Gmail Deliverability Drilldown

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Gmail Deliverability

This is part of our ongoing series looking at deliverability of your email marketing messages.

Today, we’re going to look at one of the most notoriously difficult service providers for email marketers, Google’s Gmail service. Before we begin, I’d advise you strongly to do this quick analysis of your email list to see how many addresses you have on your list. For UK and EU customers, you’ll want to look at addresses as well.

Basics of Gmail Deliverability

As with all forms of email marketing, your first and safest bet is to only send email to people who’ve asked to receive it. That never changes. Let’s look at what’s beyond that.

1. SPF: Gmail looks to see if you are properly authenticated using SPF. Some folks have reported increased deliverability with properly configured DKIM as well, so make sure you have both configured and set up properly. WhatCounts customers, you did this in your on-boarding process.

2. Unlike other email service providers, Gmail does not partner with any deliverability services such as Return Path. They also do not provide any publicly disclosed whitelists, blacklists, or even a feedback loop.

3. Gmail is operated by Google. That means several things. First, everything about the service is algorithmic based on users’ actions, just like their search engine. Your goal as an email marketer is to get people to open, click, and forward messages you send, white list you, and conversely to avoid being deleted without being read or marked as spam.

Advanced Gmail Deliverability

Google rolled out its own classification system in 2011 called Priority Inbox that lets users hide or otherwise eliminate less important email. A vitally important step in your email marketing if you have or are acquiring a significant number of Gmail addresses is to provide detailed instructions to your users on how to whitelist you. It’s a short three step process but Gmail’s interface does not make it obvious at all. Here’s an example.

GameChanger Gmail Deliverability

1. Please click Always Display Images from us.
2. Please click on the black drop down arrow on the right-hand corner of one of our messages.
3. Please Add us to your Contacts list to always ensure you’ll get our messages.

Taking the time to do this tutorial if your list is Gmail heavy will result in significantly better delivery and open rates. Anecdotal evidence from some companies suggest a doubling of delivery rates to subscribers who take these steps.

Because Gmail is so heavily biased towards engagement, you’ll want to do things like post notices to your social networks when you do a campaign, especially on Google+, but wherever you have significant audience. Doing so allows you to front-load your engagement metrics by showing a lot of opens and reads within the first few hours of your campaign’s launch. Here’s an example:

Almost Timely Newsletter on Social

Note that you may not want to include a link to a view in browser version if your list is Gmail-heavy. Why? Because providing a link would let social network users read your email immediately via the web, leaving the message itself in their inbox where it’s subject to deletion without being opened. This would have the net effect of reducing your engagement, which is contrary to your delivery goals.

Like Microsoft, Gmail also relies on the List-Unsubscribe header to provide one-click unsubscribe functionality. If your email marketing program does not provide this header or the one provided does not work, you risk increased likelihood of being flagged as a spammer by Gmail, so make sure to use it.

For WhatCounts customers on the Publicaster platform, List-Unsubscribe is automatically on.

For WhatCounts customers on the Professional platform, you need to enable List-Unsubscribe. To do this, go to Lists, find your list, click Advanced, and turn this on per-list:

How to use list unsubscribe in WhatCounts

We strongly recommend that Professional Edition users always turn this feature on.

Finally, Gmail began to provide a basic feedback mechanism about why an email was flagged as spam, but not to email marketers. It’s provided only to end users. We recommend that if you don’t already have one that you create a Gmail account and subscribe it to your list. If one of your messages gets flagged as spam, you can then at least get a basic idea of why:

Submission warning message

We hope this deliverability drilldown into Gmail has provided you with some immediately usable insights to help your email marketing program flourish. If your current email service provider is unable to assist you with any of these delivery to-dos, please feel free to contact WhatCounts.

Christopher S. Penn
Director of Inbound Marketing, WhatCounts


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4 Responses to "Gmail Deliverability Drilldown"
  1. ividence says:

    Chris, thanks for a great post. It’s always important to review what’s critical with different ISPs to understand what to do (and what not to do).

  2. Daniel says:

    Does Gmail have a preference whether you have a “List Unsubscribe” or “OPT-Out” link in your emails?

    I’m wondering how their spam filters identify the existence of such a link.

    Also, does it matter if I actually use the word “unsubscribe” for this link or something else, e.g. “Click here to be removed from our list”?

  3. Phil Hill says:

    chris – nice post. you focus mainly on the issues with having too many gmail recipients in my list; what are the associated risks of SENDING an email to a group of contacts FROM gmail. does gmail have poor deliverability issues when sending out it’s emails (compared to a provider like WC)? thx

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