Last month, Google started to display a prominent “unsubscribe” link on open Gmail messages, giving Gmail users a fast and easy way to disengage. This new link could help marketers improve deliverability rates and message content.
Although email marketers certainly want to have a large list of subscribers, it is often better to have fewer, more active recipients than it is to have a lot of unengaged folks on your list.
An Alternative to a Spam Report
“The way I see it,” wrote MailChimp engineer Matthew Grove on his company’s blog. “spam complaints have a lot of power to tank your deliverability, whereas unsubs are fairly healthy.
“The way your subscribers disengage can have a huge impact, because Gmail looks at past engagement when trying to prioritize and place your emails. If you want to motivate Gmail to put your campaigns in the inbox, try to avoid low open rates and high spam complaints, because those are huge red flags.”
Tom Sather, Return Path’s senior director of email research, also believes that the new and more obvious Gmail unsubscribe like will help marketers avoid spam reports and the deliverability damage associated with them.
“By giving subscribers a no-hassle way to unsubscribe, they will be less likely to mark an email as spam. Additionally, since the link will be a trusted link provided by Gmail, the subscriber will be more likely to click on the link rather than ignoring future messages. And, as most know, Gmail is using engagement as a means to determine future inbox placement, so having messages be ignored may be more detrimental than an unsubscribe.
“Long story short,” wrote Sather in a Marketing Land article, “this is a win for marketers, and every marketer should look at implementing the auto-unsubscribe if they haven’t already.”
How Gmail Adds its ‘Unsubscribe’ Link
Gmail classifies incoming messages to decide how to treat them. Are the messages spam? Do the messages belong in the default inbox or in the promotions tab? Although Gmail’s algorithms are proprietary and ever changing, it is likely that Google uses a combination of authentication, reputation, and engagement to decide where email-marketing messages are displayed.
One of the things it looks for is a way for Gmail users to unsubscribe from unwanted emails. Although not a substitute for an unsubscribe link on the message, marketers can pass unsubscribe information to Gmail or other email clients in the “List-Unsubscribe” header. This portion of the header is not shown to the email recipient, but is shared with the client.
If this header is present and is defined, Google may display its new “unsubscribe” link. Google has indicated that it will not allow the new more prominent link to be a tool for spammers to validate email address, so only senders who had been authenticated and who have a good reputation will have an opportunity to have the “unsubscribe” link appear in Gmail messages.
Not a New Feature for Emails
It is also worth nothing that while the more available unsubscribe link is new for Gmail, it is not new for email clients. “Auto-unsubscribe” buttons and links similar to Gmail’s implementation have appeared in Microsoft email clients for at least a few years.
Google and its Gmail products, however, may be drawing more attention with auto-unsubscribe since the feature followed relatively closely after Google introduced tabs in Gmail, which some marketers believed had adversely impacted email marketing’s effectiveness.
Grove, Sather, and, seemingly, the Google engineers who added the new “unsubscribe” link to Gmail are all working from the premise that it is better to send fewer emails to more interested subscribers than it is to shout at the uninterested masses, if you will.
Their approach is really a form of email segmentation or customer segmentation, which is the idea of dividing a relatively large list of target customers into segments based on behavior, demographics, or similar.
Customer segmentation can be more work for marketers, who need to collect and analyze data to properly segment, but it can also produce better results.
Curt Keller, founder of Benchmark Email, explained email customer segmentation well in a 2011 article, which I referred to previously, in “Segmenting Email Lists for 2012.”
Keller asked in his article, “If you were purchasing television spots for Coors Light Beer would you choose to have your ads appear on Dora The Explorer… [or] on an Ultimate Fighter Championship Cage Match?
“Then why as an email marketer are you most likely to just batch and blast precisely the same newsletter to every single subscriber on your list, regardless of age, gender, or previous behavior,” said Keller.
Putting some thought into which subscribers should get a particular email, it seems, can help improve email marketing, and Gmail’s “unsubscribe” link can be a new mechanism for learning something about how well email marketing messages are resonating with recipients.