Google quietly pulled the plug on Gmail grid view last month — a move which went largely unnoticed, since the image-centric interface for promotional messages never advanced beyond its initial field trial.
While grid view generated a lot of buzz among marketers when it was introduced last year, adoption of its best practices and email markup was sparse at best.
So with grid view gone, will Google throw email marketers another bone? Or were those who cried foul when Gmail tabs were introduced onto something?
Here’s a recap in case you missed it.
About a year after Gmail tabs rolled out (AKA the great marketing panic of 2013), Google launched grid view in beta. Gmail users who were approved for the field trial were treated to a visual, Pinterest-style interface for messages in the promotions tab. This was achieved by highlighting a featured image and the sender’s logo, along with the sender’s name and subject line, for easy scanning of promotional offers.
Why was grid view important?
Marketers were initially quite optimistic about grid view, because it was evidence that commercial messages were getting some respect from Google.
This sentiment was a stark contrast to those who believed Gmail tabs were “the death of email marketing.” And even those of us who maintained a “keep calm and carry on email marketing” philosophy had to admit that the data was speaking for itself: Gmail opens were clearly on the decline.
The introduction of grid view sent the message that Gmail users cared about promotional messages, and that meant Google cared about promotional messages. This was validating for email marketers.
Sounds great. What went wrong?
WE DIDN’T USE IT.
Marketers got excited about it at the beginning. We read blogs and articles, and chatted up our clients and colleagues, and anxiously signed up for the field trial, and…
Then we realized it was A LOT of freakin’ work.
In general, it’s no easy feat to launch — or even modify — an email campaign. Depending on the environment, an immense number of stakeholders can be involved.
So while grid view was great in theory, in reality it required support from strategy, creative, dev — even social media played a role. You needed extra images for each campaign. You needed unique code in each message. You even needed a verified Google+ page. And new restrictions were placed on subject line and "from" name length.
There were far too many hoops to jump through.
What’s more, grid view only worked when Gmail users accessed the interface via browser. It was designed for desktops. And with mobile devices dominating email market share, it just wasn’t practical to put so much effort into a product benefiting such a small audience.
To be fair, Google did use an algorithm to try to take some of the burden off marketers. It guessed at which image would be most relevant to display. And sometimes sender logos were correctly pulled from Google+.
But more often, grid view was just a visual mess. And it’s no surprise now that it’s gone.
So what might Google do next for email marketing?
I predict… something good! Yes, that is incredibly vague — my apologies. But the point here is that marketers should remain optimistic.
Google has demonstrated sensitivity to commercial email since Gmail tabs were introduced. In addition to grid view, the new Google Inbox app provides further evidence of email marketing’s importance. Inbox’s new “bundles” subcategorizes and prioritizes many commercial messages, while sender logos are featured alongside promotional messages.
It’s clear that Google has a sincere interest in delivering email users the most useful experience possible — and commercial messages are a part of that. Google is just taking its time figuring out what the best experience will be.
So for now, just keep calm and carry on email marketing.