Gmail Offers Complaint Alternative

Many mailbox providers struggle with what to do with graymail—mail that users signed up to receive, but no longer want. Rather than making subscribers either continue to receive unwanted mail or report the mail as spam, Gmail has added a new feature that allows their users to block the mail from being seen.

Gmail spends a huge amount of time understanding email and how it is used by both marketers and subscribers. They understand that email is not only a tool to communicate with friends and family, but also an important tool for marketers to connect with customers. Sending email to existing and potential customers is the biggest use of email today, so Gmail tries to make it as easy as possible for their users to better manage the mail they receive.

Gmail’s users already have several options for what to do with any piece of mail they receive. How will Gmail’s new “Block” feature affect email marketing?

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Blocking mail from a sender isn’t the same as reporting the email as spam. While both prevent messages from that sender from reaching the end user, one is a personal filter and the other affects global filters. 

Blocking a sender will send all future messages from that specific email address to spam, but it won’t factor into the reputation of that sender. It is simply considered a personal preference. On the other hand, when a message is reported as spam, reputation is affected because a spam complaint is a clear signal to the mailbox providers that messages from that sender are unwanted. If a sender receives multiple spam complaints, the filtering of future mail to all subscribers will be affected. In the end it’s more difficult for a marketer to recover from spam complaints than from blocking.

So why do end users report email as spam or use the block function rather than simply unsubscribing? Two recent studies provide some insight. According to a 2014 study from OTA, “Disappointingly 10.1% violated CAN-SPAM and CASL by failing to honor an unsubscribe request within 10 business days or have a functional unsubscribe link within their emails.” A recent Silverpop study found that “30% of subscribers report email as spam because they do not trust the unsubscribe link.”

So what can marketers do to help encourage subscribers to unsubscribe instead of blocking or reporting messages as spam?

  1. Make the unsubscribe option easy to find. Most people won’t spend time searching for the unsubscribe link. If it’s not easy to find, then the likelihood of being blocked or reported as spam increases. Make the unsubscribe information prominent by moving it to the top of the message and making the font large, bold, or a different color. Don’t rely on one link; utilize the list-unsubscribe options or add a second opt-out link in the email.
  2. Make it easy to unsubscribeDo you offer a simple unsubscribe process, like a one click unsub or a reply-to for removal? Or does the user have to input information and go to a preference center to confirm they want out?
  3. Remove unsubscribe requests quicklyCAN-SPAM grants marketers up to 10 business days to remove a subscriber after they have unsubscribed. If possible, remove as quickly as possible, or at least before the next mailing is sent.
  4. Send wanted mail. Check in with your subscribers every once in awhile to ensure you are providing desired content, and make sure you living up to the content and frequency expectations you set during the sign-up process.
  5. Take advantage of your data. Look at historical data to determine when subscribers began to drop off, or when there were spikes in complaints, and then dig in to find out why. Keep track of your metrics to make sure subscribers are happily engaged and respond to any problem as soon as it occurs.

These steps may not stop everyone from using Gmail’s new blocking feature, but it could keep subscribers from feeling like there’s no other way to stop unwanted email.

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