Gmail is Not Maliciously Filtering Political Email

That’s it, that’s the blog.

Kidding, though only kind-of. Email marketers cringed this week when Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, was asked by not one, but two US Representatives why their email is filtered into the spam folder rather than into (presumed) constituents’ inboxes.

This is not a new question for anyone in the business of sending email, nor are the concerns about “political bias in email” new. Yet why political email is being filtered into spam is pretty straightforward.

By and large, political senders are simply not great senders.

This is discerned completely apolitically, because when you look at email best practices for a good sender reputation, political cycles just don’t lend themselves to being gold-star email marketers. Here’s why:

  • Election cycles are intermittent, meaning the volume of email politicians send fluctuates not just seasonally, but sporadically based on the year. Unlike commercial or B2B senders who maintain a consistent flow of email to their subscribers throughout the year, political senders could go months without sending a message. This doesn’t lend itself to maintaining a dependable reputation, and when mailbox providers (MBPs) like Google suddenly see an influx of mail from the domain, they’re alarmed because they’re not used to it.
    • This also means email addresses on political lists are not reliable. Lots can happen in two or four years, such as addresses being turned into spam traps. Hit tons of spam traps and your reputation tanks quickly.
  • Being a constituent doesn’t waive their rights to be treated with best practices like informed consent, unsubscribe buttons, and so on. Politicians might believe strongly all of their constituents need to see a message, but that recipient might not agree. Their opt-out should be respected, but unfortunately, it isn’t always. Emailing people who do not want your email is a recipe for spam complaints, and like stated earlier, lots of complaints means a tarnished email sender reputation.
  • Spam is spam. There it is. If you are blasting thousands of people with a message not personalized to their needs, interests, or even their preference in email frequency, you’re spamming them. The message might be true, it might be legal, but any unwanted email is by definition “spam.” The people who engage with any given politician’s email likely see those emails delivered to the inbox. People who routinely ignore email from a politician, yet continue to get email after email from them? Yep, it’s probably going to their spam folder and they’re not too upset about it. Just because political email is exempt from CAN-SPAM does not mean it is exempt from spam filters.

There is no difference between political spam and spam. If you behave like a spammer with huge email blasts without regard to best practices like personalization, segmentation, and informed opt-in and opt-out procedures, the truth might hurt, but…you’re sending spam. Mailbox providers’ algorithms look at that behavior rather than whether the email was sent from a Democrat or Republican.

The good news is, the solution is simple in theory, though a little tougher in practice: Be a better sender all the time, and you’ll notice improvement in your inbox placement rates.

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