It’s a new year and by now the holiday hangover should’ve subsided leaving us all clear headed, bright eyed and bushy tailed. A recent question from a colleague in the industry helped grease my cerebral wheels which in turn lead to an interesting discovery. Some of you may or may not know that IE 8 has added security. Yes, like the TSA you can expect your browser to pat down all of your communications. Normally this isn’t a big deal but Gmail has started using Secure HTTP or HTTPS and this is leading to an unsavory notification for users of IE 8 who read their emails using Google’s free webmail service.
Before you start googling terms, let me explain…
We’re all familiar with the http that comes before the www or //. That’s a no-brainer, but when you see HTTPS that means that you’re using a secure layer to combat man-in-the-middle attacks and eavesdropping. This is a common feature of most e-commerce sites that want to protect customers against fraud and hacking.
GMail has started to use HTTPS for reading email. Normally this is OK, however IE has added more security layers that are taking umbrage with a common piece of content that 99.99999% of email marketers use: the tracking pixel. Since most emails contain a tracking pixel or web beacon, and that image is listed as a URL most likely using an HTTP vs. HTTPS URL, the browser displays a warning to the user that the content is insecure because it assumes that everything in the email/web page being viewed would be secure because the the URL is HTTPS.
Now those of you with quick wits and sharp tongues might say, no problem, we’ll just use HTTPS for our tracking pixels and other images in our emails. Problem solved. Wrong! Since Gmail is unique in their use of HTTPS for reading email, every other webmail client defaults to HTTP, you will start seeing IE and other browsers complain with warning messages rendering email with pixels and images coming off an HTTPS server. Neither Yahoo! nor Hotmail use HTTPS when customers log into their accounts to read email.
No easy fix… but…
There truly is no easy fix as you’re sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The only thing to do is to send HTTPS URLs to your Gmail population and everyone else gets images and tracking pixels with HTTP in the URLs. The overhead in maintaining this could be staggering and then there’s reporting. However, if your convinced that your over secured, over notified and paranoid customer base is truly inhibited from clicking by this warning message then setting up unique HTTPS templates for Gmail subscribers is probably a good idea. For the majority I think this is a minor annoyance that we will learn to live with, like a certain magical button back in 2004.
I’d like to say that I stopped there in investigating this problem but I began to think a little more deeply about what the potential ramifications were of this added security warning. My operating theory was that it really wasn’t going to affect that many users because most GMail users wouldn’t use IE anyway, they’d most likely use Firefox, Chrome or some other browser.
After doing a little investigation on our MailboxIQ data which tracks direct engagement by customers with email across a broad range of mailers I’m left slightly baffled, surprised and scratching my head like Wallace Shawn: INCONCEIVABLE!
Gmail Across Different Browsers
I really was unprepared to see that nearly half of all Gmail users are using IE to read their email. If you had put a gun to my head I would’ve sworn that number should’ve been closer to 30-35%. But that’s not the end of the surprises. Firefox is less than 15% behind IE which means that the number two browser in the world has really closed the gap as the difference used to be larger. Safari trails Chrome which means that given enough time we may see a three horse race in the next few years.
If there’s another learning for digital marketers its that there’s plenty of variety in the email reading marketplace and that you should test not only across email clients but browsers too. Make sure you’re aware of the nuances involved in coding email and getting it to render similarly in our increasingly complex multi-channel marketplace.