Video in Gmail: design tests and implications for email marketing
Google just announced that a YouTube Preview feature is now activated on all Gmail accounts.
This allows millions of Gmail users to view YouTube-hosted videos in the email itself.
This sounds like the holy grail of video email: full in-mail video and audio without the cost and problems associated with developing email-specific solutions.
You would simply segment your list by domain, and could then send all gmail.com addresses your YouTube video.
That’s the theory, but how does it work in practice? And can email marketers and their subscribers really benefit?
What is the YouTube preview function?
Gmail does not react to the code normally associated with embedding videos in a website. If you add YouTube’s “Embed” code to your HTML email, nothing will happen: Gmail ignores the code.
It’s actually much simpler than messing about with scripts or code. Gmail just looks for a link to a YouTube video in an email. If it finds one, it shows a still image of that video overlaid with a large “play” button:
Clicking on that play button expands the video box and runs the video just as if it was embedded in the page.
This sounds great, but there are limitations in terms of the benefits for email marketing.
The first limitation is that the preview is not displayed next to the YouTube link that triggers the feature, but at the very bottom of the email:
The shorter your email, the more people will likely see the preview.
What YouTube links activate the preview function?
Then there is a link formatting issue. Here the results of some tests I ran…what “links” trigger the video preview function?
1. Simply including a YouTube URL as standalone text (unlinked):
(Gmail actually turns that into a link for you).
2. The YouTube URL as linked text:
HTML: <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdTghdIc5Fo”>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdTghdIc5Fo</a>
3. Where the YouTube URL appears in the link only
Interestingly, Gmail also displays the video preview where the YouTube address only appears in the URL and not in the text displayed in the email:
HTML: <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdTghdIc5Fo”>Click to view video</a>
Problems arise when you introduce click tracking, as is typical for any email sent through email marketing software. The destination URL is then no longer a YouTube link but a tracking link.
So case 3 looks like this in the HTML:
<a href=”http://www.ESP-Tracking-Link.com/?abcdefghisefgl”>Click to view video</a>
…and NO video preview is triggered in Gmail.
Another issue is that you probably don’t want to send people to YouTube anyway…you’d rather have people who click on the video link going to a landing page at your own website, where the video is embedded.
A formatting solution?
One possibility might be to have the YouTube address as text and your landing page as the URL of the link, like this:
That way Gmail picks up the YouTube reference and triggers the video preview, but anyone clicking on the link actually goes to your website.
There is a user experience issue here, though: I click expecting to go to YouTube, but end up at your website. I’m also not sure how this might look to Gmail (today or in the future) or the reader in terms of security: URLs that don’t go where they say they go look a little like phishing.
Another alternative would be to put an anchor tag right at the bottom of the email:
…and link to it:
People clicking on the link get taken to the bottom of the email where the preview appears.
(Neither alternative is entirely satisfactory).
Segmenting by domain
Another limitation is that segmenting by domain is not an accurate way to pick out Gmail users. Somebody using a gmail.com address may not be reading the email in Gmail itself.
Gmail users can forward emails automatically to another address or use software like Outlook or Thunderbird to access their Gmail mail. See this post for more details on this issue.
Nor is everyone reading their Gmail in a standard web browser: does the preview feature work in mobile display environments?
Some concluding thoughts
It comes as a shock, but the YouTube preview feature wasn’t designed with marketers in mind. But if you have videos hosted at YouTube, then it does offer you a way to give recipients an in-email video experience.
This assumes, of course, that you take account of the limitations discussed above when designing the email.
If nothing else, it seems like a good way to promote your YouTube video channel to Gmail subscribers!
However, let’s not forget that “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”
You have to ask yourself if allowing people to view your video(s) in the email delivers value to you and your subscribers. Check out this article on when to use video email.
The more important implications for marketers might be at a broader, long-term level.
The YouTube preview feature encourages subscribers to interact directly with the email itself. It conditions them to accept and value email as a richer experience. This itself has further implications.
First, it potentially raises expectations. How does your plain text email look now when set alongside a well-designed HTML message with optional video?
Second, it takes both subscribers and inbox providers further down the road to email interactivity. Might this encourage Yahoo! Mail and Windows Live Hotmail to do something similar? (YouTube is a Google property, so perhaps not!)
Might it encourage software manufacturers and webmail services to explore ways to allow richer experiences in email (notwithstanding security concerns)?
For those who shake their head sadly and question my optimism, consider this behind-the-scenes report on Sears and their testing of Google’s Enhanced Email offering. Suddenly interactive inboxes don’t seem quite such a pipe dream?
As Chad White writes in the report:
“These coming changes will require new ways of measuring email success and of thinking about email strategy, particularly the relationship between email and website landing pages”
What do you think?
Find related articles:
You can follow any comments on this blog post through the RSS 2.0 feed.
11 comments on “Video in Gmail: design tests and implications for email marketing”