Gmail Introduces The Priority Inbox

By Justin Premick

On this blog and others, traditional “batch-and-blast” (PS don’t ever use that word unless you’re mocking it) email marketers have been hearing for a while now that relevance plays an important role in your email deliverability.

As far back as 2007, we noted that “spam” was about email subscribers don’t want or value. Not just email that they didn’t request (although that’s still spam, too).

As I noted in that post, “If you’re not providing value to subscribers, their actions with your messages will reflect that. ISPs track what’s done with your messages, and can choose to filter you out if they find you’re not ‘what the consumer wants.'”

This week, Gmail announced a new feature that makes this a reality.

Introducing The Priority Inbox

To manage our overflowing inboxes, a lot of people already sort email into groups of emails to read and respond to now, later or never. (Your own groups’ names may vary, or you may not even have a specific system like that… but I’d bet you read emails from certain people more often and/or more quickly.)

Gmail’s Priority Inbox attempts to simplify and automate this process for email users by figuring out which senders’ emails are important, based on how (or whether) you interact with those emails and senders.

Here’s how they explain it:

Priority Inbox is a beta feature that will be rolling out to users soon (I haven’t gotten it yet, but am eager to get my hands on it and see it in action).

What Are People Saying About It?

Here are a few of the articles I’ve read about it:

I especially recommend you read the last one of those.

“So Do My Marketing Emails All Go Into The “Everything Else” Pile Now?”

Not necessarily, but consider the examples in the Gmail video… note whose email is getting prioritized (email from contacts, friends, people you email back and forth with regularly) and whose is not (the “Special Offer” email).

It’s early to make predictions about what all of this means – or if it will even stick around as a feature. You never know, Gmail users might end up not liking it (although I tend to doubt that’ll be the case).

That said, it’s clear that whatever the future of the Priority Inbox holds, ISPs are continuing to move toward creating systems that reward email that people want at the expense of email people don’t want. (Gmail isn’t the first to try this – the same sort of thing is happening at Yahoo! and Windows Live Hotmail.)

What this should tell you is that you need to take a long, hard look at whether your emails are something your subscribers really want. Because if they aren’t, you’re going to find it harder over time to continue getting them opened and clicked.

It’s Not All Gloom And Doom

In fact, this is excellent news if you’re creating and delivering email marketing campaigns that people want.

So the question is, how do you create emails people actually want?

Engage your subscribers in conversation via your emails. Invite feedback. Ask them questions. Increase the value that you deliver in your emails.

Start identifying groups of subscribers within your list who have similar interests. Start segmenting your list and creating more relevant emails.

Here’s a list of posts we’ve written on email segmentation. (If it seems like we talk a lot about segmentation on this blog, well… this is why.)

Tweet This

Answers to Common Questions about Whitelisting

By Justin Premick

A lot of email senders are concerned with whitelisting and spam complaints.

They’ll ask questions like:

  • Are you whitelisted? How do I get whitelisted?
  • So if you’re/I’m whitelisted, I won’t ever go to the spam folder?
  • How do you make sure I don’t get spam complaints?
  • How do I know who marked my email as spam?

If you’ve ever been concerned about your email deliverability, you’ve probably wondered the same sorts of things.

All of these questions can lead to useful discussions about getting your email delivered. But a lot of times, those discussions require more than a simple one-word or one-sentence answer.

I recently came across a handy resource on ISP whitelisting and feedback loops that gives us an opportunity to clear up some misconceptions and uncertainties that many people (perhaps even you) have had about email deliverability.

Fact: Not All ISPs Offer Whitelisting or Feedback Loops

The problem with asking a question like “are you whitelisted?” is that it assumes that whitelisting is an everybody-or-nobody proposition.

Even if you’re whitelisted (as AWeber is) with the ISPs who do offer it, there are other ISPs who simply don’t offer whitelisting.

The same goes for Feedback Loops – not all ISPs will tell you when a subscriber marks an email as spam.

For a handy list of ISPs that do and do not offer whitelisting and/or feedback loops, see this blog post at Word to the Wise.

Keep in mind, if you’re using AWeber, you don’t need to get whitelisted separately for your email campaigns through us.

What Does It Mean to be Whitelisted?

What’s interesting about this question is that I cannot recall anyone ever asking me this in my 4+ years at AWeber. People will ask if we’re whitelisted, but they don’t ask what that means or what the implications of being whitelisted are.

Here’s something that a lot of people don’t know about whitelisting…

  • Whitelisting does not in any way guarantee that your emails will all end up in the inbox.

It doesn’t. That’s not why it exists.

Being whitelisted at an ISP is not a “free pass” to send whatever you want, whenever you want, without any potential deliverability repercussions.

I think of it this way…

Being whitelisted is like taking a pledge – by providing information about your mailing practices to an ISP, you’re saying “I practice responsible email marketing, and I’m willing to prove it by letting you keep a close eye on me and how recipients treat my email.”

After all, one of the effects of getting whitelisted is that you make it easier for an ISP to identify email coming from you – and potentially block it.

This doesn’t mean whitelisting is bad. It’s a good thing to do, and whitelisted senders have an advantage over those who are not whitelisted. But don’t think it’s a free pass to send unsolicited or irrelevant emails to people.

What About Feedback Loops? What Do They Mean to You?

Here’s the lowdown on feedback loops:

  • When an ISP offers a feedback loop, it means that they will tell us when one of your subscribers marks your email as spam.

    The feedback loops are what enables us to show you complaint rates within your account.

  • If your complaint rates get too high, an ISP may not deliver your email campaigns to the inbox.

    What is an Acceptable Complaint Rate?

    Being on a feedback loop is kind of like being whitelisted – you’re taking responsibility for your email practices, and their consequences.

  • Whenever someone marks your email as spam, we immediately unsubscribe them from your list.

    As a couple of us were discussing on Twitter earlier today, this is just common sense, and it also helps prevent future emails from being blocked.

    If you run any email campaigns outside of AWeber, you should regularly export your unsubscribes (this will include people who marked one of your emails as spam) so you can make sure that they’re not on those other campaigns.

What Other Questions Do You Have?

Is there anything else you’ve wondered about email deliverability, but not asked about before?

Share your thoughts and questions below!

Know someone who would benefit from this? Share it with them!
Twitter Facebook Delicious StumbleUpon Sphinn Technorati

List-Unsubscribe Header Makes Unsubscribing Easier and More Trustworthy

By Justin Premick

Some people don’t trust unsubscribe links, even from legitimate email senders.

Others don’t want to be bothered locating the unsubscribe link in your email.

In both cases, recipients may click the “spam” button in order to unsubscribe – raising your spam complaint rates and possibly reducing deliverability.

Wouldn’t it be nice if ISPs made unsubscribing easier and more trustworthy for users (at the same time reducing your complaint rate)?

One major ISP is already doing so.

List-Unsubscribe Header Allows ISPs to Add an Unsubscribe Button or Link

By adding a “list-unsubscribe” header to your outgoing email marketing campaigns, you enable ISPs to add an unsubscribe link or button into their user interface.

That way, readers who want to unsubscribe, but who don’t want to be bothered with locating the unsubscribe link in your email, can do so without clicking the “Spam” button in their email clients.

How Hotmail Uses the List-Unsubscribe Header

Windows Live Hotmail (for simplicity’s sake, I’m shortening it to “Hotmail”) is the first major ISP to implement support for the List-Unsubscribe header.

Here’s what happens.

When a Hotmail subscriber first gets a message from you (like this welcome message from our Test Drive), since s/he hasn’t added you to the Safe Senders list yet, images and links are disabled.

The top of your email looks like this in Hotmail:

What Hotmail Does When You're Not on the Safe Senders List
(Click the image above to see what the full email looks like.)

When someone clicks the “mark as safe” link, images are turned on and the top of the email changes to include an unsubscribe link:

Hotmail Message with List-Unsubscribe Header

If someone clicks the unsubscribe link, they see an alert box:

Confirm Unsubscribe

When they click “OK” they’re taken to the unsubscribe page:

Unsubscribe Page

What Do I Need To Do To Use The List-Unsubscribe Header In My Emails?

If you’re an AWeber user, nothing at all – we automatically add this header to your campaigns.

We’ll keep you updated on any other major ISPs adopting the list-unsubscribe header (if you haven’t already done so, follow this blog by email or RSS and be the first to know!).

AOL Clarifies Its Requirements and Recommendations

By Marc Kline

It really does make sense for ISPs to want to help email senders to get messages through to users who want them.

But “who wants them” is more complex than “anyone who filled out my sign up form” in an age where message relevancy, bounces, complaints, and authentication increasingly way in.

Just today, AOL announced two new or revised documents they’ve published that should give a firm understanding of both what they suggest strongly as well as what they require.

Your ESP should help you take care of most of the requirements they list, since most are technical or procedural in nature. A quick read of the suggestions validates recommendations you’ll find being expressed in the permission only email community over and over again.

It’s also nice to see where we’re on the same page with those who decide what happens with our mail. Take a look at these documents to make sure you’re joining the rest of us on the happy sender-ISP bandwagon.

Comcast Added to Feedback Loop System

By Marc Kline

Flying EnvelopesSince our messages’ relevance to subscribers is crucial to the deliverability of our messages, knowing how they respond to them is important.

Opens and clicks tell us some things, like the rate at which our subscribers positively respond to messages. But at best, that’s only half of the story.

That’s why we’re glad to be a part of Comcast’s new feedback loop system.

A Win-Win Situation for Email Deliverability…

The other half of the story is recognizing when subscribers react in a less beneficial way, such as when they mark our messages as SPAM. This is crucial because nothing good can possibly come from messages that don’t get through as a result of ISP blocking.

By passing a more complete subscriber complaint rate to users, we can help them to better understand what is relevant and important to subscribers and what they don’t want to see in their inboxes.

At the same time, our administrators now have another tool at their disposal to monitor our system to make sure the actions of a small subset of people sending irrelevant messages doesn’t affect those of us adhering to email marketing best practices.

So, while it’s not a flashy new feature, it’s something we’re happy to implement.

Learn more about getting your email to the inbox:

Download your free Deliverability Guide.

Improve Your HTML Email for Gmail Subscribers

By Marc Kline

This has been bugging me for a while.

Before sending, I test our blog newsletters to Gmail, along with other popular clients (generally a smart thing to do).

By and large, the messages tend to look fine, outside of one detail that might seem minor to some but meaningful others who spend some time thinking about optimizing emails for best results.

Take a look at a few of the recent tests in my inbox and see if you notice what I’m seeing:

Gmail Search w/ Original Text

See what I mean? Here’s another view – what I see pop up from my task bar when I receive the tests:

Gmail Notifier View w/ Original Text

To subscribers, the frequency of “AWeber” and “AWeber Logo” could be trance inducing…at best. At worst, I fear it bores our Gmail viewers (who comprise 15.3% of our active list at the moment) and could suppress our open rates.

Why does that text appear there? Well, we use a template that includes a logo and a header image, both of which we use ALT text for (another good idea).

Meanwhile, Gmail displays whatever the first set number of characters appear in an email (alt text or otherwise) in this brief preview section of the inbox or Notifier app.

What Can We Do About It?

Get a free Gmail account for testing, if you don’t already have one, and send yourself tests of your messages. Do you see the same type of undesirable results?

Whether it’s ALT text or some other headline, it’s a good idea to replace it with something more enticing to subscribers to give them something worthwhile during that split second decision that makes them want to open the message rather than ignore or delete it.

You could tweak the layout of your template, or add some visible text at the very top of your message, but I did something else to avoid messing with the design or content of our messages.

Use an Invisible Image to Say Something Meaningful

In the free image manipulation software we use at our office, the GIMP, I created an image 1×1 pixel in size with a transparent background. Placed in an email, this image effectively goes unseen.

I then uploaded this file to our website and placed it in our blog broadcast template, just beneath the opening “body” tag, to make it the first thing Google “sees” to render in the email:

Transparent 1x1 image added

Remember how Gmail was pulling text from the ALT tags of our top placed images to my chagrin? Well, I found a way to use it to our advantage.

I simply added some ALT text to the image attribute that made more sense for the message I was sending out:

ALT text added

The result? Something much more appealing in the inbox and in the notifier. Check it out:

gmail message in Notifier, modified

You can take the same image I used and upload it to your website. Just add the following HTML just beneath the “body” tags like I did:

What Were the Results?

To be honest, I didn’t split test this before implementing. Why? My feeling was that it was one of those limited things worth implementing straight off the bat without testing, but I’m willing to bet it will help our opens given the number of Gmail subscribers we (and presumably you) have.

I hope it helps some of you to engage your Gmail subscribers better. I’m happy because, at very least, I can stop griping about the way it looks when I test.

Sending to Yahoo? Confirmed Opt-In Is The Way To Go

By Justin Premick

If you’ve ever spoken with anyone here at AWeber about what you can do to maximize your email deliverability, you’ve probably heard us say “use Confirmed Opt-In.”

While it’s certainly not the only thing you can and should do (check out our Email Deliverability Guide for more tips), it’s a best practice that clearly correlates to more email getting to the inbox.

And as time goes on, it’s become less of a suggested best practice, and more of an ISP requirement.

Just ask Yahoo!

Yahoo! “Recommends” Confirmed Opt-In

A recent post on Tamara’s BeRelevant! blog addresses the divide between what email marketing practices are “legal” and what practices actually get your email delivered.

First up on the list of ISP recommendations (and bear in mind, when an ISP recommends you do something, it’s a pretty good bet that your deliverability will depend partly on whether you do it)?

Confirmed Opt-In.

From Yahoo’s Postmaster area:

“…use confirmed, opt-in email lists. To do this, after you receive a subscription request, send a confirmation email to that address which requires some affirmative action before that email address is added to the mailing list. Since only the true owner of that email address can respond, you will know that the true owner has truly intended to subscribe and that the address is valid. Without this process, you cannot be sure that the recipient requested your mail. Unintended recipients will likely tell us your message is spam.”

Now, that’s not the only recommendation on the page (for example, they also talk about things like keeping your message content relevant to what subscribers signed up for), but the fact that they place Confirmed Opt-In at the top of their list of recommendations speaks volumes about how important its use is.

It’s also worth noting that Yahoo! isn’t the only ISP that recommends this. Others do too — for example, Gmail outlines it directly on their site, while Microsoft advises that senders “comply with industry standards” (among which they include Confirmed Opt-In).

Learn More About Confirmed Opt-In

Head over to our Knowledge Base for more on why Confirmed Opt-In is a key to good deliverability.

Or join us for a free live video seminar:

Protect Your Business & Maximize Results Using Confirmed Opt-in
  • Thursday, December 13, 2007
  • 12:00 – 1:00PM Eastern Time

Not on Eastern Time? Click Here.
What does this seminar cover?

For more email marketing advice, check out Tamara’s BeRelevant! blog — she aggregates anticles and tips from numerous sources, and it’s a resource that several of us here at AWeber read regularly.