Want to Get into Gmail? Check Your Sender Score (Plus 4 More Tips)

Posted by Tom Sather on

If I had a nickel for every time that someone asked me for tips to get delivered to the inbox at Gmail, I wouldn’t be writing this right now because I’d be retired and living on my own personal island. Gmail has been notoriously difficult for some senders because of lack of requirements and acceptable reputation metrics for getting inbox placement. I’ve listed five, simple tips to help you improve and maintain your delivery at Gmail.

1. Monitor your Sender Score

Recent research we did at Return Path showed a high correlation between a Sender Score and Gmail delivery rates. A score above 80 indicated a much higher chance that your mail would get delivered to the inbox, whereas anything lower would result in less than 50% inbox delivery and most mail landing in the spam folder or being blocked. There are a number of things that both Sender Score and Gmail both look at to make a determination of email reputation, including complaints (spam vs. not spam votes), volume (recency and consistency of volume), low percentage of unknown users, and unsubscribe behavior. If you’re stuck on where to begin with Gmail delivery improvement, look at your Sender Score first.

2. Get your subscriber’s permission and keep it

Lack of permission and relevancy are the highest drivers for complaints. Complaints, in the form of “spam” and “not spam” subscriber feedback, are the crux of Gmail delivery. If subscriber’s want your email, they’ll engage with it by not marking it as “spam,” marking it as “not spam” if it’s delivered to the spam folder, as well as adding your email address to their contact list. You have a very low chance of that happening if you purchase lists, append your lists, rent lists, allow for address book uploads or use any other acquisition methods that are opt-out. Getting explicit permission isn’t enough however. Have a win-back strategy in place for subscribers that have become inactive, as these subscribers also have a high correlation for complaints. Getting and maintaining permission will get you 95% of the way to the inbox at Gmail.

3. Authenticate

While there are no deliverability points for authenticating, it will help in establishing a reputation across multiple, consistent sending IPs. It also helps if you find yourself moving to a new IP address and are having to establish a new sending reputation. Sending to the Gmail universe off of an IP address or domain with no prior sending history will result in initial policy blocks. Authenticating allows Gmail to see your whole sending history based on all IP addresses for your sending domain, and will prevent a costly and timely IP warm-up phase.

4. Implement a list-unsubscribe in your header

While Gmail doesn’t offer a feedback loop service, they do provide an option for subscribers to remove themselves from your lists if they mark your email as spam. By having the list-unsubscribe header present, your subscribers marking your mail as spam will be asked if they also want to unsubscribe from future mailings. This helps keep complaints to a minimum by giving your subscribers a more trusted method to unsubscribe, as well as a different option besides continually marking your mail as spam and driving up your complaint rate.

5. Send like with like

Segment your different mail streams by IP address and/or from address. For example, your marketing and transactional mail should be mailed from different IP addresses and from addresses to ensure that your marketing mail, which typically has higher complaints, doesn’t affect the delivery of your transactional mail.

While there’s no silver bullet or whitelisting available for Gmail delivery, these five steps will go a long way in establishing and maintaining a good sending reputation and inbox delivery at Gmail. If you need help in getting there, contact us. We’d love to help!


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About Tom Sather

Email data and deliverability expert Tom Sather has worked with top-tier brands to diagnose and solve inbox placement and sender reputation issues as a strategic consultant with Return Path. As the company’s senior director of research, Tom is a frequent speaker and writer on email marketing trends and technology. His most recent analysis of new inbox applications’ effects on consumer behavior was widely cited across leading business media outlets including the Financial Times, Ad Age, and Media Post.

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