The Skinny Talks Gmail and Deliverability on the Salesforce Blog

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I recently did a Q&A session with the Salesforce Core team about deliverability, and it was published today on the blog. It’s a bit remedial because it’s geared to a fairly broad audience, but I’m pleased with the results. Continue reading

Three Months of “Inbox by Google” Usage Data

Earlier this week, researchers from Google shared an infographic showing some top line data on how and where recipients are using the new Inbox by Google to manage tasks based on their Gmail inbox. There are a couple of numbers in here that should make senders sit up and take notice.

Inbox by Google Infographic

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Updates to Gmail’s Inbox Ads

Once the initial furor over the appearance of Gmail’s new ads in the Promotions tab died down, the ads themselves seem to die down, too. Until today, I hadn’t seen any of the new, email-like promotions appearing in my accounts for what must be at least two months. They were back this morning, and with a new and interesting change:

Gmail's reformatted inbox ads in the Promotions tab

The ads now feature a graphical element in the preview pane that wasn’t there before. One of the many complaints from senders and marketers about the ads when they were first introduced is that they too much resembled actual e-mail, and therefore were an attempt to deceive recipients. Indeed, some marketers suggested in semi-private forums that Gmail should be sued for CAN SPAM violations in a class action (never minding that senders have no standing under the law). Continue reading

Are the New Gmail Inbox Ads Subject to CAN SPAM?

The new tabbed Gmail interface and the new ads that come with it has ruffled the feathers of many marketers and senders for a variety of reasons. In the course of the discussion of those reasons arises an interesting question:  are the new ads subject to CAN SPAM requirements?

Possibly: they are presented in the inbox in a manner that very much resembles all of the other e-mail messages you’d expect to find there. Recipients can interact with the ads using the same Gmail interface metaphors as any other e-mail message received in Gmail. Viewers can even forward, “Star” and dismiss the new ads.

Possibly not: they are not actually e-mail messages – they’re web-based advertisements formatted and presented in such a way as to closely resemble actual e-mail messages, but are otherwise very much like the ones Gmail users are accustomed to seeing to the right and above the inbox. There’s even some evidence to suggest that the new ads employ the same engine as the ordinary Gmail display ads to select and present those that Google deems a viewer is most likely to click. Continue reading

A Glimpse Beneath the Kimono

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:

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Half-True Predictions

The thought of blogging predictions for the New Year in Deliverability makes me cringe. I’m not exactly sure why; it may have something to do with the fact that everyone else has already done it – we’ve had a bumper crop so far this year. Mostly, I think, I’d hate to be proven wrong later. So, instead of offering my own predictions (which would doubtlessly sound much like anyone else’s), I’d like to take a look at two different trends in deliverability that came only half-true in 2010, but that are still worth your time to continue to watch in 2011. The two trends are Domain Reputation and Engagement Metrics.

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Changes Coming to AOL and Yahoo! Inboxes, Too

Much has been written in the last few weeks about big changes to the free e-mail offerings from Google and Microsoft. Hotmail rolled out Wave 4, with Sweep and Time-Traveling Filters that penalize “gray mail” by sweeping it out of the inbox. Gmail’s Priority Inbox now rewards messages that it deems most relevant to the recipient with preferred positioning in the inbox.

In the meantime, AOL and Yahoo! have been working quietly on their own major inbox releases. However, early glimpses at new features hint at altogether different strategies for capturing and holding users’ attention – important changes that may influence how recipients interact with your e-mail and help propagate your message.

It’s been about 20 years since AOL and e-mail became nearly synonymous (“You’ve got mail!”). Today, comScore ranks AOL mail dead last in market share behind Yahoo!, MSN and Google. AOL will attempt to rise from the ashes when they take the wraps off “Project Pheonix” later this year. Few details about specific changes to the user interface have been confirmed, but insiders say we should expect tighter integration with AOL Instant Messenger, SMS messaging and MapQuest. They’re planning a Gmail-like archive feature and enhanced search across users’ e-mail folders. AOL say they will present fewer ads at entry points, but will serve up more targeted advertising when users drill down into AOL’s content sites.

A recent interview with AOL Mail Ops President Brad Garlinghouse also hints at a larger effort to deliver an integrated messaging platform for all of the users’ various inboxes – be they traditional e-mail inboxes at Yahoo!, Gmail or MSN, as well as IM, SMS or social media inboxes. He notes that Internet users now manage an average of 2.4 e-mail addresses, up from 1.9 five years ago. Garlinghouse intimates that Phoenix will position the AOL mail site as a hub for users to manage them all.

Yahoo! has been far less cagey in discussing new features in its upcoming mail release, dubbed “Minty”. Users will be able to update their Facebook status from within their Yahoo! inbox. Earlier this year, Yahoo! made a few other social media moves, announcing partnerships with Twitter and social media game giant Zynga, and the acquisition of location-based social network Koprol.

But the most noticeable changes will be to the user interface. Yahoo! is promising a leaner, faster-loading site that more closely resembles the mobile apps (read: iPad) versions of its offerings. The interface changes are designed to increase market share in non-US markets, where consumer broadband is not as common, and load times can still be an issue for larger percentages of the user base.

It doesn’t appear that either AOL or Yahoo! are planning any major changes to the way it filters or delivers inbound mail in these releases. The message for senders is that social media and e-mail are converging quickly: Google’s abortive attempt to socialize e-mail with Buzz did not spell the end of other efforts, and it’s possible that more than one will succeed. If that happens, senders may have the chance to turn their recipients’ entire social networks into prospects.