Gmail Opens Increase 243%; Android Drops Back to #4

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The new year has brought plenty of new changes to email client market share. In January, Gmail jumped from #6 to #5 and now represents 10% of total opens. After two consecutive months at #4, iPad took back the reigns to reclaim Android’s #3 spot.

With mobile market share at 51% through November and December, we saw a dip in January—mobile now represents 49% of total opens. Desktop also saw a similar dip, dropping to 27% of total opens. After months of steady decline, webmail opens have been on the rise recently and currently make up 24% of opens—a level that we haven’t seen since April 2013.


We mostly have Gmail to thank for the recently instability of webmail open rates. First, the introduction of tabs brought an accelerated decline in Gmail opens, only to reverse course and make gains after the announcement that images would be downloaded automatically.

With images now on for every Gmail message, opens have increased 243% since November. Compared to other webmail opens, Gmail is the clear leader with nearly 40% of webmail opens. Yahoo!, which also enables images automatically, sees almost half that number.


If we compare webmail open rates with and without Gmail factored in, the steady decline we witnessed for most of 2013 remains intact. Technical challenges in measuring open rates aside, webmail still appears to be in a bit of a recession.


We’ve heard reports of issues with images not loading in Gmail, and also experienced this issue firsthand. Unfortunately, there’s no known cause or solution to this problem, and it seems to affect emails at random. My assumption is that Google is still working the kinks out of their image caching service, and perhaps weren’t fully prepared to scale to meet demand. Your best course of action is to continue utilizing safeguards for broken images—using bulletproof buttons, background colors and live text.

You’ll want to be sure to watch through to the end to catch a special guest presentation.

As always, keep in mind that some email clients may be over- or under-reported due to automatic enablement of images and/or image blocking. Tracking trends over time is the best way to monitor open data for email! 

  • Jay Mutzafi

    Cools stuff. But if you are measuring open rates only with detecting pixels (are there other ways?) and we don’t know the percentage of email clients who don’t download emails by default (or number of them where that is the case), how can we accurately say what the actual open rate is?

    Lamas Rule!

    • Justine, Litmus

      Llamas absolutely rule! Unfortunately, there is no other way to measure an “open” with email, since javascript and other tracking methods aren’t supported. As I note in the bottom of the post, the best way to track open rates for email is to look at trends. You can read more about how Email Analytics works here:

      • Jay Mutzafi

        Very cool. Thanks Justine!

      • clavid87

        If we’re to look at trends, then we should conclude that the ACTUAL open rates on Gmail HAVE declined and the recent “increase” is only due to the fact that the number of opens “tracked” have increased… right?

        • Justine, Litmus

          Of course, the nature of open tracking makes it nearly impossible to tell for sure. However, Gmail opens were trending downward before automatic image enablement, arguably due to the roll-out of their tabbed interface. You could take a look at some of our previous market share reports to see specifics. That said, a click and unsubscribe analysis from MailChimp found that those metrics were positively affected:

  • Andy Newbom

    awesome insight for sure. well done Litmus as usual!

  • Kevin

    Has the winter storm that hit the south and east of the US had an impact either way on email open and click-thru rates?

    • Justine, Litmus

      Great question! I see how that might go either way—people are stuck inside and checking email more, or they’re away from the office and checking more. I’d recommend looking at your individual stats, since we only track on monthly (versus day-to-day) basis.

  • Juraj Nemec

    I would argue that it isn’t that Gmail OPENS increased, it is that Gmail skewed the metric in their favor. If suddenly all desktop clients would automatically load images, metrics would show that “the share of desktop client email opens increased dramatically”, while there would be no change whatsoever in the ACTUAL number.

    My take on this is that since it is important for Google that advertisers see their email platform as a viable advertising medium, they got worried that metrics (correctly) show that Gmail opens steadily declined after introducing tabs. And this is a REAL decline, since they hide non-paid (to Google anyways) commercial email to favor commercial email that brings them revenue, the metric is correct – Google sharply deprecated their Gmail inbox as a solution for commercial email delivery for advertisers so they can monopolize revenue from email marketing to Gmail subscribers.

    To “fix” the ***PR*** situation, now they decided to change how email opens are measured – since most email clients have images disabled, if we enable it by default, they reasoned, Gmail “open rates” (which in fact may be completely unchanged) will APPEAR to be more relative to all other email client – a complete smoke and mirror operation that has nothing to do with the ACTUAL metrics.

    It isn’t hard to win if you can change mid-game how score is kept… just change the way you measure your opens, while everyone else still keeps score the old way and can’t change it even if they wanted to, and voila! More opens! Magic! :)

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  • Jeff Baker

    I feel the Gmail results are skewed as well. If Gmail is opening every mail and caching the images before it sends out to the consumer, then it is opening the tracking pixel as well. Wouldn’t that count as an open?

    • Justine, Litmus

      We do point out that Gmail’s automatic enabling of images in messages is mostly to thank for the increases, and that some clients may be over or under- reported due to image blocking. It’s why we focus on tracking trends over time.

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