Thought Leadership

What Marketers Need to Know about Gmail’s Impact on Email Marketing

Understanding the rules set by the largest ISP

A lot of strategy and creativity go into developing an email campaign. Many marketers know the pain of spending countless hours nailing down the perfect creative and going through several rounds of quality assurance reviews only to be caught off guard when their emails don’t render properly at Gmail or they never reach Gmail subscribers.

Deliverability is pivotal to email program success and since Gmail is the most popular ISP, it’s crucial to understand how it has transformed the landscape and changed the terms of customer engagement.

Gmail now accounts for 1 in 3 email inboxes

Gmail, AOL, Hotmail/Outlook, and Yahoo email users comprise two-thirds of your subscribers. And of the four largest ISPs, Gmail is the only one that is growing its user base and taking more and more users away from other ISPs. While there are many reasons Gmail continues to gain popularity with subscribers, it boils down to the user experience. By developing a highly intuitive user experience, Google has raised expectations and set a new standard for ISPs.

This means that email marketers need to understand Gmail deliverability to ensure they can reach subscribers at this ISP. Gmail deliverability is defined by its own set of criteria which can create serious challenges for marketers.

 

1. Gmail can limit marketers’ creative efforts

Even though Gmail has been around for more than a decade, some marketers still struggle to work through its nuances. If you care to dig into the nitty-gritty, Email on Acid has a great FAQ HTML coding article that is a consistent reference point for my team. For now, I’ll stick to the two points I think impact marketers most:

When a subscriber opens a message in Gmail, the content stores automatically

Let’s say a consumer first opens an email at home but then reopens it later at work — the location-based data input won’t update. With this limitation, a brand distributing emails containing the closest retail location or a food delivery service offering weather-based options has limited functionality for multiple opens with Gmail.

You won’t find web font support with Gmail

Oddly enough, even though Google itself is a big supporter of web fonts, Gmail does not support them. For brands with strict brand guidelines, this can pose a problem. Litmus has a good list of web font support, including some tips for fonts on Gmail.

 

2. Gmail raises the stakes on email authentication

One of the reasons consumers choose Gmail is its spam filters. Gmail’s inboxing criteria reduce the risk of domain spoofing, phishing and other malevolent practices. Users benefit because they receive less spam. Marketers, on the other hand, are burdened with additional steps to ensure authentication as valid senders or they risk low deliverability rates for a significant number of subscribers.

To reduce the risk of non-delivery to Gmail users, marketers will need to pay close attention to authentication protocols. Specifically, they need to know that the forms of email authentication Google recognizes include Sender Policy Framework (SPF), Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM), Domain Based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) and Transport Layer Security Encryption (TLS).

On a positive note, this means there is plenty of room for improvement: an analysis we recently conducted on Gmail deliverability found that marketers who improved their Gmail reputation improved their inboxing rate by as much as 97 percent.

3. Gmail users are highly engaged

Engagement is the holy grail in email marketing. Deliverability is the essential first step, but it’s what subscribers do after they receive marketing emails that matters most. The good news is that Gmail subscribers are much more engaged than subscribers using other ISPs.

According to our recent data report, Gmail subscribers account for 49 percent of recent subscribers (those who have opted in within the past 90 days) and 38 percent of subscribers over the last year. This is substantially higher than other ISPs, with Yahoo finishing a distant second with accounting for 17.9 percent of new subscribers over the last year.

Gmail users are also more engaged than other users. They represent 40 percent of subscribers who have opened or clicked on a marketing email in the past three months. In comparison, Yahoo users, who were the second-most active, accounted for just 17 percent of the total. This means that key features like Gmail’s easy unsubscribe button and promotions tab don’t negatively impact engagement. Instead, it seems that they attract the most interested subscribers.

 

Conclusion

Savvy marketers realize the impact that email has on the success of their brand’s marketing strategy, but they must also take note of Gmail’s formidable presence as gatekeeper to a good chunk of their subscriber base -- and play by Gmail’s rules.

To avoid ending up in subscribers’ spam folders, practice good data hygiene and follow best practices. Once you’ve done that, determine how Gmail’s quirks will impact your strategies. After all, there’s a one in three chance that your subscribers are Gmail users.

Author Bio

Kyle Henderick

As Senior Director of Client Services, Kyle is responsible for helping major clients implement new programs, processes, and data-driven strategies to create campaigns that drive revenue. With a passion for technology implementation and a background in database, email, web, and social media marketing, Kyle turns his real-world experience into actionable tactics that help clients see incremental revenue, subscriber engagement, and customer retention. A lover of all things Chicago, when Kyle is not reading up on latest marketing practices or focusing on improving client programs, he can be found enjoying the city’s great restaurants or wearing his heart on his sleeve while rooting for all Chicago-based sports teams. A curious individual willing to try any and every food that does not include raw onions, he is always looking for exciting dining options and new adventures around the city.