It begins: Google retiring inactive accounts

Google first warned earlier this year that they're going to retire accounts that haven't been accessed at all in the past two years. This affects Gmail accounts -- if nobody's home, no emails have been read, nothing's going on, Google is now likely to shut down that account. They warned us that the soonest they would start shutting down accounts is December 2023. Well, December is now here. What should we do about it?

If you're a Google user and don't want to lose that Gmail account, or lose any other data that may be associated with your Google account (files, photos, etc.), Google explained in a recent notification what you can do to make sure that Google continues to denote your account as active. In short? Log in, poke at something. Reply to an email. Edit a file. Show a sign of life.

If you're an email newsletter or email marketing sender, get ready for an increased rate of bounces -- now invalid addresses -- when sending to Gmail subscribers. Don't panic. You didn't do anything wrong. What you'll want to do is simply ensure that those addresses are getting suppressed or unsubscribed; that you're no longer sending to them. Reason being, attempting to higher-than-usual numbers of invalid addresses historically has been considered a sign that a sender is a bad actor, or that they have a list hygiene problem. Will Gmail immediately block you over that? No, probably not. But if you want to stay clean and stay as far away from deliverability issues as possible, that's how you'll do it.

Mailbox providers often convert invalid addresses into spamtrap addresses after a time, as well. Will Gmail do that here? They've made no announcement of such, and only time will tell. But again, if you stay away from those dead addresses, you avoid future risk if/when those addresses are converted into spamtrap addresses.

You might think to yourself, I already have a subscriber lifecycle management process -- I already sunset inactive subscribers after a time. What about me? Well, good for you (and you probably should keep doing it) but keep in mind that identifying subscriber activity based on open tracking gets less and less accurate year over year (thanks, Apple MPP!) and it is quite likely that your “openers only” segment contains some inactive Gmail subscribers that could actually now end up bouncing as accounts become invalid.

Don't give up on that sunset policy -- but you might want to tweak it. As always, anything you can do to drive engagement is a good thing. And if you can drive measurable engagement -- clicks in particular -- do so!

I don't yet have proof that Google has begun the great account purge. I'm not assuming that it's going to start two minutes after midnight on December 1. But I think it's safe to assume that it is coming, and it is coming sooner, rather than later. So let's be prepared, shall we?

I'm also waiting to see first examples of the exact rejection message Gmail will use when rejecting a delivery attempt to a now-disabled inactive account. I'll share samples when I have them.

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