Google continues to ignore email

This post originally appeared on the DMA Email Marketing Blog.

Google recently announced it is to close the long running Google Friends newsletter. Launching in 1998, whilst Google was still on Stanford’s servers it has been delivered monthly. That is until now. From next month, the newsletter will cease to exist because subscriber numbers had stalled. But a wider look at Google suggests it doesn’t pay much attention to using email as a channel to communicate with its users.

First, lets take a quick look at the Google Friends newsletter.

Google outgrew this newsletter a long time ago. Each month, the newsletter provided a mix of tips and news across Google’s vast array of products. One month it was Google Toolbar, a Daily puzzle, Google Docs, Earth Day and a power tip for Google Map Maker. Another month it was a power tip on Google Voice and news on Google Places, Youtube, Google Translate and a Doodle for Google contest.

Unless you were interested in everything Google, this newsletter was not for you.

There are perhaps a small niche of people that might like the vast array of news updates across the whole of Google. Given the size of Google, and Larry Page’s new more autonomous business unit approach. Collating and combining these centrally may just have become too expensive versus the benefits. Of course these are their most ardent fans, so ignoring them is an interesting approach.

Overall though, Google’s approach to email is scattered and unorganised at best.

Google pushes out a huge amount of information, highly targeted not just by product but also by country. You can find the full list here, it is truly impressive in scale. You can subscribe to receive this information via Twitter, Facebook, RSS and (of course) Google Buzz! Surprisingly there is no mention of email at all. Given the scale of email (3.1 billion email accounts – click for more stats), its ability to remind users of your products/features and persistently store your message so you can come back to it, not promoting email subscriptions seems like a lost opportunity. Sure, it can be misused but so can all channels.

Relying on Twitter or Facebook for Google updates can easily lead to missed updates as unless I spend all day watching for their updates (not likely!) or proactively remember to visit their profiles on these network, Google is merely hoping I catch their updates in my newsfeeds.  Further you cannot search the Facebook newsfeed at all and searching  Twitter only results in tweets going back a few days.

Subscribing via RSS is an option for me as I am a heavy RSS user, but the usage numbers are low generally especially with a mainstream audience. So low in fact, that the last metric I can find on RSS numbers is from 2005. A rather tiny 275m wordwide.

Finally there is Google Buzz! Is anyone still using Google Buzz?

So where is email? It is there, but to find it you have to click through on some of the blog links where you will sometimes bring up the option of subscribing via email. There is obviously no standardised approach to this. The Blogger buzz blog had it in the right sidebar, the Google Analytics blog doesn’t have it anywhere. It is hit and miss based on the template used.

Email is different.
Different channels offer different benefits. Twitter and Facebook are great for offering casual connections to brands. Brands you really want to hear from? Not so good. For those situations, email is the right tool for the job.

If you are spending all that time creating content, getting in front of as many people who want to read it would seem to be a good thing. People can always unsubscribe. Google even provides that service inside Gmail.