Email Marketing

Gmail & Yahoo’s New Sender Requirements: Answering the Big Remaining Questions

minute read

Post Image

In our recent State of Email Live webinar, Ebenezer Anjorin, Product Lead at Google, joined us to talk about Gmail’s new requirements for bulk email senders.  

It was a seriously hot topic, and we asked our record-breaking audience if they were ready for enforcement (which started in February). Almost half said they weren’t! 

Our audience also had lot of questions for us—more than we could ever hope to handle during the live show—so we collated them (almost 400 in total) and shared them with Gmail.  

They’ve used them to sense-check their updates to Postmaster Tools (GPT) and fine-tune their FAQs.  

Some questions came up multiple times and are clearly the hottest topics. We’ll use Gmail’s latest feedback, plus additional updates from Yahoo and fresh industry intel, to cover ten of the most important ones in this article. 

Why does the blue unsubscribe link in the Gmail interface only display intermittently? 

This topic has been covered previously in the Gmail Community. Long story short, Gmail may not show the List-Unsubscribe link until it has assessed a sender’s domain and is satisfied they are reliable. This stops scammers from inserting the headers and using the responses to validate these email addresses.

Yahoo’s FAQs echo this, stating: “[users] will see the blue “Unsubscribe” . . . if we see sufficient reputation and engagement for your sending email address.” This provides senders with a useful data point—if the link isn’t showing, it may be an indicator of a poor reputation they can then remedy.  

Isn’t it unfair that someone can use the list-unsubscribe record and then still mark the email as spam?  

This question is based on the dialogue box that opens when users click the blue unsubscribe link. In addition to unsubscribing, they are also provided with the option to report the email as spam. This didn’t feel optimal when senders were encouraged to implement one-click unsubscribe functionality specifically to reduce complaint rates.  

This was covered during the webinar Q&A. There are several versions of this dialogue box, and Gmail has rules that determine which version is shownFor compliant senders, only the text confirming the unsubscribe request is shown. The additional option to report the email as spam (during the list-unsubscribe process) is triggered by senders who are failing to honor these opt-out requests within Gmail’s prescribed timeframes.  

How does Gmail identify/define transactional emails? What can senders do to ensure emails are correctly categorized? 

Both Gmail and Yahoo say they don’t have specific rules to identify promotional vs. transactional content. Gmail’s FAQs say: “Message recipients, not Google, determine the nature of the messages they receive,” while Yahoo states: “We will not make the determination of what mail should and should not contain an unsubscribe link.” Gmail further clarifies: “We don’t automatically reject messages or mark messages as spam when they don’t meet the one-click unsubscribe requirements.” 

Gmail does cover message categorization in its Email Sender Guidelines. Senders using multiple IP addresses should use a different IP for each message type, i.e., one for account notifications and a different one for promotional messages. They should also ensure message types use common “From:” email addresses, i.e., sales receipts use [email protected] while promotional messages use [email protected].  

How can senders reduce complaint rates for transactional messages? 

Remember that while transactional emails aren’t required to include an unsubscribe link (either by law or the new requirements), they still need to earn their place in the inbox. Senders should start with implementing full email authentication, and segmentation practices like those described above. A strong focus on list hygiene is essential, so make sure those addresses are kept up to date using a validation solution like Validity BriteVerify.

We know many consumers provide a fake address at the point of sign-up to avoid receiving marketing emails—so be transparent if your only reason for collecting their information is to send an order confirmation. 

Senders can also use Gmail’s feedback loop (FBL) identifiers to assist them with this challenge. This will easily help identify whether specific message types generate higher complaint rates. If so, these messages could be good candidates for inclusion of one-click list-unsubscribe, and these insights will also help senders investigate why these messages are less popular.  

Is there a definitive list of Email Service Providers (ESPs) whose senders are automatically compliant/non-compliant with the new requirements? 

Not that we are aware of. That said, both Gmail and Yahoo are part of the M3AAWG community, as are most major ESPs (and Validity!). Both have said the conversations leading to the new requirements are ones M3 members should be very familiar with from the past few years.

If your ESP can’t help its senders achieve compliance, it may be a good time to find a new ESP who can! Note that Validity’s Sender Certification standards have been updated to align with the Gmail/Yahoo requirements. 

Why might a sender’s emails still go to spam even if they are compliant with all the new requirements? 

The short answer is that compliant senders should be avoiding the spam folder. If you aren’t first verify you are in fact compliant, and then request mitigation from Gmail. 

Remember that while authentication, list-unsubscribe, and complaint rates have been the main areas of focus, the new bulk sender requirements are broader. For example, they also state the need for valid DNS records, use of TLS encryption, RFC5322-compliant message formatting, use of ARC records for forwarding, and compliance with Gmail’s “no impersonation” rules.

Subscriber engagement also remains highly important. We know metrics such as the number of subscribers who click the “not spam” and “add to contacts” buttons are positive signals, and email programs generating them at meaningful levels will enjoy better deliverability than those that don’t.    

Yahoo additionally states that while emails won’t usually be placed in spam for poor reputation alone, additional factors such as obfuscation of URLs, invalid domains in the rDNS, and emails that aren’t RFC compliant are more likely to get junked! 

Are senders going to be penalized for high complaint rates on non-broadcast days? 

The concern here is from email programs that don’t send every day of the week, but complaints may be generated the following day when sending volumes are much lower. This will cause complaint rates to spike as they are calculated from a smaller base. We have two comments: 

  • Gmail (and Yahoo) have both stated the 0.3 percent threshold should be viewed as an absolute value that should never be exceeded. Reputable senders should be aiming for an average complaint rate of <=0.1 percent, so spikes will be smaller. 
  • Gmail’s FAQs state that a key consequence of exceeding this threshold is ineligibility for mitigation (from June ’24 onwards). This service is available to senders who follow the guidelines and still experience high spam filtering despite a proportionally low volume of spam complaints. 
  • Validity’s take based on our conversations with Google are that complaint rates are enforced on a rolling average and individual daily spikes should be mitigated by their calculations so long as the average is compliant.

Is it OK for the unsubscribe to be from a specific mail stream, not the overall program?  

Per Gmail’s FAQs, one-click unsubscribe doesn’t automatically remove the recipient from all messages. The recipient can be removed only from the mailing list associated with the message. One-click unsubscribe lets senders control which mailing lists recipients are removed from. With an RFC8058-compliant list unsubscribe record in place, senders should also include an unsubscribe link in the message body that directs recipients to a mailing list preferences page.  

Will we start seeing new bounce codes as the new requirements are enforced 

Non-compliant senders may see their emails sent to the spam folder or rejected. Rejections will return a specific error code with more information. Readers can learn more about Gmail’s new error codes here, while Yahoo’s error codes are documented here.  

How will Postmaster Tools help senders stay compliant with the new requirements? 

In March ’24, Google released a new Compliance dashboard as part of their Postmaster Tools.  

Users can now see at a glance if they are compliant with the requirements for SPF/DKIM/DMARC authentication, TLS encryption, DNS records, and complaint rates. Reporting around one-click unsubscribe is coming soon. (Note that Yahoo currently offers a Complaint Feedback Loop for senders to receive complaint data and monitor their spam rate. Sign-up is available on their Sender Hub). 

Senders will be aware that while enforcement began in February ‘24, the rollout will be phased as Gmail and Yahoo monitor their compliance metrics. Non-compliant senders will already have seen temporary failures, and rejection rates will gradually increase from April ’24 onwards. Enforcement of the List-Unsubscribe policy begins in June ‘24.  

We’ll be keeping a close eye on key metrics like complaint rates and rejected rates in our upcoming State of Email webinars, so be sure to sign up here

Plus, listen to top tactics for dealing with them from Validity colleague and global email expert Laura Christensen, on her recent podcast appearance below.