Best practices: A Gmail Perspective


At M3AAWG 30 in San Francisco, Gmail representatives presented a session about best practices and what they wanted to see from senders.
I came out of the session with a few takeaways.

  • Gmail spends a lot of time and energy on filtering mail and giving the user the absolute best inbox experience possible.
  • Gmail does per-user filtering, probably more than any other ISP out there.
  • Gmail filters are intentionally aggressive.
  • Authentication is important for good delivery at Gmail.

Gmail mentioned a few specific things that were important for getting mail delivered to the inbox. Anyone who has read here will recognize many of these suggestions.

  1. Make sure your mail is really opt-in. Gmail strongly suggests all senders use a confirmed opt-in process whenever possible.
  2. Comply with RFC 2822/5322.
  3. Use well formatted HTML.
  4. Don’t use public URL shorteners.
  5. Maintain your lists and remove non-responders.
  6. Authenticate your mail. Gmail is waiting for adoption to get high enough so they can throw away any unauthenticated email.

During the session, they specifically called out affiliates as “pretty spammy” and said that they see the highest spam rates by users with promotional affiliate mail. The recommended senders who are going to use affiliates monitor every single campaign. But they said most affiliates have horrible practices and use all sorts of obfuscation techniques. They also called out dating and payday loans as two areas that were hurting a number of otherwise reputable brands.
For ESPs Gmail specifically said they hold ESPs accountable for customer actions. (I’ve seen this with a couple clients where the ESP domain is actually filtered for all their clients.) ESPs must make customers follow delivery guidelines and have zero tolerance for abuse.
The do recommend using separate sub domains for different email streams, but never ever cross the streams. If you have a transactional domain, never send promotional email using that domain.
Gmail also expects you to warm up domains as well as IPs. They did say their filters adjust quickly and that you can start with a low amount of traffic and double that traffic every couple hours.
As I mentioned earlier, they did announce their new feedback loop program. They also announce the presence of an “unsubscribe” link in the email interface.
Senders can get interface unsubscribes by providing List-Unsubscribe headers in their emails. Gmail prefers the use of mailto: headers, which will generate an email to the address in the header when clicked. For companies who only provide a http: link, Gmail pops up a box that tells the user to visit the site in the link.
Gmail prefers the mailto: header, as it makes for a more seamless user experience.
This is interesting, as a ‘unsubscribe’ link in the interface is something I’ve heard senders asking for over the years. Will this be adopted well enough that other mailbox providers and mail clients will implement it? Only time will tell.

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  • “The do recommend using separate sub domains for different email streams”
    Does this mean the From domain, Sending domain or the DKIM domain? I get why the DKIM domain would need to be different when you cross email streams but wasn’t aware that reputation would be applied to either of the other two. Any insights? Thanks!

  • This is what my notes say regarding domains (from different parts of the talk)
    * Use separate addresses, subdomains and IPs for transactional mail.
    * Make brand easily identifiable with consistent From: name and sending domain
    * Subdomains are treated separately. Too many subdomains mean you can’t set reputation
    Overall, I think they track all the different domains in the emails (d=, sending domain, From: domains and domains in URLs) independently. Being as consistent as possible will let those domains develop their own reputation and may mean cleaner segments get better delivery.

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