Gmail: The Adventure Continues

Follow-up article to The Great Gmail Adventure: Black Friday & Cyber Monday 2016The graph below shows the average inbox placement for messages sent to over one million live Gmail users from August 1, 2015, to January 31, 2016, vs. August 1, 2016, to January 31, 2017. And the results aren’t pretty for senders:

The good news is that inbox placement recovered a bit after Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend, but not to pre-September levels. While Gmail seemed to improve during the same time period last year, this year we saw a steady decline of about 8 percent from the start of September 2016 to the end of January 2017. Ouch.

Senders are going to have to be more agile than ever to stay on top of their Gmail reputation. Simple suppression rules may no longer suffice. If your only list hygiene practice was to suppress anyone who hasn’t responded in a certain number of days, you may want to start looking at more creative ways to keep your lists clean. Here are some things you’ll want to consider:

1. Identify if you are having deliverability issues at Gmail.
You can do this by (in order of accuracy):

  • Breaking down engagement by mailbox provider to see if Gmail’s engagement rates are consistently and significantly lower than your other mailbox providers. For example, if your open rates at Yahoo and Microsoft mailboxes are 25 percent and your open rate at Gmail mailboxes is 5 percent, we’ve got a problem.
  • Use an inbox placement reporting tool—such as Return Path’s Inbox Monitor—to instantly track whether or not your emails are landing consistently in the inbox or spam folder.
  • Signing up for Gmail’s free Postmaster tools to see if your reputation is less than “High”. “Medium” would mean you’re still reaching the inbox but you’ll want to be careful.  “Low” and “Bad” means you’re in trouble.

2. Examine your subscriber experience
Once you’ve identified whether or not you have a Gmail reputation problem, put yourself in the shoes of your subscribers. What’s their experience like? What is their relationship with your brand? What are they getting out of your emails? Gmail’s filtering algorithm may be telling you that subscribers are not engaging positively with your email program.

3. Consider sending frequency.
I worked with a sender who operated a dating website. They were getting instances of “mass complaints” where single subscribers were submitting hundreds of “this is spam” reports against their email program in a single swoop. Turns out this was because the sender didn’t have a frequency cap in place. The users who had very attractive profiles were getting hundreds of email alerts a day to let them know someone had checked out their profile or sent them a message. This is an extreme example, but make sure that you’re cognizant of the amount of mail you’re sending your subscribers. Allow subscribers to manually update their preferred frequency level. You also may want to consider placing automated rules in to detect when subscribers are becoming less engaged to reduce your sending frequency to them. Listen to them as if you’re in a loving relationship. More information, check out our research on sending frequency.

4. Consider your purchasing cycle and customer journey.
Sweeping rules such as “only send to subscribers who’ve last opened/clicked in X days” can be dangerous for senders who have a longer purchase cycle. If you’re selling vacations, cars, or other high-ticket items, consider that someone who just purchased may not be interested in purchasing again for another year or more. If you have a limit of emailing only to people who opened or clicked in the last six months, you will miss the opportunity to reach out to them next year when they’re planning their next purchase. Ideally, you should be able to differentiate between two types of openers: those interested in buying (researching) and those who just completed the purchase. You’ll want to keep mailing and staying top-of-mind for researchers, but you’ll want to pull back promotional emails on those who just made a purchase. Very similar methodology to retargeting pixels for digital ads.

5. Consider “null” users who gave you a bogus email address.
Bogus email addresses are usually detected quickly by an unknown user bounce. However, some of these bogus addresses are real and can cause you reputation issues. Best case scenario is that they gave you an account they rarely log into, but worst case scenario is that they gave you an account that was long since deactivated and is now being operated as a recycled spam trap. One way to quickly filter these addresses out is to create a separate rule for new signups: Filter them off of your list if they register zero opens or clicks in X days. I would personally give them two months to prove that they’re a real address and actually interested in your emails.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Good luck, everyone.

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