The Inbox Within The Inbox

James Koons

After reading MediaPost’s Email Insider blog post “Marketing In The Age Of The Inbox Within The Inbox”, I was reminded once again of how important engagement is.  All of the major email providers including Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail have implemented new algorithms for deliverability.  The new algorithms are based on engagement and if your emails are not triggering sufficient interaction from the recipient, they may not be delivered.

During M3AAWG’s 27th General Meeting in San Francisco, I learned that many of the major inbox providers have adopted a new algorithm that will calculate deliverability based on a combination of the original email delivery rules (think CAN-SPAM compliance) as well as some new email engagement factors.  These factors include open rates, clicks, unsubscribes, and complaints.  Because these new recipient behaviors are now factored in to the deliverability equation, future emails that you send may be considered SPAM or may not even be delivered at all.  This could occur with subscribers who have previously signed-up (opted-in) to receive your emails!  Also keep in mind that if enough recipients click the SPAM button, most email providers will assume that no one else wants it either.

A goal of Gmail’s Priority Inbox is to rank mail without explicit labeling from the user.  It does this by learning a per-user statistical model of importance and ranking mail by how likely the user is to act on that mail (remember that importance of an email is highly personal).  Some senders have realized that campaigns which specifically target Gmail users really work.  For example, in 2011, an online flower vendor experienced a dip in its Gmail inbox placement rate as it increased mailing frequency around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day and didn’t recover until November 2011.  The following year, they took into account Gmail’s use of sender reputation and user engagement by using subject lines, such as: “Gmail Customer Notice: Open if you missed yesterday’s special discount!” and “Help Teach Gmail to Like us. Give us a Star” – encouraging users to mark the mail as important and thereby increasing the probability of landing in the Priority Inbox.  This vendor started using subject lines targeted to Gmail users at the end of February and stopped in April.  During that time, their inbox placement rate jumped form 35.9% to 95%.