These Simple Tips Could Keep Google from Killing Your Gmail Marketing

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Google loves to tweak Gmail — and complicate life for marketers. First it introduced that love-to-hate-it tabbed interface and then it opened images by default.

Marketers, who have long been able to track email opens using images, lost a key tracking mechanism. And at least some studies suggest the tabbed inboxes are negatively impacting the ways consumers engage with brands in their Gmail inboxes.

So what's a marketer to do? More than you might think, it seems.

Avoiding the Dreaded 'Promotions' Tab

Rather than a single inbox for all incoming mail, Gmail’s inbox automatically funnels incoming emails into five categories: primary, social, promotional, updates and forums.

The “primary” tab is primarily for messages from individual people.  The other tabs are for things like social network messages, transactional items like order updates and promotional messages — sales, offers, product releases. 

If email marketing was a game, the goal would be to keep the messages you send from landing in the promotions tab. "It can get lost in there," said Geoff McQueen, CEO of AffinityLive, a creator of business automation software. 

Epsilon, a marketing services firm, noted a similar finding in an in-depth study of Gmail tabs it released in December. Based on analysis of seven months of aggregated email data, the study concluded the tabbed inbox is causing a significant decline in click rates. The study accounted for seasonal differences in email engagement and also contrasted the Gmail data with email performance at Yahoo and Microsoft.

Where Did it Go?

While optimists argue that consumers are proactively visiting the promotions tab, and that the tabs system works as an organizational tool that allows certain messages to stand out from the rest, the reality isn't so clear. You don't have to look far to find someone with a horror story of an important email that went unnoticed because it landed in the "wrong" tab.

McQueen noticed the same thing, and decided to do a little research. What he found was that the cost of a marketing email landing in the promotions tab is actually much higher than many have reported.

"But marketers can help prevent their messages from being classified as a promotion simply by taking the word 'unsubscribe' out of the email," he told CMSWire.

AffinityLive sent out two email campaigns to almost identical lists with identical subject lines. The email in both campaigns contained an unsubscribe link, as required by the US CAN-SPAM Act.

"But one link was labeled 'unsubscribe,' while the other was labeled with more casual wording … something like 'click here if you prefer not to hear from us,'" McQueen explained. "We found that using the word 'unsubscribe' in marketing emails reduced open rates by 25 percent." 

The email with "unsubscribe" was sent to recipients promotions tab and had an open rate of 26 percent. The email without the word "unsubscribe" generally did not end up in the promotions tab, and had an open rate of 33 percent.  

AffinityLive, is a privately held software development company which has been operating since early 2009 after being spun out of Internetrix, a digital strategy, design and development company. It focuses on business automation solutions for the professional services industry, which includes everything from digital marketers and search optimization firms to doctors and lawyers.

Change the Look and Tone

There are several other ways to make your email more successful, McQueen said.

  • Make it more conversational: "People don't want to read email from marketers. They don't want you to shout at them. They want to read messages that feel like they came from their mom or a loved one or a boss. Include a call to action, sure. But act like a person more than a company."
  • Personalize the subject line: If it's a B2B message, include the name of the company you are sending it to in the subject line.
  • Lose the fancy graphics and images: "The way we use email has changed," McQueen said. "Back in the dial-up days, you were lucky to get 10 emails a day. If one of them was nicely designed and pretty to look at, it drew you in. Now email has become such a chore that those pretty email messages are less effective. We're still doing research but our hypothesis is that many people assume those 'pretty' emails have less value because they were batch sent to many people. It was not something intended just for them."

SendGrid, a cloud-based email infrastructure and delivery service, suggests sending both HTML and plain text email to account for subscribers using mobile devices. And it offered one other tip: 

  • Don’t use [email protected] in your email: Webmail email providers like Yahoo! and Gmail automatically add email addresses that users reply to, to their contacts list. Messages from senders in the contact lists won’t be marked as spam in most cases.

Title image by Solovyova Lyudmyla (Shutterstock).