The email landscape is always changing; from the new introduction of anti-spam laws, new email applications, and new mobile technology, email marketing has never presented more challenges. Being an email marketer, it is paramount that you stay on top of all of the new technology coming into your arena so you can master your craft and increase your ROI.
We all know one of the major players in this space is Gmail, if you are in the B2C marketing realm; you are going to need to get your sending IP to be best of buds with the Gmail servers, you are going to want to make yourself the ying to Google’s yang to ensure your emails are delivered properly.
Let us look at how Google looks at incoming mail- it sees incoming messages in two ways: Spam and non-spam. A spam message is instantly placed in the spam folder, while nom-spam makes it to the promised land of the inbox.
Once the message makes it to the inbox Gmail indexes it into the different tabs that the user has set up- these are Primary, Social and Promotion, by default, but the user can also add in an Updates tab and a Forums tab. The categories allow users to better organize and control their inboxes by helping them classify the mail as it comes in… but this can get complicated. If you are constantly sending out promotional information from your sending IP, Google will have a higher chance of marking your future messages as promotional, even if you are just sending out your most recent informational newsletter or transactional email. So it would be good for you to send your messages from different IP’s; have one for your promotional mailings and another for your quality content newsletters. (Hint- Use separate IP’s or Domains for your promotional/non-promotional emails)
Gmail works hard to deliver all legitimate mail to the user’s inboxes, but it is highly possible that they will mark your message as spam even if you are not a ‘spammer.’ There are 2 important factors that will without doubt get most of your messages to the user’s inbox-
It will also help you to send fewer bounced emails to invalid Gmail accounts, the less emails that you send that bounce the higher your IP reputation will be and the stronger your relationship with the Gmail servers will be. This is why it is always recommended to scrub your lists quarterly so your email sender score can stay intact.
Get your subscribers to interact
I know what you are thinking… “This is obvious…” This is what every email marketer wants. We all want our subscribers to open our mails and click our links while never marking our messages as spam. Obviously it is important to us, but to Google this is a must for our campaigns to have continual success and make it to their user’s inboxes.
It is important to consistently send from the same domain and IP address so you can build up a rapport with the Google servers. It is ok to have a different ‘From:’ addresses for your promotional emails and newsletters, but stay consistent with what you are sending with them.
It is also important to send out your email campaigns on a consistent basis. If you are sending out random newsletters and promotional emails, here and there, Google’s algorithm will likely view your message as spam as that is something that is inconsistent with reputable mailers.
Assure that you are not on any Black Lists
While Gmail doesn’t publicly note it uses blacklists, there is a high correlation of spam folder delivery when the sender is on a Real-Time Blacklist, or a DNS-based Blackhole List, which is based on domain names.
Spamhaus is one of the most widely used Blacklists and getting listed on it and other sites like it indicates problems with complaints and spam traps, which is likely caused from lack of permission, or lack of list hygiene over the years on your behalf. This is something that you will want to constantly be monitoring because being listed can absolutely ruin your campaigns. Here is a free black list monitoring tool that you can use to see if you are currently listed anywhere.
Ask your Subscribers to mark your message as ‘Not Spam’
This will alert Gmail that your recipients want to receive your messages, it is as simple as asking your subscribers to click a button.
Make sure Your Links Work-
Broken, incomplete or links that connect to websites overseas will all decrease the likelihood of your email making it to the inbox, double check all of your links to make sure they are working.
How Google Caches Images-
Not too long ago, Gmail began caching images for users that were checking their mail in a browser and in their Gmail mobile app. This allows the images to automatically populates instead of prompting the use to download the image. While, this is great for their users protecting them from harm, it makes it hard for all of us email marketer as it skews our data, in particularly what device is opening our mailings.
So let’s say a user is using their web browser or the Gmail app, the report will come back as the reading environment of ‘Webmail via Gmail’s image Cache.’ They all have the same response code! So whether someone is reading our email on their computer on their phone with the Gmail app, it will say the same thing. Only if the user is using one of the default email apps on their phone that they connected their Gmail account to it will it show that the email was opened via a mobile account and what type of device that opened it. (Android, Apple…)
Also with them caching images, many Gmail subscribers have noticed that the quality of their images quality has become degraded, some images are failing to load or even loading in the completely wrong spot.
So what do you need to do about Gmail’s Image Caching?
Though the device detection is less detailed, you should continue to optimize your emails across all Gmail inboxes types. (Gmail Apps, Browsers, Mobile Email Apps, Etc…)
You should also anticipate that not all users will see your images due to loading problems and work on having your emails make sense if the image is not there. Use different background colors and live text to help improve subscriber interaction with your emails just in case the image does not show up properly.
Automatic Image Downloading-
So shortly after the Gmail team started to introduce image caching, the team over at Google began to automatically download images. This has helped to skew the results of open rates for all email marketers over the past year and a half.
The tracking of email opens relies on an image, which is also known as a pixel, in your campaign to load when the user opened up the email. Every time the image got downloaded from the server, the ESP or tracking software that was being used would mark the email as opened. Gmail, much like what Outlook still does now, use to ask all of its users to download all images to view them; now all of the images are automatically being downloaded and displayed for Gmail users. What is the result of this? A net increase in the open rates of all Gmail users. (A skew in the data)
Statistics show Gmail open rates are up 70% in 2014, which is largely a result of image caching and automatic image downloads.
What do you need to do about this?
You should continue to optimize for the ISP’s that need users to click the download images button to see your emails as you want them to look. Gmail doing automatic image downloading is a good thing for you in terms of the design of your email since your subscribers will be able to see the email as you intended it to look, unless of course it gets cached incorrectly.
Emailing to Gmail is something that can easily get over complicated, but it truly does not have to be. Like most ISP’s, Gmail wants to make sure its users are only receiving emails that they want to receive and are subscribed for and not be them at risk of spam/phishing emails. By following best email practices the majority of your messages will make it to the inbox, but with these tips you can optimize your email campaigns with Google in mind and increase the overall ROI of your efforts.