With over 300 million active users worldwide, Gmail is the most popular email client. So, it’s safe to say that a large portion of your subscribers are Gmail users. This is why as an email marketer, you have to make every effort to optimize your Gmail delivery rates.
Following its layout redesign, Gmail now has a tabbed interface so people can see what’s new at a glance. There are 5 main tabs: primary, promotions, social, forums, and updates. The first 3 are enabled by default. Users can choose which ones to keep, as well as disable them all.
Why is this important?
Before, there were two places your emails could end up – inbox or junk. Now, they are further sub-classified into the above tabs.
Where your emails land (primary or promotional tab) affects your engagement rate. Of course, ending up in the promotional tab is not as bad as the junk folder. But it reduces the chances of people seeing your emails.Make a conscious effort to stay away from the wrong tab in the Gmail inbox - it's crucial for your campaign success.Click To Tweet
This is because the user has to consciously open the promotions tab to view your email. If it manages to stand out from the myriad of other promotional emails, that is.
When it comes to email classification, Gmail relies heavily on user feedback. For instance, when people mark or unmark your emails as spam or move them between tabs. Gmail learns from this behavior and uses it to better match user preferences in the future.
User engagement and deliverability
In the past, email content was the primary determinant of inbox placement. Spam filters were set to search for specific words (free, winner, guarantee, etc). The more such elements an email had, the higher the spam score and the lower the chances of delivery.
As hackers got more creative, ISPs responded with more complex criteria for inbox placement.
User engagement elements have become a key factor in deliverability. Here are the main parameters Gmail uses to measure user engagement and inbox worthiness:
- Open rates, replies, and forwards. These are all indicators that people like your emails and engage with them. So, Gmail is less likely to consider them junk, increasing their chances of delivery.
- Clicks on the “not junk” button – suggesting your emails are relevant and desired.
- People organizing your emails into folders. This action shows Gmail people value your content and want to keep receiving it.
- As positive signals go, the best one is when people add your address to their list of contacts.
- On the other hand, people can also label your emails as spam or delete them without opening. This sends a strong negative signal that your content is not wanted.
User engagement and your reputation as a sender
Your reputation reflects your legitimacy as a sender according to Gmail standards. Keep in mind that Gmail uses past subscriber engagement to determine your inbox worthiness. So, you have to follow the best sending practices for all of your marketing campaigns.
Individual user engagement is important. People that always engage with your content send a signal to Gmail that your content is welcome.
Group user engagement also matters. It determines how Gmail sees you as a sender. If the majority of recipients fail to engage or label you as spam, it will affect your reputation. If your reputation is too low, even the subscribers that love your content may not be able to see it.
What are the main factors influencing inbox placement in Gmail?
Gmail implements unique tools and a complex algorithm to determine email placement. As a result, it can be a bit difficult to figure out how to get your newsletters into the primary tab.
There are multiple factors to consider. This includes content, sender address, replies, whitelistings, spam complaints, hard bounces, open rates, etc. The good news is, most of them are under your control.Never forget that Gmail wants you to succeed. That is if you deliver actual value in your emails. So make it clear.Click To Tweet
When it comes to inbox placement, remember that you and Gmail are on the same team. Gmail’s intention is not to send your email to the spam folder. It’s to make sure only legitimate emails get through. This way, you and other marketers will have less “spammy competition” to worry about.
Meanwhile, you have to do your best to convince Gmail you are the real deal.
Here’s what you can do to ensure your emails get delivered to Gmail:
Your “from” and “reply-to” address should match
Don’t send your campaigns from a no-reply address. This raises a major red flag with Gmail.
It’s also impersonal, unwelcoming, and a fast way to earn unsubscribes and spam complaints. Use a real address, such as help@, support@, or a recognizable name that encourages a response. It’s important for people to be able to reply to the address you’re sending your campaigns from. It opens up a line of two-way communication. It also shows that you welcome their questions and feedback.
To protect users from spam, Gmail uses open and reply rates to determine inbox placement. User replies are a positive signal to Gmail. It shows your emails are important and helps improve your sender reputation.
Another rule of thumb is to match your from address to the address on your website that you collected the subscriber info from. This is a huge point here folks. I see this quite often. Having the same from address as the address on the website helps with inboxing. Why? Well when you decide to use another domain for sending emails to gmail accounts, gmail sees this as an unknown. That means there is no history tied to that subscriber from that domain. This gives you a leg down on delivery. Do yourself a favor and use the domain you used for collecting the email address. For those of you renting lists or purchasing lists, this will be a deal breaker for you. Google is very smart if you didn’t know it by now. What worked before will not work anymore. Collect your own data and mail to it from your own domain.
Grow a healthy mailing list
Your collection practices affect your inbox placement and reputation. We’ve said it often enough – steer clear of purchased or rented lists. They often contain abandoned addresses that ISPs use as spam traps to catch spammers. And we all know how irritating it can be to receive unsolicited emails. Emailing random people that have no interest in your product will probably get you marked as spam.
You can use the single or the double opt-in approach to grow your lists. With the single opt in, people are required to fill out a signup form and submit it. This adds their address to your mailing list and they start receiving content right away.
The double opt-in process includes an additional confirmation step. Following the signup, new subscribers receive an email containing a confirmation link. Clicking on this link reconfirms they own the address and really want to receive content from you. This is a good way to get rid of bad or incorrectly entered addresses. It also prevents deliberate misuse of someone else’s address. It also starts the engagement process which is what you want to do. If they engage on the first email, gmail will mark this as a plus.
To collect more addresses, offer people an incentive, give them a reason to subscribe. For example, useful educational content, a webinar, or a special discount. Make it easy for people to subscribe by displaying a clear call-to-action in a prominent place.
Don’t ask for too many details during the signup process. Otherwise, people are likely to disengage halfway through.
Your content matters to Gmail
Content is key when it comes to inbox placement. Especially for adult sites and companies selling non-prescription drugs and mortgage options. Spam emails often contain info about awesome drug prices, mortgage rates, or dating opportunities. If you’re a legit marketer in such a field, take extra steps to convince Gmail your emails are not spam.
Always proofread your emails and avoid using spam triggering words in your subject lines. Misspelled words scream spam. So do words in all caps and currency signs.
Be careful with images. They can help you convey your message in a clear and descriptive way, but you have to use them right. Poor image choice can get your emails rejected. Keep a good image to text ratio. In other words, avoid using too many images and not enough text. The same goes for sending emails that are one large image.
Stay away from free image hosting platforms. They all have been abused and are shared by many. You are sharing the reputation of others and you want to avoid this.
Try to stay away from that store images or content as well, like AWS. I know, this sucks as we all use them however these services have also been exploited by spammers and now will hurt your delivery as you are sharing that reputation as well.
Pay attention to URL shorteners. They can be a bit tricky in email marketing. They are useful because they reduce the character count and make long URLs look better. But they also mask the real destination of the URL and spammers often use them to hide their website domains.
If you use the same shortener as a spammer, your emails can get blocked, too. To avoid getting blacklisted, use your own custom link shortener instead of a public one.
Just a rule of thumb, if it is open to the public to be shared, at some point it will be exploited and abused. Try to make everything unique to your mailing. Your ESP should provide unique image hosting as well as unque URL hosting for you.
Monitor your mailing frequency and volume
Spammers usually send out large message volumes at frequent intervals. Such mailing practices can make you look like a spammer to Gmail filters. As a result, your content can be redirected to the junk folder or blocked. To avoid this, increase the number of emails gradually and at reasonable intervals.
Note: If you have a paid plan with Emercury, we can help you with this ramp-up process. Just ask.
Keep in mind that mailing your subscribers daily can be annoying. It’s unlikely you have something important to say every single day. You’ll just increase your chances of being marked as spam. Of course this doesnt apply if it is transactional and its triggered by the subscriber. This is geared mostly towards the email marketer.
When people sign up, tell them what they can expect from you in terms of content and frequency. If they opt in for a weekly newsletter, don’t email them every day.
There are always exceptions to this general guideline. You can ask people to sign-up for “a 10-day email course”. Then, you can send them an email every day for the first 10 days. Afterwards, switch to a less frequent schedule.
Make it easy to unsubscribe
Displaying a visible unsubscribe link is now routine practice for most successful marketers. And for a good reason. If people dislike your content and can’t find an easy way to opt out, they will likely click the junk button.
What looks like a promotion will probably get labeled as a promotional email by Gmail. Since your emails contain an unsubscribe link, they qualify as such. Of course, all smart marketers know that the unsubscribe link is a must if you want to be in business for the long haul. Consider placing the link at the bottom where the signature is usually found, instead of the top.
Use a “list-unsubscribe” link in the email header. So, users can click on the link if they wish to unsubscribe from your mailing list. This will improve your deliverability rates and reduce spam complaints. It will also earn you positive points with ISPs and spam filters.
At the end of the day I would rather have a subscriber unsubscribe then be on my list and bring down my engagement metrics. If they arent reading your emails or engaging in them, you dont want them in your list. Your goal is to have as high of an engaged audience as possible. I know you don’t ever want to lose a subscriber but by not reading your emails they are doing more harm then good. Make the unsubscribe visible and easy. Hey the silver lining here is even an unsubscribe is positive engagement. They are clicking a link, are they not? Get that last bit of engagement out of them and move on. If they want to come back, they will.
Encourage user engagement
Gmail places great emphasis on user engagement, so use every chance you get to entice it. Their service uses a set of algorithms and signals to determine if your email should get delivered. This includes opens and click throughs, “sender saved as contact” and previous replies. Starred messages, messages moved to other folders and spam complaints are also important.
Focus on immediate subscriber engagement. Besides, it’s never too early to start working on your engagement rates. Clicks on the double opt-in confirmation link leading back to your site also count toward your engagement rates as stated before.With so many easy ways to get user engagement from new subscribers, you are missing out unless you use them straight away.Click To Tweet
As soon as people opt-in, send them a thank-you email featuring an article or a video they have to click to access. This will signal immediate engagement to Google. If the subscriber is using Chrome, they’ll mark your sending domain and site in their records. So, your future emails are more likely to reach the inbox since you are marked as a visited site and engaged email.
Feature parts of interesting articles and videos in your newsletters. Include “read more” links, leading to your website where people can see the full content.
Ask people a question and invite them to share their comments and opinions as a way to entice engagement.
Email authentication matters
Your authentication practices affect deliverability and trustworthiness. It’s a common fact that sender credibility is key in email marketing. People feel more comfortable sharing their best email address with a brand they trust. And you need those addresses to grow an effective and healthy mailing list.
Authentication helps ISPs determine if incoming messages are legitimate or spam. In essence, it allows spam filters to verify your sender identity.
Unauthenticated emails aren’t necessarily “spam”. They are often bulk emails sent by legitimate markers to large groups of users such as mailing lists. So, proper email authentication is a must if you want to prevent deliverability issues. Authenticate your emails by using all the 3 main protocols – SPF, DKIM and DMARC.
This will give Gmail confidence that you are not a spammer and that your emails haven’t been forged or altered en route.
Gmail pays a lot of attention to sender authentication practices. If emails lack proper authentication, Gmail warns its users by displaying certain icons.
For senders that don’t use the TLS encryption protocol, a broken lock is displayed in the “to” field. This warns the recipient that the message is not encrypted.
In emails that don’t use SPF or DKIM, Gmail displays a red question mark next to the sender’s name or avatar.
The majority of people who see these warning signs err on the side of caution and will probably decide against engaging. This can seriously damage your Gmail delivery rates.
Low engagement will send a strong negative signal to Gmail that your emails are not desired. The resulting poor deliverability will affect your campaign revenue.
As a marketer, you have to do your best to keep your campaigns attractive and your lists updated and fresh. Emercury is a clean cut email marketing platform that makes all this easy. We offer a variety of tools designed to streamline campaign creation, testing and deployment.
If you are not ready for a paid account, you’re welcome to try Emercury for free and explore all core tools and features.
So, go ahead! Sign up for the free trial and see why Emercury is the only email marketing partner you’ll ever need.
I welcome your comments. Let me know if you have anything else to add or any questions at all. And of course if you like the article, please share it 😉