For all of the vast resources the big four free inbox providers (Yahoo!, AOL, Gmail and MSN/Live/Hotmail) have expended over the decades to tweak, test and improve their filtering and delivery processes, they’ve been remarkably quiet about it. But their reticence is for good reason; if they were to publish the juicy details, they’d be undermining their own efforts, as spammers would surely make use of the information to evade filtering changes almost as soon as they are implemented.
So when a major inbox provider actually publishes specific details about how they make delivery decisions – as Gmail recently did in a paper explaining how Priority Inbox works – it creates a splash in the deliverability pond.
In January, Google posted on one of its research blogs a four page document containing the mathematical algorithms Gmail employs to decide how important any particular message is to its recipient by gauging the probability that the recipient will act quickly on the message.
It’s nothing short of a mathematical model of recipient engagement.
The real utility of the paper, in my opinion, is that it gives senders a clearer picture of what engaging e-mail looks like to the ISPs. I propose that Priority Inbox is a reasonable proxy for any recipient domain where it comes to measuring engagement. Senders who test and optimize their mail for preferred placement in the Gmail Priority Inbox should see gains in deliverability most anywhere else.
So what does engaging e-mail look like to Gmail? I’m not mathematically savvy enough to evaluate the algorithms in the paper, but the author provides some useful narrative: