For many, algorithmic feeds are the best reminder that we do not own our news feeds as much as we rent it. Already Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have chosen to switch to algorithmic feeds in order to exert more control over what their members see. Whereas people who liked or followed your feeds used to see everything you shared, now marketers are getting views on a much lowers scales. Brands are finding it harder to get their messages out as “owned” media has quickly switched to “paid” media.

Brands have had to endure the pain of watching organic reach fall from 16 percent to 2 percent. Considering the increase in Facebook’s market cap, it is no surprise that the two events are linked. With so much marketing material being filtered through Gmail, would it be any surprise if the email provider went the way of Facebook and Twitter in switching to an algorithmic feed? Here are some reasons why some say that an algorithmic email platform isn’t just a possibility but a guaranteed eventuality.

The Foundation Was Laid Years Ago

Some might say that Google’s switch to an algorithmic feed is a long time coming having been set in motion when in May of 2013 the email provider began ferreting out marketing emails while grouping them under the “Promotional” tab. Later on in July of that year, the Promotional tab was outfitted with its ads. In addition to this, Gmail introduced image caching. This means that instead of marketers being able to serve up images independently, Gmail now stores a copy of the image on its servers from which they are served up. Previously, marketers relied on recipients opening emails to access information about each recipient when the image was requested from its servers. Now, Google’s actions mean that all the information marketers relied upon such as browser type, device type, and geolocation information will be mostly inaccurate. In all, marketers will have a hard time tracking the engagement of their users and the success of their efforts.

Google’s Case for Switching to an Algorithmic Feed

In December of 2013, Gmail made yet another change to its user experience, this time providing unsubscribe links to email headers making it easier for recipients to ditch marketers’ advances. Later on, Gmail made it altogether possible to block senders thereby directing all marketing emails to the spam folder.

As the saying goes, whoever owns the platform, makes the rules. So it should come as no surprise that Google has been gradually creating the basis for a paid media platform even as it insists that all changes were made with the desire to improve the user experience. It appears that the days for a free-for-all Gmail are now numbered.

How Would This Affect Email Recipients?

So what would be the fallout, if any, if Gmail were to decide to switch to an algorithmic feed? Would it prompt a mass exodus away from the platform or would email users rationalize that Google is free to do with its email platform as it sees fit? To answer that question, one must first understand the look of an algorithmic Gmail and the expectations of its users. An algorithmic Gmail would mean that promotional emails would not be listed in the order in which they were received. Google would instead alter the list, placing emails from paid marketers higher on the list. While this will change how users see their email, the startling truth is that a whopping 80 percent of marketing emails going unopened. As a result, it is difficult to see that a disrupted order would receive that much of a backlash.

There is No Better Time for This to Happen

The time couldn’t be more perfect for Google to transition Gmail from owned to paid media especially with Google announcing that their email platform has now amassed 1 billion monthly active users. With email marketing comprising such a large percent of marketers’ overall marketing efforts, it should catch no one off guard that Google would consider capitalizing on its position as the most used email platform. In addition to this, as a publicly-owned company, it is Google’s responsibility to take advantage on its platform and increase shareholder profits.

To Google’s credit, the company has all of its ducks lined up when it comes to an algorithmic Gmail platform. It knows just how to use its platform to generate revenue while simultaneously creating a revenue-making environment through UX improvements.

There is no way to tell for certain what would happen if Gmail decided to impose an algorithmic feed on email. However, with companies like Wayfair heavily dependent on their email marketing approach, the consequences could be devastating. Companies would have little choice but to adapt their efforts to fit Gmail’s new rules.

How can brands protect themselves?

With so many retailers depending on email marketing to generate sales, is there any to stave off any negative consequences that will follow an algorithmic email platform? One thing is certain, for brands to stand any chance of escaping unscathed, they must establish a deeper relationship with their customers. This is decision-making that cannot wait. To understand their risk, they’ll need to assess the productivity of their current email marketing efforts. Those companies who are highly rated by their subscribers are at a lesser risk of becoming a casualty to potential Gmail changes. Every other company will need to work on their techniques. Brands must take the time to develop a trusting relationship with their customers. It is this trusting relationship more than anything else that will help companies to weather the storm.

Conclusion

No one ever said a change was easy. However, we are always reminded of its inevitability. Gmail might be set to switch to an algorithmic inbox while customers might take little to no notice, marketing departments are set to take a hit. Companies might have to bid farewell to the easier customer relationships they enjoyed in the past. The good news is that companies can mitigate any potential fallout by bolstering their consumer relationships beforehand.