Got placed in the Gmail promo tab? You're not alone.

Apparently it happens to Seth Godin, too (click here).

He's got a fix for it, see, but those big meanies at Google won't let him implement it. He's even encouraging you to yell at Google on his behalf. (It turns out, Google is a bit shy about letting third parties have access to fiddle with your Gmail inbox settings. Can't say I blame them for that.)

You could sign the petition. Or you could not bother. Me, I'm not going to bother. Google is probably deaf to policy complaints like this -- or at the very least, Seth has a tall mountain to climb. Instead, consider that Google already has two ways that you can address issues with promotional tab placement -- and neither of them involve a third-party petition.
  1. Take that individual message that you think belongs in "primary" and move it there. If enough people do that, Google will re-think where it places same and similar messages in the future. This process already exists to provide feedback to Google, direct input into the algorithm.
  2. Disable tabs, if you don't like the tab decisions Google is making with regard to your Gmail inbox. (Options: Configure Inbox: Turn off all checkboxes except Primary.) Gmail works just fine without 'em, I know from personal experience.
I can't blame a guy for trying, but I do suspect that Seth's fight to get Google to offer a Gmail Inbox "Gold List" is going to go nowhere. And if you're a sender running into this problem, don't look to this as a solution. Instead, know that data has suggested very handily that people DO read mail that lands in the promotions tab. And if you don't think your placement there is appropriate, nudge your customers to move your mail to the right place. As I said above, it does work.

Not to mention -- usage of the promotions tab by Gmail users is not universal. In 2017, a Return Path survey suggested only a third of Gmail users used tabs, and industry data and discussion since then suggests that this number continues to drop.

For more thoughts on how to deal with life in the Gmail Promotions tab (or how to escape), most of what I was able to round up in 2018 is still applicable.

Europe is different and why this matters for US-based companies

Here's an article from Mailkit's Jakub Olexa explaining how the ISP landscape is different in Europe. This is useful stuff for US-based senders to learn. That chart is especially insightful. Thanks, Jakub!

2020: What's next?

Well, the new year is here. (Along with a new blog template and updated ISP deliverability guides.) What do you think will happen in the deliverability realm in 2020? Here are my first thoughts.

First, DMARC is finally reaching critical mass. No longer an edge-case security feature that your marketing teams ignore, more and more senders finally start to understand that supporting DMARC is easy and should be considered a best practice. DMARC adds complexity to email forwarding, reply handling and mailing list management, so look to experts for assistance if your email use cases would run into any of those realms. But outside of those, DMARC can actually be pretty easy to set up.

Next, get ready to deal with shifting goal posts. What you could "get away with" a few years ago may no longer result in deliverability success. Gmail, in particular, seems to be tightening up filtering and getting better at identifying good versus bad messages in ways they weren't able to previously. Gmail's use of Tensorflow highlights just one aspect of these changes. Marketers can't sit back and just stick with the status quo. It's going to be up to savvy sender to improve engagement metrics, drive more interaction, and focus content and cadence to continue to maintain inbox placement going forward. (And if you were doing things that Gmail didn't like, but hiding it in a shared sending pool of IP addresses sending mail for many senders, you're finding that opportunity is vanishing. Gmail, and others, are getting better at picking you out of the stream.)

Yes, those first two thoughts echo what I said a couple years ago, but they're both very true today and I think they're appropriate considerations. But wait -- there's more!

And finally, look for IP warming to get harder (or at least seem harder) than it was in years past. This really relates to my "shifting goal post" comments above. If you're a marketing sender with three years of history on your sending IP address and domain, and you move to a new email platform or service provider, how ISPs look at you as a new sender on that new IP address, possibly with that new domain, is going to be more stringent today than it would have been in years past. There are multiple reasons and theories behind this. One is, as an ISP looks to improve filtering, they might be applying newer and more rules to newer IP addresses and domains versus applying all of those same new rules to "older" IP addresses. Or maybe they have legacy whitelisting lists that are no longer updated. Sometimes the older IP and domain might be uniquely handled in a way that an ISP no longer offers to newer senders. Combine that with the fact that ISP filters are tighter today than years ago, and it provides a very strong reminder of how important it is to do everything right -- to put your best foot forward -- during IP warming.

I'm sure there's more changes and challenges we're going to run into in 2020. What have I missed? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!

ISP Deliverability Guide: Gmail

Launched over fifteen years ago, Gmail has grown from the "new kid on the block" into a position of prominence. Depending on what data you look at, you might even see Gmail as the #1 mailbox provider, at least here in the US.

Gmail's spam filtering systems incorporate user feedback and engagement. And they know what they're doing. If you are not sending wanted mail to people who requested that mail and who read that mail at high enough percentages, you're going to struggle. You won't reliably get your mail to the inbox. Their systems are too good -- their magic spam fighting robots look at metrics very closely -- and their view of certain metrics can even change over time! What got you to the inbox in 2016 might not be good enough to get you to the inbox in 2020. Deliverability success at Gmail requires not only that you adhere to best practices, but it also necessitates ongoing monitoring and tweaking of your marketing program.

ISP Deliverability Guide: Microsoft OLC

It was originally called Hotmail. You might call it Outlook.com. I suspect the best name might be "Microsoft OLC" (Outlook Consumer), as this appears to be one of the names applied to this email platform internally at Microsoft. Whatever you call it, successful inbox delivery can be a bit of a challenge, as this webmail provider can be quick to block senders that may not have issues elsewhere.

ISP Deliverability Guide: Yahoo/AOL/Verizon

Nowadays, they're called "Verizon Media Group" but you might know them as internet service providers AOL, Yahoo and Verizon. The email platform they all utilize now is, from a sender's perspective, Yahoo! Mail. Here are my five top recommendations of things you need to consider or implement in order to maximize your ability to successfully deliver mail to AOL, Yahoo and Verizon subscribers. (They also have a bunch of other domains, too. Click here for the full list.)