Email Experts Series: Gmail Tips & Tricks

Last year, we brought together our (smaller) team of email experts to discuss some of the most talked about aspects of the email industry. We called those videos our Email Experts Series. It was a fun time, we reminisce about it regularly.

So it was only natural we relive the glory days for another season! We’ll start with episode one, where our experts Anthony Chiulli, director of product marketing, Sridhar Chandran, solutions architect, and LoriBeth Blair, solutions architect, discuss all the major happenings in the world of Gmail.

(We’ve found key timestamps and transcribed this video below.)

Total Run Time: 13 minutes
00:42 – Look back at Gmail’s year in review
01:57 – AMP for Email and Gmail Annotations developments
03:40 – TensorFlow machine learning, redesigned Gmail user interface, and new features
05:42 – Inbox by Gmail shutdown and recent data privacy changes impacting panel data
06:38 – Closer look at TensorFlow’s impact in anti-spam
09:00 – Gmail deliverability challenges and best practice recommendations
11:47 – Google Postmaster Tools resource
12:27 – Closing thoughts: Gmail’s evolution in filtering, sophistication, and user experience as a mailbox provider

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Anthony Chiulli
Hey everyone and welcome back. My name is Anthony Chiulli and I’m really excited to be here today, joined by my lovely colleagues Sri and LB. We’re going to be talking about Gmail today. The reason that we’re talking about Gmail is it’s not only the largest mailbox provider on the planet, but they have had quite a memorable year the past year, year and a half, right? So, I love talking about Gmail because it’s often one of the mailbox providers that many marketers struggle with, and they seem to be a little bit unique and elusive. So let’s get right into it. Sri, can you talk about the year that Gmail’s had? I know that they’ve done quite a bit of things and new features and changes over the past year and a half. What are some of the new things coming out of Gmail?

Sridhar Chandran
Absolutely. So Gmail has had a wonderful run over the last year, and it’s basically a build-up that they have been trying to just develop the tool. And I think the main point over here is that they really believe in user experience. So they’re going really hard on that. And so the recent changes, I would say is, of course, the AMP in Email in Gmail, which is right now just starting with Gmail. I’m pretty sure Yahoo is also going to take over or follow suit soon. So that’s one. And then you have Gmail Annotations. So those two things are such major breakthroughs for Gmail and just for user experience. I think Gmail had a wonderful year. And it’s just a start, I guess.

Yeah. And those two, I mean, from my experience, AMP for Email and Annotations have made a huge splash, right? Those are big industry announcements that many brands and marketers are paying attention to. Tell me a little bit about, if you can, what those are, for maybe folks that aren’t familiar.

Absolutely. So AMP is basically where, just from a personal user experience, once you’ve opened email and you start interacting with the email, you can actually have your coupons or anything which can be interactive, and you can just complete the transaction within the email. You don’t even have to go to another website. And what I’ve noticed is that, say if you’re from somewhere in Asia or somewhere where you do not have excellent mobile network, so you don’t have to jump onto a different browser and just complete the transaction, you can do the whole thing inside. And that’s, again, coming back to user experience, it’s wonderful. And Annotations, of course, as well. You can just go ahead and highlight if you have any kind of sales or deeds or offers. And if you’re just trying to fight up your way into the promotions tab, you can just go at the very top, you can just give the complete information to your users, what they’re looking for, and just having that kind of information on your fingertips in your mobile I think is a game-changer, again.

Yeah, I would agree. I think it’s two really good examples of ways to reiterate what you said about improving user experience, but also just changing the value of email. Both of these changes I think are significant in adding new ways and new territories for brands to increase engagement and just drive more value out of an email.

Absolutely. I mean, that’s the whole point of email, right? It’s a communication channel. So when your users just have everything inside the email interacting, everything’s done in the email, it’s just going to improve the stickiness factor for the customers to your product.

Well said. LB, what are some other things that Gmail’s been up to?

LoriBeth Blair
I think, just to highlight what Sri said, Gmail is absolutely rabid about user experience, and they are very quick to cut anything that a sender is doing that they believe is going to result in negative user experience. They essentially have fully owned the fact that any interaction that happens with a message in their platform is a reflection on them, and they take that very seriously. So I would say they’ve really announced that TensorFlow has reached maturity. That’s a machine learning framework that allows them to essentially build more models more quickly, which means that their spam filtering algorithm is much more agile, it’s much more nuanced than it’s been in the past, and it’s only going to continue getting more agile and nuanced at an exponential rate. I think AMP is amazing. There’s so much cool stuff you can do, as far as form submits, transactions. I think that’s going to be awesome. They redesigned the UI. I mean, they really went in this year. They redesigned the UI so now you have snooze, they’re giving smart unsubscribe options. I think the big one that really rocked a lot of the email marketing community were the phishing warnings that were popping up. So Gmail really wants you to make sure that your authentication is on point. It needs to look good. Or also banner warnings saying, “This email is similar to one that’s been reported to spam in the past.” Things like that. A lot of people said it’s been making it a lot harder. They introduced confidential mode. Just tons of things; and smart unsubscribe suggestions as well. Because they have all the data about people’s user behavior, so they’ll even say, “Hey, it doesn’t look like you really engage with this brand. Do you want to unsubscribe?” That’s probably driving some unsubscribes, and I think that makes marketers nervous. But the best thing is an unsubscribe’s always better than a spam complaint. I think the other couple of big changes, they killed off inbox, R.I.P., April 2nd of this year. And the big one, they killed off-panel data too, which there were a lot of companies relying on that data set that was essentially spying on users’ inboxes. Some of these users had nominally opted in, or I think the users had nominally not opted in to this, but many of them didn’t really realize what they had opted into. And Gmail, just after there was a scandal about employees of another company reading just thousands of emails to fine-tune their algorithm better, Gmail said, “Yeah, no more.” And these companies lobbied Gmail and it fell on completely deaf ears. They are absolutely going to double and triple down on user experience and I think also privacy.

Yep. Just to add on to that, I guess two things. One, TensorFlow. It, again, was not a huge announcement. And, from a marketer’s perspective, there’s nothing much to read from it. But from a mailbox provider’s perspective, there’s a whole lot of things, because spammers are evolving. Once you go ahead and update your filters and try to block a certain kind of spam, they just keep on changing. And they move much faster–

It’s like a virus. It’s like a human immune virus or like an immune system.

Absolutely. So in TensorFlow what they basically did is for the last two years just the image-based URLs and just all of the emails being so rich in the whole graphics and web. So it’s very difficult. They can just go ahead and put some hidden URLs in the emails, which were not easily trackable by a traditional filter. So that last mile catching of those emails was what Gmail said they were able to block, about 100 million, is what they said, with TensorFlow. So that’s the amount of spam that’s evolved. And spam filters also need to evolve at the same rate, so that’s interesting. Just to add onto the other thing about just the smart unsubscribe, that just says that you need to double down on engagement. That’s how much Gmail is looking at engagement. So if you have an email over there which has not been opened or have any kind of interaction for say about 30 to 60 days, that’s how deep Gmail is looking at your engagement data. So that’s where the marketers also need to just go ahead and check, “How am I checking the engagement?”

I think there’s clearly a lot of things in play, and certainly, Gmail has accomplished quite a bit in changes and new feature announcements and redesign. And when I look at these holistically together, what I see is not only—we keep harping on user experience, but increasing in efficiency for their consumers, and clearly a knack for improving security, right? So security, whether it’s catching additional spam or improving ways for security in confidential mode of drafting an email or more prominent phishing warnings to protect their users, it’s clear to me that two of the themes that are evident here are improving efficiency with the redesign some of these new features, as well as security. Which leads me to my next question I want to talk about is, something I think a lot of marketers have either at some point or currently struggle with Gmail. Gmail tends to be this unique mailbox provider that really kind of acts like its own entity and doesn’t follow a lot of the same rules or guidelines that work with other mailbox providers. So, Sri, I’ll start with you; what are some of the general best practices or tips that you can share for a marketer that’s just really struggling to deliver in the inbox at Gmail?

Sure. So one thing that I would like to say over here is all ISPs have the same goal, that is, just send email to people who want to receive your email. So that’s the goal that they start from. Everything else is just built upon that. The interesting part is just Gmail has so much data about an average sender that they’re able to make more educated decisions about how they want to handle your email. So that’s where they just got into the whole domain reputation bandwagon pretty early, and that’s where most of the other mailbox providers are just trying to catch up. And so, again, gets back to the same point that I told a little while earlier. It’s all about engagement. It’s just make sure you’re sending to people who really want to receive your email, your lists are clean, go on and just look at the data, look at all the tools that you have available, go ahead and use Google Postmaster Tools. Again, just double down on the engagement, and just make the content a lot more relevant for them and make sure there are opportunities to go ahead and have some kind of interaction from them. That’s the basics that I was saying.


Yeah. I would say really as far—most problems at Gmail are either going to boil down to a complaint rate issue. And that’s usually that you’re either emailing people too frequently or you’re sending too much mail to people, or you’re sending mail to people that have indicated they don’t want it. Or, it just boils down to you’re sending too great a volume of email that your reputation cannot support it. Essential, when you try to exceed your credit limit, you have problems. And how you up your credit limit is by upping the engagement. I think it’s kind of come under a laser focus now that everybody has cell phones and notifications going off. I think a problem you don’t need to troubleshoot is going to the promotional folder. I think you need to set up your annotations and say that that’s good. Because really, if you get a reputation for annoying people with messages by setting off every notification on their phone, you’re going to get unsubscribed or spam complained really quick. And it’s not going to be good—it’s not a good look as a brand. The other thing I would talk about is Google Postmaster Tools. I think that’s tremendous. If you don’t have Google Postmaster Tools set up on your domain, do it now. Because it’s the only window you get into Gmail. Others like Yahoo, I know Sri can talk more about that, and AOL and Hotmail, they have more granular feedback loops, they will tell you who complained. Gmail will not. They do not route any complaint data back. The only way you get the data is by having your DKIM set up right and then being signed up for Google Postmaster Tools and collecting that data.

I think ultimately it’s the evolution of not spam versus not spam. It’s now wanted mail versus unwanted mail. And I think clearly Gmail is leading the charge with a lot of mailbox providers and their sophistication, their filtering, their UI redesign. They always and I think continually push the forefront of what they believe is kind of the future of that email experience.

I want to thank you guys, both. This has been extremely helpful and I hope this has been really helpful for our audience in understanding some of the dynamics of Gmail and best practices and tips, and also just kind of a quick recap of some of the things that they’ve launched and released over the past year. Thanks for watching and we hope to see you next time on another Expert series video.

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