A recent Hotmail blog that announced changes to the way they handle mail, and as the world's largest email provider, these changes are significant for anyone in the email marketing business.

After declaring that it has reduced true spam to about 3%, Hotmail has set its sights on the Bacn (email you wanted, but not right now or never again).

So what are the changes and how will they affect email marketing in the lead up to Christmas?

What is Graymail?

The driver behind these new developments is the increasing volume of email hitting the users’ inboxes. Out of that email, Hotmail discovered 50% of the inbox was taken up with newsletters and offers.

These are the emails classed by Hotmail as Graymail (whether you want them or not, is not black or white) and it’s this email that Hotmail is now declaring war on.

Just in case you think that sounds a bit unfair, it seems their reasoning behind targeting “Gray” email, is that a staggering 75% of all spam complaints are made against just this type of communication. 

So let’s now look at some of the features that Hotmail has introduced to help customers take control of their inboxes. 

Newsletter category

This becomes a new automated category; just like “social” is at the moment. This means as newsletters come in, they will be placed in the newsletter category.

Hotmail is using its “Smartscreen” technology to select the newsletters, and they say they are already getting it 95% correct. As more people categorise newsletters with this new feature, their filtering will only get better.

That doesn’t sound too bad at the moment, depending on how people manage their email, it might even make your marketing email easier to find.    

New unsubscribe feature

One thing almost all email marketers agree with is, if someone wants to get off your list, it should be as easy as possible.

The new unsubscribe feature works on the “list unsubscribe” header. For email senders who use this functionality, recipients will be able to unsubscribe easily, without needing to complain or mark the email as spam.

Again this seems to only improve the user experience and help the email senders and marketers manage their lists.

Schedule cleanup

This new feature is all about getting rid of stuff the recipient doesn’t need. According to Hotmail, the schedule cleanup will allow you to do the following to the emails you are sent:  

  • Keep only the latest event calendar email from your favourite site.
  • Keep only the latest deal from Groupon or LivingSocial, or any other deal vendor.
  • Delete any newsletters after 10 days .(this way, whether you read the email or not, they are never clogging up your inbox).
  • Automatically archive mail from your financial institutions to a folder after 30 days.

Once set up, emails will have a finite lifetime, with some being displayed for as little as three days. Again, on the face of it, as far as the email marketer is concerned, this move only looks positive as it should help the recipient find emails they want.

Priority flags:

This feature really puts the recipient in the driving seat, allowing them to select important emails which go to the top of their inbox.

It allows users to flag emails from certain senders, so  these emails automatically stay at the top of the inbox, again ensuring the most important emails are the easiest to access. Other features allow users to create custom categories and files, making it easier to manage incoming mail.

The war on Graymail, more is on its way!

The features so far released by Hotmail, are mostly manually configured and focused on improving  the user experience. However, this seems like only the start if the comment from Dick Craddock, Group Program Manager for Hotmail is anything to go by…

“And we’re still just getting started... We’ll have more on these features and others as they roll out in the coming weeks.” 

My guess is that what we have here is the bones of what could be far more sophisticated than Gmail's Priority Inbox. It doesn’t take much of a leap to see more automated processing being introduced, with emails going into folders and email being prioritised, based on the user’s behaviour.

So how is this going to affect the email marketing campaigns that you send? Is it going to have a positive or negative effect on response? If the latest results from the DMA’s Email Tracking study are anything to go by, the results should be positive...

 “The perceived value (by recipients) of marketing email has risen dramatically over the past year”.

These new features should help the recipients get even more value from the “wanted” emails they are sent. For marketers who ensure relevant timing, frequency and content in their email marketing programmes, these changes should help improve campaign performance and ROI.       

Tim Roe

Published 7 October, 2011 by Tim Roe

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

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Comments (8)

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Johnathan Conlon

Johnathan Conlon, Email Marketing Manager at Royal Mail

Hotmail are pitching this as a user benefit piece but it looks like a ploy to reduce storage costs! Fair enough, although user mismanagement of the tools will result in several shot foot moments I'm sure. An example would be the user who sets their schedule cleanup at 10 days for newsletters, then gets an email with a product offer they want to buy but has to wait 3 weeks until payday. Oops!

almost 7 years ago



I hate Hotmail for this very reason. Stuff that I wanted would always go into SPAM. Stuff would get lost. Deleted. I switched to gmail a long time ago and never looked back. I try to tell people to switch off Hotmail every chance I get.

almost 7 years ago



So, trying to read between the lines on the pie chart:

Where would scheduled billing/transaction e-mails - example: credit card monthly e-bills - fall in those categories?

Might they be in shopping? Or is shopping limited to marketing pitches?

almost 7 years ago


slotenmaker hasselt

This is why I use my own mail server!

almost 7 years ago


Adam Sewell, IT Director at Copyright Licensing Agency

Trying to keep things into perspective, these types of settings are likely to be optional. If you don't want newsletters to be deleted after 10 days, don't turn on / turn off that option.

Personally I think Microsoft should be given some credit for trying to improve the average person's email experience. Are providers like GMail any better? Having used both, Hotmail seems to have improved it's game of late. If email people want is going into Spam, it's pretty easy to correct it.

Good to see people still innovating around email. The unsubscribe feature particularly looks promising.

almost 7 years ago



Aside from the scheduled clean up, these are all things Gmail has been doing for some time. As email marketers, we're just being pushed to create more relevant content that users actually want to read. I don't think this is a bad thing.

almost 7 years ago


Michael Bedsworth

We ask our guests if they want to receive our newsletters and if they do we will send them a newsletter twice a year. Hotmail should not override our guest's request to receive a newsletter.

almost 7 years ago

Tim Roe

Tim Roe, Deliverability and Compliance Director at RedEyeEnterprise

There’s certainly an appetite among webmail users for this type of functionality. If you look at the adoption of Gmail’s “Priority Inbox”. According to Return Paths Email Benchmark report, 81% of the accounts they monitor had this feature enabled. I think it also shows how seriously recipients are taking the management of their inbox’s, acknowledging the fact that some marketing email have value to them.

almost 7 years ago

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