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It’s all change again, Gmail rocks the world of email by apparently making it even easier for a recipient to unsubscribe from legitimate marketing email.

This is a shock to some, especially to those who thought they were safe by hiding the unsubscribe button, deep within the very small print at the bottom of the email.

So, is this going to be a disaster for some email marketers? Or is this new process just a little different from something that first saw the light of day in 2009…..

Back in 2009, Gmail Spam Czar (remember Czars!) Brad Taylor announced that Gmail had now made unsubscribing far easier than it was before.

Up until that point, the only option you had to vent your anger at spam was to report the email as such. If you wanted to unsubscribe, the only option was to risk the unsubscribe link in the email itself, which according to Gmail, could be risky.

There were those senders who tried to make it is easy as possible for recipients to unsubscribe, by having the unsubscribe link at the top of their template. Unfortunately, there were still many email marketers that wanted you on the list whether you wanted their email or not.

Brads announcement, heralded the beginning of Gmail giving feedback to senders (following the likes of Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo etc). Gmail was now giving recipients the opportunity to mark the email as spam AND unsubscribe from the email list the email was sent from.

Although this was restricted to legitimate senders only and those who could incorporate the 'list unsubscribe' header in their emails, it was a major step forward in the fight to reduce unwanted emails.

 Gmail unsubscribe

Shortly after this announcement, Gmail updated the process for those users that wanted to unsubscribe, without reporting the email as spam. Thanks Gmail.

On to the present day and to the latest change in Gmail, that……hold on to your hats……makes it easier to unsubscribe!

Is this good or bad you might say? Well, not only does it make it easier to unsubscribe by adding a prominent unsubscribe button alongside the senders name, it also makes it easier to unsubscribe than it is to mark as spam.

Not only that, but Gmail is also piloting a feedback loop for certain email senders, which will be using a different process to hand back complaints.

This is quite a turnaround for Gmail, which for a long time has held back from the closer relationship with senders that the other big ISPs enjoy.

Marketers have known for quite some time that using the complaint data, IP reputation data and inbox placement data provided by some ISPs actually helps improve the user’s experience.

Being able to use this additional complaint data will undoubtedly help marketers to improve the Gmail recipient’s experience. Maybe this is what Gmail want, but whether marketers want to use it or not, is a different matter.

This could deepen the divide between marketing emails sent using segmentation and those that are just bulk spam.

It will also help Gmail differentiate between good senders or bad, as the good senders will use the extra data to fine tune the content, segmentation and frequency of their email campaigns. The bad senders wont.

So, do I think this move by Gmail is a good one? Yes I do. Anything that helps marketers to improve their email marketing program is a positive move. Anything that ensures recipients are receiving emails they want is a positive move.

The more positive moves senders and receivers make, the stronger the email marketing channel becomes.   

Tim Roe

Published 26 February, 2014 by Tim Roe

Tim Roe is Director of Data and Deliverability at Redeye International and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via LinkedIn

22 more posts from this author

Comments (24)

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Sean Fleming

Stunning! It's the job of marketing people to ensure interesting and relevant content goes into emails, so that customers subscribe and stay subscribed.

It's not the job of technology to help weak marketing efforts retain subscribers by virtue of making it hard to unsubscribe.

Very poor.

over 2 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

Totally agree.

This is a good thing and actually just a UI change, meaning people who didn't know the feature existed will now see it.

More details about how it works and screenshots are available here:
http://www.zettasphere.com/gmail-email-unsubscribe-header/

over 2 years ago

Simone Kurtzke

Simone Kurtzke, Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Robert Gordon University

Interesting, Tim, and I think this will be a handy feature to use. I've just checked my gmail account and it's not showing yet but will certainly keep a look-out!

In the meantime, my best friend in any case is the gmail filtering option. Any repeat offenders (who email me despite not having my permission, or have default-opted me in as part of some freebie, or who make it cumbersome to opt out etc.) get hit with a 'Filter messages like this' and then get auto-deleted so that I don't have to see them.

The net effect is like unsubscribing, only I guess I'll still appear on these databases as a potential customer (albeit a non-opener, a cold prospect, an unqualified / low quality lead and essentially worthless to the business).

over 2 years ago

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friv 200

Very interesting and rewarding. many thanks I love it.

over 2 years ago

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John Conlon

There should also be a disclosure requirement. A link in the email that reveals where/how the marketer got your address. Then you could remove yourself from the list-selling sources.

over 2 years ago

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David Bennett

Google has introduced this feature for its own benefit.

It's primarily for Google's benefit because it gets Gmail users to rank companies are more or less relevant and interesting.

Nothing wrong with that.

over 2 years ago

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Ryan

Sounds like a positive step for consumers, most of the time.

However not all email communications should be opt out. Within FS we have statutory communications which must (legally and morally) be delivered mitigating any value in an unsubscribe link.

I wonder how these exceptions should be handled?

over 2 years ago

Elliot Ross

Elliot Ross, Email marketing design at actionrocket.co

nice clickbait title there :)

I agree, it's not a particularly bad thing at this point. If you're sending stuff that people want, then you don't have much to worry about.

over 2 years ago

Becs Rivett

Becs Rivett, Email marketing manager at Becs Rivett freelance

Well yes this is all very well and in a majority of cases I agree IT IS POSITIVE. However...

A lot of ecomms companies use a separate SMTP rather than a proper ESP to send things like order confirmation. If someone uses the unsubscribe for that then they'll never get order confirmation, despatch etc

Another thing - working in financial services, many customers have strictly online accounts. The terms of their account state they must provide us with a valid email address and sometimes we send them "statutory" emails relating to their account - for example, for security we must email them when they make a transaction on their account. If they are allowed to unsubscribe from this then we are failing them as a customer and I doubt there's an easy way to resubscribe them.
Also with FS, it's very easy for the customer to think we are phishing so having the unsub button there only make it's easier for them and more challenging for us.

over 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

@Ryan @Becs: There's no way you can guarantee delivery, so this seems a red herring. I often get financial emails going to spam.

The funniest example of this was when my previous company, Email Reaction, was sending out an official Budget announcement email on behalf of the Labour Party who were then in power in the UK. This was totally legit, and quite important, but it contained so many financial terms that it went to spam almost 100% of the time. Major overnight rewrite job to tweak the spam scoring down to a point where it had a chance of getting through!

Also, the point about phishing emails is a big plus for Google's change. It must be safer if customers can unsubscribe from an email they consider dodgy, without having to click anywhere on it.

over 2 years ago

Becs Rivett

Becs Rivett, Email marketing manager at Becs Rivett freelance

@Pete no you can't guarantee delivery, but if they have unsubbed then it means it was delivered and opened. We work really hard to maximise delivery as much as we can, but it's not easy!

Whilst I agree it is safer to prevent phishing emails, some information can only be delivered by email and it is a pain to start writing out to a few customers who have marked us a spam/unsubbed from a statutory email, especially because of the complications involved if they have marked us as spam (e.g. getting them back into lists, ensuring delivery into the inbox etc)

over 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

@Becs: Unsubscribing doesn't really mean an email was delivered and opened.

If they have unsubbed through a link in your emails, it means *one* of your emails was delivered and opened. Not any particular one. Also, as I think the article mentioned, people can already unsubscribe without opening: for example in GMail, select an email, click "spam", click "unsubscribe and report spam".

But I totally sympathise with your difficulty in getting information delivered reliably to people! It's amazing how many people don't receive business emails.

over 2 years ago

Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies, Director at Idio

Very much agree that this is a positive move for
'good' marketers ('good' marketers being those who understand the need to stop delivering sales/product/offer-based messages and appreciate that comms need to feature *relevant* lifestyle content that is either helpful or interesting).

For those email marketers who are 'under the cosh' to combat dwindling subscriber bases - here are three ways to start delivering relevant communications: http://www2.idioplatform.com/l/20742/2014-02-26/76p1y

over 2 years ago

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Jeroen Bouserie

So ... Outlook (previously known as Hotmail / WIndows Live Mail) has had this feature for years now. We did'n t see any effect on our response rates.

IMHO People are lazy: they click the Spam / Junk folder on top rather than using that specific unsubscribe feature (even when I clear positioned Unsubscribe is foreseen in the message itself ) when they don't want to receive such mails any longer.

Wait and see for any effects with this one!

over 2 years ago

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James Cook

In regards to marketing email, this is only a positive. As I'm sure you'd all agree, having people unsubscribe from your email is much preferred in comparison to being marked as spam. At the end of the day, if they want to unsubscribe, let them - there's no use keeping someone who doesn't want to hear from you on the list.

Despite prominently displaying 2 unsubscribe links in our emails, we still have people replying with "STOP" or "remove me from this list please". Hopefully, this will cut down on that as well which saves a bit of manual work.

However, if this is rolled out to transactional emails then I sympathise with some of the above. Sometimes it can be a struggle to get these to the inbox as it is, let alone if people have the option to opt out of it. What if someone unsubscribes after getting their initial order confirmation? They won't be able to receive follow-up delivery information or satisfaction emails.

TL;DR - positive for marketing email, negative for transactional email

over 2 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

@Becs @Pete @Ryan on the issues with financial services, service or statutory emails.

1.
Gmail only show an unsubscribe link if you have a List-Unsubscribe header in your email, DKIM and Google haven't scored your email as spam.

2.
Service / statutory emails. Legally these do not need an unsubscribe. To avoid your customers unsubscribing from them just don't include a List-Unsubscribe header in them. Then Gmail can't show an unsubscribe link.

3.
But you're worried people unsubscribe from marketing and thus don't get statutory emails?

This is no different to your customers using the unsubscribe link you already include in marketing messages.

The unsubscribe process is in your hands. Its down to the sender to define from which list(s) someone is unsubscribed as a result of the process defined in the List-Unsubscribe header being used. The Gmail unsubscribe link just calls that process. The sender still has full control.

I suggest if you get a list unsubscribe request due to a click on the Gmail added unsubscribe link, you don't remove the person from getting statutory notices.

I suggest using a preference or opt-down process from the unsubscribe link Gmail adds, much like what Google Analytics does. How this works is documented here:
http://www.zettasphere.com/gmail-email-unsubscribe-header/

The Gmail added unsubscribe link is a whole lot better than someone hitting spam. Not only is reputation hit, but if someone does hit spam that will impact all emails from that sender/from address. Thus a spam hit on a marketing message could impact statutory emails.

The Gmail unsubscribe link does not make things worse and it could make things a little better. There is no down side.

over 2 years ago

Tim Roe

Tim Roe, Deliverability and Compliance Director at RedEyeEnterprise

@All Thanks for your comments!
Unsubscribing from transactional emails is a good point, although this is certainly not a new issue.

The new Gmail unsubscribe, will use a similar ARF process to Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL. It will no longer be using the list unsubscribe header.

For quite some time the main ISP’s have been using the feedback loop process, which sends a response back to the sender (if they are enrolled in the program) in the form of a copy of the email. The standard practice once these responses are received, is to trigger an unsubscribe.

Removing people who have unsubscribed from your email list, is a condition of the feedback loop programs. If you are not enrolled in the programs or choose to ignore the feedback loop unsubscribes, you’ll end up with serious deliverability issues.

In my experience most of the issues with delivery of transactional emails sent via the ecomms platform, is that the SMTP service is so poorly configured and authenticated that these emails end up in junk. They also tend to trigger the phishing warnings seen at the top of some emails.

Many ESP’s have API’s that allow the ecomms platform to send the transactional email via a properly configured and whitelisted IP, which improves delivery. As long as you can configure the feed from your ecomms platform that is!

Maybe the answer to preventing unsubscribes for transactional emails, is to set clear expectations when the email address was taken. Also, adding text in the header of the email such as, “You are receiving this email as part of the order process, please don’t unsubscribe!”.

You won’t prevent all of the unintentional unsubscribes, but it could help.

over 2 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

Interesting.

@Tim Roe - aren't there two different things going on here?
- New Unsubscribe link
- Feedback loop ARF messages

Gmail have added an unsubscribe link. This does currently appear to use the list-unsubscribe header information. Or at least direct customers to the link destination in the unsubscribe header if the sender doesn't provide 'a way to unsubscribe within Gmail'.

The ARF message is an abuse report format notice to signal spam complaint not unsubscribe.

Gmail are also adding a feedback loop. Which unlike Hotmail/AOL/Yahoo is reported to not give notification of each complaint but a rolled up summary. So a sender couldn't use this for unsubscribing.

Are you expecting the unsubscribe link to work differently for ESPs that are on the new Gmail feedback loop process?

over 2 years ago

Tim Roe

Tim Roe, Deliverability and Compliance Director at RedEyeEnterprise

@Tim, yes sorry of course you are right, its two things, I even wrote as much in the blog!!

That’s the danger of writing stuff before enough coffee has hit the spot!

I expect the feedback loop to be along the lines of the current process used by everyone else. The feedback loop process is already pretty well defined in the industry and generally meets the ARF standard.

Hotmail do something similar, list unsubscribe process for the “unsubscribe” button, feedback loop for spam complaints. But until the pilot is underway and full details are known, I suppose it’s all conjecture anyway.

over 2 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

@Tim (Roe) - I know that 'before coffee' issue too.

Certainly there is a lack of information currently around the feedback loop for complaints that Gmail is piloting. I would hope it uses ARF. Rumour is it will just be a summary. But better than nothing.

As for the new unsubscribe link next to the sender Gmail is adding. It is definitely using the list-unsubscribe header at the moment.

I'm sure this topic will come up in our meeting next week!

Thanks for your quick update.

over 2 years ago

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Ryan Biddulph

Agreed Tim! Any move which establishes greater clarity and transparency around the email bit works for me. It only influences us to bump up our game, attract targeted subscribers and of course, to lower spam complaints as people have more options to unsubs.

Thanks!

over 2 years ago

Tim Roe

Tim Roe, Deliverability and Compliance Director at RedEyeEnterprise

Update
There has been some suggestion that the “feedback loop” program will not initially be a feedback loop at all. Some sources suggest that the feedback being given will be summaries of the traffic from each sending domain rather than the feedback loop allowing ESP’s to unsubscribe individual recipients.

This should allow the ESP to identify mail streams that are causing excessive spam complaints and act to modify the program.

This is much the same process that AOL initially trialled back in the early 2000’s (I saw this first in 2004). AOL soon developed the process by handing back individual complaints; it would be good if Gmail eventually make this move too.

over 2 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

As with most things that Google do I think this is a good thing for users and a good thing for Google.

But it does worry me just how much power Google have and how far Google (and Facebook and Amazon to slightly lesser degrees) is 'becoming the internet'.

Google is taking over most of the customer journey - not just search and information gathering but tools and applications and content that cut out all the middlemen. Probably good for users but not so good for many businesses.

In this case it appears Google will also now govern permissions around your email subscribers? How much of this data will they feed back to the site owners to help them improve? About as much as they now give with 'not provided' in search referrals?

over 2 years ago

Tim Roe

Tim Roe, Deliverability and Compliance Director at RedEyeEnterprise

That’s a very good point Ashley, from the moment Google introduced free analytics, they have been building up what must be the most comprehensive behavioural database on the globe. I suppose it’s the trade-off for using a free tool, you get something for free (that helps you) and Google get the data in return.

Also, the introduction of the tabbed inbox, not only came with a better user experience, but also added paid for ads, right at the top of the inbox! Couple this with the recent use of Googles servers now serving images in emails (including the tracking link) and they certainly seem to be tightening their grip.

Ironically, this powerful use of data is coming at the same time as tougher legislation from the EU and the US with regard to data privacy. This could put legislators on collision course with the Internet and the power behind it, Google and Microsoft.

And for the future, could we end up having to buy all our business from the likes of Google and Facebook, because that's where the audience is?

over 2 years ago

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