Email Deliverability Quarterly: Gmail Spam Filter Changes, SparkPost Acquires eDataSource, and More

December 10, 2019 | 6 minute read
Chad S. White
Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
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Email deliverability is constantly changing, as inbox providers adjust their filtering algorithms, blocklists tweak their listing criteria, and consumers evolve their definition of spam. That’s why even the best email marketing programs suffer deliverability problems sometimes.

To help you avoid trouble, the Email Deliverability Services team at Oracle Digital Experience Agency shares the latest news and tips for what to watch out for. Here’s what’s going on at key inbox providers and what it means for email marketers:

Recent Gmail Spam Filter Changes

Gmail adjusted their spam filters during September and October, according to numerous data sources reviewed by our Email Deliverability Services team. 

“Among our deliverability clients, we noticed many senders’ IP and domain reputation dropping down a level in the Google Postmaster Tools, and our benchmarking showed an average 4%-5% drop in the Gmail open rate month over month in October,” says Clea Moore, Director of Deliverability Strategy, Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “Gmail began to penalize senders more heavily for longer-term inactives—those subscribers who hadn’t opened or clicked in more than 180 days—and there was some intermittent spam folder placement and a reputation drop as a result. We first noticed this in early September, but there was a more pronounced shift for all marketers as of mid-October. It appears that all verticals were impacted, but retail took the biggest hit.”

Our Email Deliverability Services team reached out to the Gmail postmaster team in late-October to notify them of the large-scale shift we were seeing. “They were very responsive and noted that they would review their filters, as they did not intend for them to be overly aggressive,” says Clea. “We noticed another shift for some senders around Nov. 22, which showed a positive change in reputation and placement, so it’s possible that it was the result of the Gmail team readjusting their filters.”

What this means for marketers: 

Most B2C brands see heavy usage of Gmail among their subscribers, so even the slightest shift in placement and open rates can have a big impact on the bottom line. “Coming into this important holiday season, we worked with our affected clients to adjust targeting and plan for the impact of the Gmail filter change,” says Clea. “Knowing that their filters are more sensitive to inactives, it is especially important to segment intelligently and adjust the frequency of your mailings based on engagement.”

“When ISP’s adjust filtering algorithms like this there are two critical practices that will enable marketers to make a business decision on what to do about it,” says Heather Goff, Director of Email Deliverability Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “One is that someone should be looking at your deliverability performance metrics routinely and closely enough to identify and diagnose an issue. And two is you should have an ability to identify less engaged recipients by ISP and then target differently by ISP. Marketers are in a better position to stabilize the impact of these adjustments to their business and their bottom line if they’re nimble in both the identification of an issue and their ability to take action. We have several clients that use a predictive analytics model we created to identify the recipients that are most likely to open or click and we have been successful at driving reputation back up at Gmail without impacting business too significantly.”

The long-term lessons here are:

  1. Every brand should be monitoring their metrics closely or working with a deliverability service to ensure they don’t miss these shifts in mailbox provider behavior. 

  2. Mailbox providers will only become more sensitive to inactivity and other subscriber behaviors, so tactics like personalization, automation, and strategic segmentation will only become more important going forward. 

SparkPost Acquiring eDataSource

SparkPost announced its intent to acquire eDataSource, a provider of email tracking, performance insights, and deliverability technology. 

What this means for marketers: 

Oracle is very familiar with both of these companies as they’re both Oracle partners. SparkPost provides the email server software that sends mail for the Oracle Responsys and Eloqua email platforms, and eDataSource provides the Deliverability Plus platform that many senders on Oracle email platforms rely upon for added visibility into email and deliverability performance. Their union will add value and functionality to their already strong products.

“Joining mail stream data with behavioral inbox placement data will enhance that extra layer of visibility significantly,” says Brian Sullivan, Strategic Director of Email Deliverability Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. “This will lead to a deeper understanding of performance at the ISP level and how audience segmentation can be managed to optimize inbox delivery. Since Oracle Responsys and Oracle Eloqua are already integrated with SparkPost and eDataSource, senders will be readily able to take advantage of those product enhancements.”

DigiCert Issues Fist Verified Mark Certificate, Giving Boost to BIMI

In the world of brand identification and authentication, the addition of the Verified Mark Certificate (VMC) is a big deal. While the Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI) standard allows senders to display their logo in the inbox next to their email, the VMC adds a layer of abuse protection for brands that could be the target of spoofing. 

In October, CNN became the first sender to obtain a VMC, which makes sense for such a large, recognizable brand. In combination with a DMARC policy of reject on their top-level domain (cnn.com), and a BIMI record in place, the Verified Mark Certificate will allow CNN to protect their brand while increasing their brand impressions.

What this means for marketers: 

“It is expected that Gmail will require a VMC as part of their BIMI pilot this year,” says Clea, “so brands looking to participate in the BIMI program should work on getting their certificates as soon as possible through providers like DigiCert. It’s also likely that the Verified Mark Certificate will be a requirement for BIMI program participation in general. Of course, this also means that there is an additional hurdle for BIMI, which could stall adoption. However, all of our email deliverability consultants fully support the standard and encourage our clients to participate. BIMI continues to be a valuable tool for marketers looking to increase brand exposure and set themselves apart in the inbox.” 

COPRA Bill introduced in US Senate

Senior members of the US Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation introduced comprehensive federal online privacy legislation to establish privacy rights, outlaw harmful and deceptive practices, and improve data security safeguards for US consumers. The Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA) addresses growing concerns among Americans over the security of their private online data in the wake of breaches and personal data abuses during recent years. It’s widely acknowledged that federal-level regulation to protect consumer’s online data is long overdue.

What this means for marketers: 

“While laws have passed at the state level, like the California Consumer Privacy Act, efforts at the federal level have so far not resulted in any substantive changes to consumer privacy protections,” says Brian. “However, the introduction of this federal-level regulation puts marketers on notice that federal policy-makers are increasingly taking consumer protection very seriously. Should this legislation become law, it will impose rules similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on marketers in the US.”

Want more email deliverability news and what it means for your company? Check out some of our other Email Deliverability Quarterly posts:

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Need help with your digital marketing campaigns? Oracle Digital Experience Agency has hundreds of marketing and communication experts ready to help Oracle customers create stronger connections with their customers, partners, 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.

Want to better understand your email marketing risks and opportunities, take advantage of our free Email Marketing Assessment. Our experts will check your deliverability, review your email creative, audit your signup process, do a partial competitive analysis, and more. If interested in this free assessment, reach out to us at OracleAgency_US@Oracle.com.

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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