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Understanding Gmail Deliverability: 7 Tips for Getting in the Inbox

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by: Brad Mimbs (@IBMforMarketing)
24 April 2013

We receive a lot of questions about mailings being delivered to the spam folder at Gmail or, even worse, Gmail blocking an IP. With hundreds of millions of Gmail users – conservative estimates peg the number around 300 million – it’s certainly a legitimate area for concern. So, let’s take a look at the factors that lead Gmail to block messages from reaching the inbox, along with some steps you can take to improve your Gmail deliverability.

Why Gmail Blocks Emails
When mailings are sent to the spam folder or blocked at Gmail, it’s usually because Gmail feels that an IP is sending in ways that are spam-like. This could be due to too many abuse complaints and/or too many inactive recipients in your databases.

Gmail has maintained its stance in regard to penalizing senders for having inactive recipients, as other ISPs are doing more and more every day. So even though your mailings are being delivered without issue at other free email providers, this does not mean that Gmail will treat your mailings the same.

Gmail updated its postmaster page last year regarding bulk senders and how to avoid being labeled as spam. The excerpt below is pulled from the Gmail postmaster page.

"We've received inquiries from bulk senders who'd like more information on best practices to ensure that their mail is delivered to Gmail users. The way Gmail classifies spam depends heavily on reports from our users. Gmail users can mark and unmark any message as spam, at any time. To increase the inbox delivery rate of your messages, make sure that all recipients on your distribution lists actually want to receive the mail."

So, Gmail's main emphasis is recipient engagement. For example, the more recipients that use the "this is not spam" feature, the more mailings are delivered to the inbox. Likewise, the more recipients that claim “this is spam,” the more your mailings will go into the spam folder.

How You Can Get in the Inbox
Given Gmail’s emphasis on engagement, we encourage marketers to implement behavioral marketing best practices to increase message relevance and boost opens and clicks. Sending emails triggered by a person’s behaviors, preferences or demographics is one of the best ways to ensure a positive customer experience and increase recipient interaction with your messages.

Here are some additional recommendations for improving Gmail delivery issues:

1. Authenticate your sending domain with SPF and 1024 DKIM authentication. Gmail will no longer authenticate DKIM that's less than a 1024-bit key. (Read more about email authentication.)

2. Ask your recipients to mark your messages as “not spam.” This will alert Gmail that your recipients want to receive your messages, help your overall engagement with Gmail and improve delivery to the inbox.

3. Remind recipients to click on the “Always display images from this address” button. This enables your recipients to see your HMTL emails as they were intended and also goes toward positive recipient engagement.

4. Invite contacts to add your sending “From” address to their Gmail address book.

5. Ask your recipients to click Gmail’s yellow priority inbox icon and have them “mark as important.” This will ensure your mailings take the highest priority in your recipient’s inbox and are always listed as “important.”

6. Monitor recipient activity and remove inactives. Contacts who never open your messages could become an issue for you if they start to file abuse complaints, which would ultimately impact your active recipients too. As a general rule, contacts with no activity for more than six months should be removed from your list or moved into a special “reactivation” messaging track designed to try to re-engage them one last time before dropping them from your list. (Note: The “six months” guideline may vary based on your industry’s purchase cycle.)

7. Create Gmail-specific campaigns with subject lines and a targeted call to action for Gmail users. Ask Gmail users to place your email address in their address book and ask them to mark your email as “not spam” if they’ve received it in the spam folder. Provide images and step-by-step instructions on how to do this.

Remember, when it comes to Gmail, we’ve found that clients can have great success sending as long as they follow best practices and maintain good list hygiene. Occasionally, though, even the best senders can run into issues delivering into Gmail. If this happens, don’t worry. Take a step back and analyze your sending practices, and you’ll likely find something has changed or best practices are not being followed by one or more of your segments.  

If so, correct the issues, and start sending with your best foot forward. It may not be immediate, but as your recipients start positively engaging with your emails, you’ll see an improvement in inbox delivery.

Related Resources:
1) Blog: “Psst ... Do You Have Any Warmed IP Addresses
2) White Paper: "20 Ways to Personalize Content and Enhance the Customer Experience
3) Blog: “Is It Time to Renovate Your Email Program?


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