Utilizing Gmail's Postmaster Tool? More Important Now, Than Ever: A Client Success Story

Gmail has been all the buzz lately, as senders all over the world feel the impact of their ever evolving, highly dynamic, and industry-leading filtering methodologies. We may never know the full scope of Gmail’s precise algorithms. If we did, we would design our email programs to appease those filters, driving high inbox placement, and gaining conversions. Even without knowing Gmail’s precise algorithm, there is still plenty you can act on. If you are a sender, experiencing issues at Gmail, take a step back and make sure you are truly following best practices and leveraging the data Gmail offers you via their postmaster tool. Most of those best practices can be found here, in the recent blog Are You Having Problems Delivering to Gmail? You’re Not Alone.

A client I have the privilege of working with has a global footprint, which means they manage and send from a number of IP addresses and domains. Managing their multiple addresses and subscribers lists is already a tough challenge, adding to that, they also need to ensure that each of their lists and addresses are correctly configured to pass the different filters of each mailbox provider they send to! Who has time for all that?! Luckily, these metrics are consistently assessed and surfaced through Return Path’s tools like Reputation Monitor, Certification, and Inbox Insight. Beyond that, there are mailbox provider tools like Gmail Postmaster, that offer IP address and domain level reporting. Below is a story of how this client and I used Gmail’s postmaster tool to uncover hidden issues in their program and how they are using what we uncovered to drive change and improve deliverability.

Path to Resolution: Identify, Review, and Implement
The deliverability issue was first surfaced on one sending domain. There were high’s and low’s with Gmail Inbox Placement, with no change to sending practices, list acquisition, etc. We initially analyzed data points using their email service provider and our tools. We looked at complaints and engagement (opens, clicks, unsubscribes) to determine if this was simply driven by engagement level filtering or something else. Everything looked normal.

Our next step was to look at Gmail’s postmaster tool to see what we could decipher from there. Initially, we checked IP address reputation, domain reputation, and complaints. The status looked solid across the board—Green/positive IP address and domain reputation:

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Net up, we identified reporting issues for authentication enabling us to make a clear connection to performance issues. What we found was a rollercoaster ride of success and failures rates for SPF and DMARC. Authenticating properly is one of the first and most crucial steps to making sure you are making it to the inbox. When those elements aren’t happening, you can expect deliverability issues. After running several internal checks, the client determined SPF was set up correctly. So why the failures?

A card we were able to play here, is that the client uses our Email Fraud Protection solution. Since the disconnect appeared to be directly related to authentication, we decided to consult experts on our Email Fraud Protection team to assist in diving into the issue.
What our experts uncovered was an issue in SPF alignment. From a DMARC perspective, it is not enough for you just to pass SPF, you also need your domains to be within alignment. What this means is that the MFROM (or return path) domain (which is the domain that is checked for SPF) is the same domain (or any sub-domain thereof) as the HeaderFrom domain. The reason for this is to prevent authenticated spoofing.
Final steps for the client were to update and match their MFrom and HeaderFrom domains. Now that they have DMARC checking alignment it is now impossible for a fraudulent sender to spoof an organization’s domain and still pass SPF.
We will continue to review and hope to see consistent success rates, reflecting consistent performance at Gmail for the impacted brands. The moral of the story? Use Gmail’s postmaster tool!

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