**Originally published on 6/26/2015 – updated on 2/12/2018

Gmail uses many different algorithms to determine inbox placement as well as delivery of your messages. Those algorithms use countless points of reference such as engagement, complaints, bad addresses for a combination of sending subdomain and top domain, bounce domain and DKIM, IP address, body content, branding, source coding, etc. Therefore when you have an issue, troubleshooting can be overwhelming. Below are the top 15 best practices you should follow in order to avoid issues to begin with when sending to Gmail.

  • Opt-in. Gmail strongly suggests double opt-in or confirmed opt-in when possible. However, single opt-in is a must. It is important that each subscriber opt-in to the exact message stream they are receiving. It is not enough that they opt-in for your type of message. For example: Katie opts-in to receive messages sent by JobSiteA. This does NOT mean that JobSiteB can start sending Katie messages simply because it is the same subject matter or even owned by the same parent company of JobSiteA. Katie has to explicitly opt-in to JobSiteB’s messages.
  • Engagement. The most important thing to remember is to send messages to subscribers who are engaged with your brand. They are opening, reading, clicking and interacting with your brand. Interacting may mean purchasing or even getting involved with the discussion depending on your business model. Develop a list hygiene process to remove non engaged subscribers from your active sending list on a regular basis.
  • Overall list hygiene. Do not continue to send to email addresses that no longer exist or hard bounce (SparkPost suppresses hard bounces). Do not continue to send to subscribers who have not opened or clicked in a reasonable time. This length of time really depends on your business model. A good rule of thumb is that actively engaged subscribers will open and/or click on your daily messages at least once in a 30 day time frame and at least once on your weekly messages within 90 days. Any subscriber that has not opened or clicked on your messages in the past 12 months should be permanently removed from your list as they run the risk of becoming a spam trap.
  • Monitor blacklistings. Gmail does use 3rd party blacklists (which ones are unknown) to determine inbox placement.
  • Avoid URL shorteners. Gmail will block most of them if used in bulk mailings, especially bit.ly.
  • Use the unsubscribe header. Make it easy for subscribers to unsubscribe from your message! Spam complaints are not shared back to you through feedback loops like other ISPs. Therefore it is crucial that your subscribers unsubscribe rather than reporting as spam. SparkPost deploys the list-unsubscribe header and suppresses unsubscribes.
  • Avoid affiliate marketing. Gmail states you should avoid affiliate marketing as a tactic. It is also against SparkPost policy to send affiliate marketing through our system.
  • Authenticate. Authenticate with both SPF and DKIM.
  • Subdomains. Use different subdomains that define your different email streams. (Example: newsletter.example.com; deals.example.com; confirmation.example.com) Be consistent. Don’t add too many as you want to be able to develop a reputation for each subdomain. However, remember that the top level domain reputation is also important.
  • Configuration Warm up. In general, warming up IPs or domains when there is a change are what marketers focus on. However, Gmail ties reputation to the entire DNS configuration during warmup. The reputation is tied to the collective SPF, DKIM, IP setup, domain, ect., therefore it is imperative that you have your configuration set and locked in before you start sending. Once it is complete and verified by testing do not make any changes unless you are prepared to do another warmup for the new configuration. In the chart below, we provide some best practice warm up guidelines as you introduce your traffic into the GMAIL network:
    • Gmail Warm up Volumes.
    • Engagement. The key is to send to the most active first then add in the lesser engaged as the volume builds over time.

Promotions vs Primary Tabs

Due to the introduction of folders, subscriber traffic can now be delivered to additional locations and not solely the inbox or spam folder. It is not like the scary wasteland of lost messages called the SPAM folder. If you have an interesting subject line and a brand that your subscribers want to engage with, the promotions tab will still get you opens and clicks.

  • Per-user filtering. Remember that just because some subscriber messages may be in the promotions tab does not mean that all subscriber messages are in the promotions tab. Filtering is done on the individual subscriber level not bulk sender level.
  • HTML to Text Balance. Keep the balance of HTML to text similar.
  • Encourage Interaction. Subscriber awareness is important. Train your subscribers to expect the message and move the message into the Primary tab. The messages should start going to the Primary tab after a few moves.
  • Don’t send a promotion. When the above fails and you need a message to get into the inbox design your message to NOT look like a promotion.
    • Personalize your messages. Include the reader’s first name in your message to Gmail subscribers.
    • Lose the images. Gmail sees images as a sign of a promotion or spam message. You will increase your readership by not having pictures.
    • Letter format. Design the Gmail template to look more personal and natural like an email.
    • No obvious calls-to-action. The best way to keep from looking like a promotion is to have no more than 1 link and no upsells or RSS Feeds. Keep it short and simple like talking to a friend.
  • Appreciate the promotions tab. When it comes down to it, if a subscriber wants your message in the primary tab they can move it there and will receive it there after a few moves. However, Gmail’s tabs are not new and subscribers know how they work and often go to that tab for promotions they are interested in. The promotions tab can actually work in your favor. For example, if a subscriber is very involved in social media and receives a large volume of social media notifications, marketing messages can get lost in the inbox and separating them out to the social tab can actually be a plus, which leaves your message to be seen at the top of the promotions tab easily found by your engaged subscriber. Just remember that if you send your subscribers what they want and leave them wanting more they will go to that promotions tab to see what you have to say!


A Beginner’s Guide to Great Deliverability

A couple years ago, I was chatting with a friend who was telling me about working at SparkPost. He asked me if I thought it would be a challenge to communicate about email and how it works. I have to confess, my first reaction was, “how hard can it be?” After all, I was a technically literate person who had a lot of enterprise tech marketing under my belt. I knew something about the basic standards involved with email transmission. I even had some hands-on knowledge of administering small-scale mail servers.

Suffice to say, it didn’t take me long to realize just how much I didn’t know! In particular, the challenge of ensuring email deliverability for large-scale senders was a real eye-opener.

If you’re at all like me, this story might feel familiar. And it’s why SparkPost’s deliverability team has put together 10 Steps to Great Email Deliverability. This deliverability for beginners guide is aimed at helping new senders get over the hurdle of “where do I begin?”

One thing I really like about this guide is that it’s very practical. It’s focused on 10 best practices and key configuration steps that will help any new sender get off on the right foot, including the best way to configure sending and bounce domains, how to warm up a new IP address, why email authentication affects email deliverability—and the all-important impact of subscriber permission and engagement.

Additional Deliverability for Beginners Resources

By the way, once you’ve had a chance to work through these 10 starting steps, you might want to check out some additional resources that will help you continue to develop great email deliverability.

  • The Intro to Email Deliverability section of our SparkPost Academy is a great starting point for SaaS teams looking to learn about deliverability
  • In Email Best Practices 101, SparkPost’s head of deliverability, Kate Nowrouzi, builds on these starting tips with a curriculum that will help you to increase the ROI of your email operations with 15 proven tactics for boosting email deliverability.
  • And if you’re a developer new to building email into your apps, you might especially appreciate our Developer’s Survival Guide to Email. It’s a light-hearted read highlighting the quirks and idiosyncrasies that turn out to be “gotchas” for many developers.
  • Anyone can send email, but let’s not forget the key players on the other side of the equation who actually deliver it—ISP inbox providers. They sometimes earn a reputation as demanding deliverability gatekeepers, but their rationale really isn’t a mystery. Their job is to ensure that their customers (and ours!) have a great experience with email. It’s well worth getting the perspective they share in the 9 Things ISPs Really Want Email Senders to Know.
  • And finally? You’re looking at it. 🙂 SparkPost’s team consistently shares great blog posts about using Google’s postmaster tools to troubleshooting blacklisted IP addresses to the surprisingly complicated question of how to measure email deliverability. Dig into our Deliverability category for a wealth of information for newbies and experts alike.

If you’re a new sender, what kinds of challenges did you face ramping up your programs? And if you’re a pro, what do you wish you’d known when you got started in this business? Sometimes the best lessons are the ones you learn the hard way. Let us know in the comments below, or reach out on Twitter.


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