Email Annotations & Schema: ‘Automatic Extraction’ & Controlling Your Preview Content

May 22, 2024 | 6 minute read
Heather Goff
Strategic Director of Email Deliverability Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
Chad S. White
Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
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To help users get answers quickly, search engine providers display Featured Snippets and other summaries that increase the chance a user won’t actually have to click any of the search results. Google and Yahoo are extending this same philosophy to their email inbox services by occasionally adding previews to commercial emails.

Gmail calls this “Automatic Extraction.” Both Gmail and Yahoo uses artificial intelligence to scan promotional emails and identify:

  • Key images
  • Discounts
  • Discount expiration dates
  • And other promotional content elements

They then use that information to either replace a commercial sender’s preview text with their own clickable preview content or add a clickable preview module above the body copy of an email. In both cases, the clicks on that inbox provider–created content diverts subscribers to the sender’s website. 

Currently, Automatic Extraction is causing three major problems for brands.

Problem #1: It’s Far from Perfect

The content that Automatic Extraction chooses to highlight regularly leads to disjointed, confusing, and perhaps even legally risky subscriber experiences. For example, Duluth Trading clearly wanted subscribers to open this email to reveal the deal, but Automatic Extraction spoiled the reveal, inadvertently revealing the deal and the discount code itself in the preview, resulting in fewer opens, which was obviously a key campaign goal.

Automatic extraction actively undercuts the goal of this email's subject line, which is to generate opens

When highlighting images from the body content of an email, Automatic Extraction routinely pulls an image from a secondary content block rather than the hero or primary content block. That often creates confusing disconnects between the subject line and the undesired image preview.

On other occasions, Automatic Extraction pulls an image from deep inside the body content, as in this Huckberry email, all but guaranteeing zero synergies between the subject line and the highlighted image.

Preview image is pulled from deep within the email's body content

But most worrisome is how Automatic Extraction pulls discounts from emails. In some instances, it pulls inaccurate discount amounts from the email content, including from the legalese in the footer. Instances like this have caused some brands to worry about their exposure to allegations of false advertising under Federal Trade Commission regulations or to allegations of misleading envelope content under the CAN-SPAM Act, which governs commercial email. If that were to happen to a brand, they would mostly sue the inbox provider in turn for causing the misrepresentation.

Understand the anatomy of an email, both envelope content and body content.

Problem #2: It Shortcircuits Email Attribution.

When a subscriber clicks through, say, a preview image (as in the Huckberry example above), the click doesn’t register as an email click. It’s a web click that takes the subscriber to the link destination sans email tracking. While some additional link tagging can help illuminate engagement, that activity wouldn’t be accounted for in the performance tracking at most email service providers. As a result, revenue attribution to the email team is diluted and makes budgeting processes less accurate and less effective.

Advertising modules appear above email content

Example of schema-powered Noticeability placing product promotions above email content in Yahoo Mail.

In some cases, the inbox provider even uses an affiliate link or link associated with the brand’s advertising media buys on its platform. So, even though they never signed up for Automatic Extraction, brands are paying for the brand exposure twice—first with the email and then second with the affiliate or advertising link.

Either way, the email that delivered the engagement opportunity is cut out of the interaction. That reduces attribution to the email channel, which distorts overall cross-channel attrition, depresses email marketing budgets, and makes it harder to identify subscribers as active and engaged in the age of Mail Privacy Protection.

Get our most comprehensive advice about adapting to Mail Privacy Protection via free, no-from download.

Problem #3: Brands Can’t Opt Out.

If a brand doesn’t like what Automatic Extraction is doing to their carefully crafted campaigns, there’s no easy way to stop it. There’s no equivalent of a Do Not Call list they can add themselves to so their emails are subject to Automatic Extraction.

While there’s no easy way to stop it, brands can preempt it by adding annotations and schema to their campaigns.

The Solution: Using Annotations/Schema

The annotations used by Google and the schema used by Yahoo are largely the same and based on the same schema.org code base. While not difficult, it takes time to learn the code and to implement it in your campaigns. Additionally, for annotations to work in Gmail, you’ll need to register with Google. (Yahoo doesn’t require registration.) And then you’ll also have to maintain a good sender reputation for your schema code to display, where supported.

For starters, we recommend you use annotations to point to a URL of your logo, so it appears next to your sender name instead of a generic person’s silhouette or the first letter of your sender name. This is not a substitution for implementing BIMI, but it’s easy to add this code to your email templates.

Then we recommend considering deal annotations when it’s appropriate, in the same way you consider other schema-powered functionality, such as Gmail’s Actions and Highlights. While selecting a preferred image preview could make sense for a range of campaigns, the rest of the deal annotation functionality is best used when you have a clear discount offer, expiration date, and promo code.

You can adapt this sample schema code from Gmail and this sample schema code from Yahoo Mail, removing the elements you don’t need. Just be sure to place it directly above the </head> tag in your emails. You can experiment with schema code using this annotation preview tool from Google.

If you accomplish all of that, then your schema-powered content will be displayed for emails that land in Gmail’s Promotions tab and in Yahoo Mail’s Deal tab. In ideal circumstances, they should appear for appropriately one-third of your subscribers. That’s because approximately 3% of email opens occur in Yahoo Mail and 31% in Gmail, according to Litmus. That relatively limited audience and the attribution issues make the return on investment murky at best, which is a major reason why adoption has been very low.

While more than 1% of email campaigns included schema code prior to the spring of 2021, it plunged below 0.1% during the summer of 2022, according to SendView research. It has since rebounded somewhat, but the vast majority of schema-powered content you see in your inbox today is due to Automated Extraction, not brand adoption.

…Or Else

While the benefits of schema haven’t spurred adoption, the risks around Automated Extraction may change the calculus for your brand. For instance, in the past, some of our clients have been opposed to using schema largely because they felt it made their emails look too much like ads—particularly the ads that Gmail includes next to emails in the Promotions tab.

However, the advent of Automatic Extraction makes that issue somewhat moot. Whether you like it or not, Gmail and Yahoo are going to repurpose your email content into ad-like modules without your consent, whether it’s to normalize their in-inbox advertising or to increase their advertisers’ media spend. Unless Gmail and Yahoo change course—or at least vastly improve how Automatic Extraction is done—the issue now is whether brands should invest time and energy into schema to ensure this hijacked email content doesn’t reflect poorly on their brand and confuse their subscribers.

—————

Need help with your email coding and designs? Oracle Digital Experience Agency has hundreds of marketing and communication experts ready to help Responsys, Eloqua, Unity, and other Oracle customers create stronger connections with their customers and employees—even if they’re not using an Oracle platform as the foundation of that experience. Our award-winning specialists can handle everything from creative and strategy to content planning and project management. For example, our full-service email marketing clients generate 24% higher open rates, 30% higher click rates, and 9% lower unsubscribe rates than Oracle Responsys customers who aren’t.

For help overcoming your challenges or seizing your opportunities, talk to your Oracle account manager, visit us online, or email us at OracleAgency_US@Oracle.com.

Now completely updated, this blog post was originally published on Aug. 6, 2019 by Chad S. White, with contributions from Heather Goff, Nick Cantu, and James Wurm.

Heather Goff

Strategic Director of Email Deliverability Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Heather Goff brings her tenacious client centric attitude and over 13 years of experience with email deliverability and digital communication strategy to Oracle Digital Experience Agency in the role of Strategic Director of Email Deliverability Services. Heather’s expertise helps drive deliverability success by arming Responsys customers with strategies to increase engagement and reduce spam traps and complaints. Heather is active in the broader Deliverability community as an active member of the Email Sender & Provider Coalition (ESPC) and the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP).

Chad S. White

Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Digital Experience Agency and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.


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