If you’ve been reading the news, you know Gmail just hit 1.5 billion users—an astonishing achievement for Google’s twenty-year run. So, what does this mean for you?
As an email marketer, it’s crucial to know your audience, down to the ISP they’re using. What can you do to improve deliverability and avoid spam filters? Since Gmail is now the email standard for email users, it’s vital that you understand how your email marketing program works (or doesn’t work) with Gmail.
Today we’ll discuss what email marketers need to know about Gmail and how you can develop an email strategy catered to Gmail users, increasing deliverability and improving the overall experience for your subscribers.
How Gmail became an email giant
First, let’s look at how Gmail reached this remarkable milestone.
As we said, Google has existed for just 20 years. And if that seems new, remember: that’s just Google. Gmail itself is still a youngster, at just fourteen years old.
To put this in perspective, Microsoft Outlook predates Gmail by years. Yet, Outlook reported only 400 million active users earlier this year. The two were once neck and neck, which means Google’s expansive growth is rippling, creating high demand for its products.
Many of us—especially those of us who work in email marketing—may only vaguely remember the days before Gmail but Gmail wasn’t even created until 2004. Email was invented nearly three decades before that (though there are differing views on who invented it).
Yet, during those years before Gmail’s release, Google seemed to be hard at work, assessing the pros and cons of existing email giants. Google spent three years iterating its email system for a simplified user experience. When Gmail finally went live, it offered unimaginable perks, one of which was an incredible amount of storage—for free.
Just to put that in perspective, the storage capacity of Gmail was 500 times bigger than Hotmail’s. People no longer had to consider which emails to trash in an effort to conserve space. Gmail also worked much faster.
With its constant improvements, as well as Google’s consistent growth in multiple markets, Gmail has enormous power behind it. This power has allowed its unprecedented expansion.
How Gmail’s growth affects email marketing
First, it’s important to understand how Gmail works with your site.
Gmail is learning about your domain through interactions.
Your domain’s reputation actually determines your Gmail Inbox Placement. In other words, your email domain is evaluated based on Gmail users and how they interact with your emails.
So, for instance, if a majority of Gmail users react positively to your messages, your emails will be likelier to reach a broader audience.
On the other hand, if your messages receive a predominantly negative reaction, they’ll be more likely to be sorted to the spam folder. (This even applies to people who interact positively with your emails.)
Pro tip: Make unsubscribing easy for your customers. It’s a better user experience, and it’s illegal to exclude this capability.
How to stop emails from going to spam in Gmail
1. Building an engaged list
Before you begin sending emails, first consider the quality of your list. Do your subscribers know they’ve subscribed to your emails? Have they opted in, or did you acquire subscribers through payment? If the latter applies to you, you’ll likely have a difficult time succeeding with Gmail users.
Not only does Gmail look for solicited emails, but Google is also tracking whether or not recipients want your content. For instance, some subscribers may opt in using implied consent (e.g. purchasing a product), or they may opt in just to receive a download or special offer.
In these cases, recipients may be surprised when they begin receiving your emails. They may opt out of your list or simply ignore your messages. Gmail is tracking this, so make sure you’re incredibly transparent with customers on your site.
Visitors who download content or subscribe for discounts should have clear expectations. What kinds of emails will you send? How frequently? By communicating with recipients early, you can eliminate email surprises for them.
Do this for your customers as well. For those purchasing your products, consider providing an option to receive promotional emails at checkout.
2. Send timely, relevant content to new subscribers
Once you have a quality list and transparent messaging, you’re ready to optimize your emails for Gmail. This involves making the correct moves early in the campaign process.
What better way to start your campaign right than by sending automated welcome emails to new subscribers? Welcome emails are sent to new subscribers as soon as they’ve subscribed to your list.
Pro tip: Read rates for welcome emails are a whopping 42% higher than the average email read rate, making them a perfect, simple way to encourage positive email interactions.
3. Focus on engagement and preferences
While you’re catering to newly acquired subscribers, don’t forget your active longtime subscribers. Engaging with existing customers organically builds trust and customer loyalty. Plus, it strongly pushes customer retention—vital to virtually any business.
For consistent clickers and purchasers, consider discounts and promotions. This works as both a reward and a quality engagement tactic.
Don’t ignore inactive subscribers
On the other hand, your least active subscribers need your attention, too. Inactive subscribers may negatively affect your reputation, especially if they don’t find your content appealing or personalized.
Consider segmenting and reviewing signups who fail to open your emails after 30–60 days. These subscribers opted into your list, so why aren’t they opening or engaging? Test alternative subject lines to this segmented group, as well as offers and incentives to pique interest.
Regularly clean your list
Subscribers who remain inactive may eventually harm your sender reputation. Regularly review inactive recipients, ramp-down the frequency at which you email them, and even consider removing them from your list.
Don’t want to do this? Consider instead sending permission confirmation emails on a regular basis. These emails will confirm that yes, they do want to be included on the subscriber list. For those who don’t respond, you can remove them without any lingering doubts.
Pro tip: Your brand’s logo matters. Displaying it in Gmail establishes trust and brand recognition. Plus, it’s easy to set up.
4. Make technical improvements
You know your brand is legitimate, but you need to prove that information to Google’s system. After all, inboxes are crowded. And with imitation emails and fraudulent content continually entering the system, you need to take steps to authenticate your sending details.
Authorize your email service provider to send emails on your behalf. You can do this by modifying the DNS records attached to your domain name. Get the instructions here.
You may recall our interview with Gmail Postmaster Sri Somanchi. In it, he discussed the numerous steps Google takes to identify and filter spam.
The main legitimacy “identifier” Google looks for is the love factor. Do recipients love and engage with your emails? This question is undoubtedly broad, to say the least. Not to mention—just how do you make users love your emails?
Some practical changes you can implement are strong call-to-action buttons, personalized content, and emails that encourage direct responses. In short, your audience needs to feel like a partner to your brand, rather than an audience member.
Pro tip: Without engagement-based sending, recipients will tire of frequent emails and most likely won’t notice when Gmail begins filtering your emails into their spam folder.
Gmail is dominating the ISP scene, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dominate the email scene. By organically building a list, regularly performing list hygiene, and building an individualized campaign, you can easily optimize your emails for Gmail.