If there were any lingering doubts about the rising primacy of relevance and engagement in successful e-mail deliverability, Gmail has just banished them in a fell swoop.
Google this week announced the incremental roll-out of its latest Gmail feature, dubbed “Priority Inbox”, which as the name suggests, presents the contents of recipients’ inboxes sorted automatically in order of importance. Priority Inbox divides the interface into three broad categories – Important & Unread, Starred and Everything Else – and places what it deems to be the most important mail nearest to the top of the pile.
Gmail is the second major free inbox provider to roll out advanced inbox management tools this year. Later this year, AOL is expected to take the wraps off of “Project Phoenix”, a total rebuild of its free and subscription-based e-mail offerings. Earlier this summer, MSN/Live/Hotmail released a completely revamped interface, which included vastly improved mail filtering and management capabilities, like Sweep, Time-Travelling Filters and Prompted Unsubscribe.
I like to refer to new mail management features like these as “hands free” tools, because unlike traditional e-mail clients, they require little or no user intervention to implement. There are no rules to build, no boxes to tick, no regular expressions to, uh, express in order to sort and filter mail – unless the recipient cares to peek under the hood, where vastly simplified interfaces await to fine-tune the experience.
Google has released only very broad guidance about how, exactly, Priority Inbox makes decisions about what mail is most important, but early reports from users indicate that it is remarkably accurate. And it “learns” user preferences and habits as the recipient continues to interact with more mail. If the user takes the trouble to dig mail from a particular sender out of the junk folder, Gmail will now remember that, and award future mail from that sender higher placement in the inbox. If the user typically archives or deletes a particular newsletter unread, Gmail will now remember that, too, and will de-prioritize (or automatically archive or delete) future issues.
The message for senders is not new, just more strident than ever: permission on its own is simply not enough to ensure high deliverability. It can be revoked any time your message fails to engage intended recipients.
Permission gets your foot in the door; relevance lets you stay in the room.