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Forget about engagement, think inboxing

While answering a question about how to improve IP reputation at Gmail I realized that I no longer treat Gmail opens as anything about how a user is interacting with email. There are so many cases and ways that a pixel load can be triggered, without the user actually caring about the mail that it’s not a measure of the user at all.

image of a head with gears and ideas floating around it

That doesn’t mean opens are useless. In fact, they’re very useful. But only if you have the full picture.

  1. Gmail, and other consumer mailbox providers, do not allow images to load for messages in the bulk folder.
  2. Gmail, and other consumer mailbox providers, do some level of individualised delivery. Even if most of a particular mailing is going to the bulk folder, individual users may still get that email in their inbox.
  3. Every message delivered to the spam folder, whether marked as spam by the user or delivered there by the mailbox provider, hurts your reputation.

Every email in the spam folder hurts your overall reputation. Continuing to send mail ending up in spam will decrease your overall delivery in the long term.

One of the ways to improve reputation is to remove anything that is hurting your reputation. This means, removing any emails going to the bulk folder. How do we know which emails are going to the bulk folder? One piece of data is an image was loaded, i.e. an open was recorded. That open won’t happen if mail is in bulk.

How far back we go to remove addresses is an interesting question. I can argue all sorts of timelines. it doesn’t really matter. I’ve seen reputation improvement using just a few thousand emails that we knew were going to the inbox.

The real signal is not that you perfectly remove every address receiving mail in the bulk folder, but that you remove the majority of addresses receiving mail in the bulk folder. Want to go back a year? Sure. 18 months? yeah, probably will work. Longer, well, what’s the likelihood those addresses have been abandoned and no longer have an active user logging in and looking at data?

Once reputation is repaired, you can start to mail some of the suspended folks on your lists. But, stopping mail that is actively hurting your reputation is always the first step. Think about it, if you could remove spamtraps from your lists, wouldn’t you? Mail going to the spam folder can damage your delivery just as much as spamtraps.

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