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I Got 99 Problems, but Gmail Deliverability Ain’t One

TargetThe most frequently asked question into the AgencyBuzz support line, “How do I know that my messages are even being delivered?” Well, you can look at your email/event statistics to check open rate, click through rate, and bounce rate but there isn’t a statistic (or a way for us to measure) whether or not you’ve been flagged as SPAM in someone’s inbox. Honestly, that person may not have ever even marked you as SPAM but their email provider’s algorithm may have decided you were before they had a chance to – and, if that’s the case, how often are your messages getting caught by the junk filters of web-based email, such as Gmail, and ending up in spam folders?


Chances are the majority of your contacts using web based email are using Gmail, because there are over 425 million Gmail users worldwide. I’ve also found that, more often than not, Google is the hardest inbox to penetrate because they are constantly updating and changing their very secure algorithms – and that’s a good thing. This protects the security of their users from legitimate spammers, phishers, and identity thieves. Where does that leave the average small business owner trying to communicate with customers via bulk mailings though? I’ve been doing some research as someone who uses Gmail exclusively for my personal email, and I’d like to provide you with some tips to avoid Gmail spam filters. Plus, these solutions are also useful for other web-based email services such as Yahoo!, AOL, and Outlook.com

How Does Google Decide What is Spam?

Gmail’s junk algorithms are the industry’s most effective at filtering out unsolicited emails. There is no question about it. If you use Gmail, you know that rarely will you see an unwanted email arrive in your inbox. That’s because Gmail automatically delivers these unsolicited emails into a recipients’ spam folder and the user never sees a notification of new Spam or Junk.

Unfortunately, there are many times when a legitimate email is marked as spam, even though the recipient requested it. Like I said, Gmail doesn’t share their secure algorithms but, through the power of the internet (and some people much more adept at deciphering Google algorithms) I’ve found some of the major reasons why an email may be marked as spam by Gmail:

º Bad/Malicious Links — if messages include links to a website that has been blacklisted, reported as spam or as containing malware that message will be blocked. The same goes for broken links, incomplete links, or links that connect to an overseas website. The moral here, always double and triple check that your links have been entered correctly and stay on top of your domain’s reputation to prevent blacklisting.

º Email Content — certain words or phrases found within an email can cause them to be blocked or moved to spam, but this is the least common cause of spam filtering. If you’re sending out relevant content your contacts want to receive, this shouldn’t be an issue for you.

º From and Reply To Line — if the from and reply to addresses and domains have inconsistencies, emails will be sent to junk mail. Using AgencyBuzz helps with this because we send your bulk mailings from your email address, not rerouted from a dummy email address that is randomly assigned to your message when you click send mailing like some other large bulk mailing providers do. If you’re using another provider, take a look at the from line on your emails, you may be surprised to see that the email actually came from an email address that isn’t yours.  

º Where the Email Came From — if other emails sent from the same IP address you’re using have been flagged as spam, your emails will most likely suffer the same fate. One bad apple has spoiled your IP and now you messages are suffering due to guilt by association. If the reputation of your IP is in question, there are several online services that will help you monitor your IP and alert you to dips in your sender score or blacklisting. You may be asking yourself, “How do I even know that I’ve done something to impact my sender score?” If you’d like to learn more about protecting your email reputation, join me for Masters of Marketing on February 27 at Noon CST where I will be presenting a webinar called “Easy Ways to Ruin Your Email Reputation.”

The Easiest Way to Tell You Have a Problem

The easiest way to tell if you have a Gmail deliverability issue is to compare your open rates for subscribers using other web-based email providers such as Yahoo!, AOL, or Outlook.com. For example, if your average open rate for Yahoo! users is 19%, and it’s only 2% for Gmail users, you most likely have a Gmail problem.

Top 3 Tips to Avoid Being Labeled as Junk

So, now that you’ve established there is a deliverability issue with your Gmail users we need to fix it. I’ve found some easy to implement strategies that will help get you back on the road to your reader’s inbox and out of the junk mail abyss.

º Let People Know an Email is Coming – Are you sending out a newsletter this week? Why not tease it on social media so people can look for it and alert you when they haven’t received it? Even better, use your quote form or customer service form auto responders to alert your contacts to be on the lookout for other types of mailings from your agency. Studies show that emails that confirm a form submission or new subscription are among the most opened emails, so this is a great way to start off on the right foot in someone’s inbox.

Be sure to ask them to whitelist your email address so they are sure to receive your mailing and include instructions on how to whitelist an email address. In Gmail, they can simply click “Not Spam” in the message and that alerts Gmail that they want to receive messages from this sender.

º Keep track of your Stats -  If you’re not monitoring your email statistics (also known as engagement rates) already, this is your wake up call. There is so much you can learn about your deliverability and what your readers want to see from you just by checking your engagement rates. It doesn’t take much to review them, and if you’re doing it consistently you’ll be able to spot a problem when it starts so you can fix it immediately.

º Send only to those who’ve opted into your emails - I talk about this all the time in AgencyBuzz Academy and in one-on-one trainings with agents, but I don’t think I could ever say it enough. If you’re buying email addresses, scraping them from the internet, or sending without abandon to anyone you’ve ever met, including your third grade teacher, you are wasting time, money and effort. It is also a violation of the CAN-SPAM act to send unsolicited marketing communications to someone who has not requested them. Violations can carry a fine of up to $16,000 per email sent. So why take the risk on sending an unsolicited email when it will never be read, most likely will end up in junk mail, reported as spam, or reported as a violation of the CAN-SPAM act? I don’t know...but I have to talk to agents about it every day. There are lots of easy ways to organically grow your email list through your website and meeting new prospects. I’m sure you’ll see a vast improvement in deliverability overall if you only send to those who’ve opted in.

And then there is the new tabbed inbox…

Gmail launched a new interface for email users in 2013 called Tabbed Inbox. According to Google, “The new inbox groups your mail into categories which appear as different tabs. You simply choose which categories you want and voilà! Your inbox is organized in a way that lets you see what’s new at a glance and decide which emails you want to read when.”  This sounds great, right! Well, yes and no. To the average email user this is a cool, new way to organize the massive quantities of email we receive each day. As a marketer though, I was more than a bit concerned. What does this mean for my clients who are already fighting for their piece of the inbox pie?

In my experience with the new tabbed inbox so far, I’ve noticed that it does a fairly good job of deciding where each email that comes in belongs. I only have 4 tabs, primary, social media updates, promotions, and solicitations. For the most part, I know what I’m getting into with each tab. It’s not perfect though. Many times, an email I’ve requested and look forward to end up in my promotions or solicitations tab when it has no place there. For example, I subscribe to a lot of baking blogs, and every once in a while a new blog entry will be filtered to my promotions tab and I still haven’t figured out why.

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for the secret to avoid the promotions or solicitation tab, I don’t have that yet. After monitoring what was caught, and what was not, to write this blog it was clear to me that there doesn’t seem to be a magic formula I can decipher. I’ve looked at text vs. HTML, the number of images, quality of links and content, I’ve even gone so far as to send a reply email to the Food Network asking what they did differently in this email vs the last one…I’m still waiting to hear back on that one by the way. Maybe they use Gmail and I went to spam. Now, to be clear, no one is forced to use the tabbed inbox. If a user doesn’t like it, they simply turn off the tabs. And the tabbed inbox is still rolling out so new data is coming in daily about what it means for email marketing.

For now, my advice is to expect to be caught in the wrong tab from time to time. The bright side to this is that if you’re moved into the wrong tab maybe you’ll stand out from the others and get read.

In Conclusion

Email inboxes are a strange science, and if someone had figured out all of the tricks, they would be a bazillionaire and never share the answers. I do hope that my trial and error will help you navigate web based inboxes, specifically Gmail inboxes a little better.

Want to meet me in person and talk about AgencyBuzz? Join me at the ITC Agent Conference Users Group on April 15 and 16th. We will have classes on agency automation and how to better market you agency so you’re competing with the larger captive agents. Come on down to Texas, let’s grab a Dr. Pepper, and talk digital marketing.

If you need help with your email marketing or using AgencyBuzz, let us know. Give us a call at 800-383-3482 or visit us online at www.GetITC.com. Make sure to join us for AgencyBuzz Academy each Wednesday at Noon CST to learn more about each feature of AgencyBuzz and how it can help your agency thrive. 





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