidson). If this does happen, will subscribers intentionally open less email knowing that if the email is truly relevant it will eventually show in their Google searches? This can be a frightening scenario for email marketing managers who are judged on today’s sales, not next month’s sales.

Message Creative: Another impact of this experiment is beyond the subject line but the creative itself. Many companies use image-heavy emails, which definitely has its pros and cons. Well, let’s think about this for a moment. If I save the email in a folder and the subject line is not “optimized” according to this experiment, will Google be able to display the message content in my search results? Probably not. My email, although aesthetically pleasing, may be “blind” to Google. So while image heavy emails are being used more and more due to the mobile revolution, using actual text in the email may prove to be a more powerful tactic for long-term sales.

Engagement Metrics: Google, like many ISPs, are using engagement metrics more and more when determining which emails wind up in the inbox and which ones wind up in the bulk folder. If subscribers are opening less, engagement metrics will suffer. Will Google begin to bulk mail more knowing it can contradict their experiment? The other impact here could be when it comes to re-engagement. When companies focus on dedicated re-engagement campaigns and they have determined that a subscriber has moved on, will they remove Gmail addresses from their email database, or will they instead opt to send to Gmail users hoping their emails could one day wind up in their search results? Very intriguing indeed!

Will companies attempt to optimize their subject lines or change their approach to message creative potentially sacrificing the immediate open for a long-term unknown? It will remain to be seen how these email results actually appear in Google searches, but I suspect if it works like intended you will see companies begin to test whether this strategy actually pays off.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Greg Zakowicz
Marketing Strategist at Bronto

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Greg Zakowicz, Marketing Strategist

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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

One of the most informative articles I have ever read. I would simply stay that I believe Google has much more up their sleeves. Thanks

Google is a juggernaut - but their changes do force marketers to stay on their toes and deliver clear messaging to consumers. All part of the inbound marketing phenomena.

Submitted by Greg Zakowicz on

Hi Thais, I agree. I don't necessarily think it is a bad thing either. I am very interested to see how it actually works in the long run. Keeping marketers on their toes is always a good thing, in my eyes! Thanks for chiming in!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

I am curious if there will be a way to track clicks that come from search via email.

Submitted by Greg Zakowicz on

Interesting point you bring up here. I would have to believe Google has thought through this scenario, and would find a way to tie this with GA. I can see this making GA even more sticky and dynamic for users. Otherwise we may be looking at the evolution of never-ending promo codes, and/or a lot of back-end work for marketing managers trying to track the revenue source :)

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