Navigating the Evolution of Email Marketing: Gmail and Yahoo's Game-Changing Updates to Digital Communication

On February 1, Google and Yahoo will implement a new set of regulations that affect email marketers. To stay in your customer’s inboxes, you’ll need to authenticate your emails, only email consumers what they’ve agreed to receive, and enable single-click unsubscribe.

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In the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing, the recent collaboration between Gmail and Yahoo marks a pivotal moment for email marketers. On February 1, these tech giants are set to roll out significant changes that will impact companies that bulk send 5,000 or more emails a day to recipients using Gmail or Yahoo Mail. 

The idea here is simple: Add inbox protections and make them less spammy. These strict guidelines for bulk emailing will protect consumers from an overwhelming amount of unsolicited messages and ensure they are only receiving contact in their inboxes from authenticated senders keeping inboxes streamlined to enhance the overall email experience. 

Of course, these changes are not without concerns for ecommerce businesses that rely on email marketing to communicate with their customers. The good news? These changes are actionable; your business can begin preparing for the new guidelines today. 

In this blog, we’ll explore the technical nuances of these updates and why it’s so important for DTC brands to make a game plan. We’ll also review best practices for abiding by the new bulk sender guidelines, touch on alternative ways to communicate with customers and review how the right tech stack can help streamline your company’s compliance. 

What changes to bulk email sending are coming — and why?

As previously mentioned, Gmail and Yahoo have joined forces to raise email marketing standards for their consumers to keep spam rates <10%. This strategic move is not unprecedented; tech companies have a track record of evolving to prioritize consumer privacy and protection. As the world becomes more connected, brands have enjoyed unprecedented access to consumer data. But, at the same time, consumers have grown increasingly concerned about who has their data and how it's used. This isn’t the first time new regulations have been put into place to give some power back to consumers — and it won’t be the last. 

The changes are as follows: As of February 1, if your business sends 5,000 or more e-mail messages a day to consumers with Gmail or Yahoo accounts (respectively), you'll be expected to:

  • Authenticate outgoing emails: Implement Domain-based Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) technology to fortify the authenticity of your emails.
  • Steer clear of sending unwanted or unsolicited emails: Prioritize relevance and consent to prevent your brand from becoming synonymous with unwarranted intrusions.
  • Allow recipients to unsubscribe in one click: Enhance user experience by streamlining the unsubscribe process, demonstrating a commitment to consumer choice.

One more thing to note: Sending just one mass email — like a BFCM announcement or even a change in privacy policy — can categorize you as a “bulk sender.” It’s another reason why it’s so important for all businesses, regardless of the size of their current email lists, to prepare for these changes. 

If you fail to meet these guidelines, here are the potential risks to your brand:

  • Hurt brand reputation: Non-compliance can have negative consequences for your brand image and domain reputation, impacting customer trust and loyalty.
  • Decreased Deliverability: Failure to meet guidelines elevates the risk of emails being relegated to spam folders, reducing their visibility.
  • Spam Benchmark: The stakes are high, with the potential for spam rates to reach new benchmarks if the guidelines are not adhered to.
  • Shrinking email lists: Once unsubscribing is easier, brands can expect more recipients to unsubscribe if they find the content irrelevant to them.

Simon Bressier, Head of Deliverability and Anti-Fraud at Brevo, a CRM offering, agreed the move will help protect consumers. But it’s not necessarily a loss for businesses, either. He believes the new regulations also offer “an opportunity for legitimate marketers to reinforce trust in email campaigns and reach their subscribers more effectively.”

Here are tips and strategies for the three major requirements you need to plan for:

1. Authenticate outgoing emails

It’s now required to authenticate your outgoing emails. This is technically a win-win. After all, email authentication guards recipients from malicious messages (such as spoofing and phishing) while protecting your company from being impersonated. It will also decrease the likelihood your emails are labeled as spam.

And because high spam rates can send essential emails straight to your customers’ junk folders (all while harming your brand and its domain reputation), there's no more critical time to authenticate than right now. Legitimate businesses have nothing to fear — the thought process here is to only close loopholes all too often exploited by malicious senders.

You can set up DMARC authentication for your sending domain in your DNS provider yourself, and you can take care of it at any time. DMARC authentication lets email providers know what to do when an email fails SPF and DKIM checks (IP address safety checks and encrypted signature safety checks, respectively) but purports to be from your company’s domain.

Your DMARC enforcement policy can be set to none, and Google has some specific guidelines to set your brand up for success to ensure the right emails get sent — and any “imposter” emails do not. 

You can review Google’s best practices on email authentication here. 

2. Don’t send “spam”

In an effort to keep consumers' inboxes full of meaningful communication (and free of everything else), Google and Yahoo will also be taking a more rigid stance on spam. To keep sending over 5,000 messages daily, businesses must keep their reported spam rates under 10%.

We'll cover what your company can do to ensure your emails don't get marked as spam in the next section.

3. Make unsubscribing easy with a single click

You'll need to make it super simple for consumers to unsubscribe from emails. All marketing and subscription messages must offer one-click unsubscribe, and visible links to do so must be featured in the body of the message.

While these changes may feel stressful for businesses relying on email messaging to keep customers engaged, Gmail and Yahoo see these changes as pro-consumer. The hope is to help keep consumers’ inboxes more organized, and it may also improve email deliverability. In other words, by deprioritizing emails from bulk senders that do not follow the new rules, consumers should find an inherently more streamlined and manageable inbox with messages from the legit brands (and humans) they want to hear from.

Want all the deets? This infographic breaks down the updates specific to Google and Yahoo:

Gmail and Yahoo's new guidelines for sending to their platform accounts.

Important note: Because Google’s requirements are stricter — once you meet those, you’ll also meet Yahoo’s.

Why are these changes so important to DTC ecommerce brands?

The truth is mass email marketing is going to keep getting harder and harder. It's no secret that many companies rely on email marketing to stay in touch with customers. From cart abandonment reminders and sales updates to long-term retention strategies like newsletter content, email has long been one of the simplest ways to engage consumers.

These new changes only raise the stakes. It's not that brands won't be able to send bulk emails to consumers anymore, but rather that the risks associated with sending such emails are higher than ever before. While businesses will need to keep spam levels under 10% to continue bulk emailing, the truth is that even senders with spam complaints above .3% tend to experience performance issues.

There’s no reason to believe 2024’s change will be the last, and many businesses are preparing for increasingly more stringent email-sending policies. The savviest brands will adapt to this reality by pivoting to a more diverse communication strategy for the future that’s structured with a value-first mindset.→

Action plan→ How your ecommerce business can get ahead of these changes in 2024:

First and foremost, our top advice is that every brand that sends mass emails, and even companies that aren't quite there yet, implement these changes as quickly as possible.

Even brands that have enjoyed historically high email deliverability should audit their email processes and follow these new guidelines. Spam rates will likely reach a new high under these new guidelines. Getting in front of these changes now can help ensure your company doesn't take a hit when the rules change. 

Diversify your communication channels

It's also a great time to ensure a more diversified, omnichannel strategy for communicating with customers. In other words, if your business relies on email as its main communication channel with consumers, it may be time to spread the resources across multiple modes of engagement. Many brands combine email, SMS, and push notifications to form a retention flywheel for their customers.

Pro tip: Investing in owned channels, such as mobile platforms, provides a hedge against future email sender updates. If future email sender updates become even more strict, then reaching, engaging, and retaining customers may become increasingly difficult. Investing in diverse strategies and native platforms could be a wise choice, especially since push notifications are free via a mobile app and are delivered directly to customers in the palm of their hands.

Take advantage of your tech stack

Collaborating with tech partners like Klaviyo streamlines the adaptation to new Gmail requirements. Klaviyo helps brands prepare for these changes by streamlining sender compliance as you integrate SMS and push notifications into your communication flywheel.

Klaviyo has also created a Gmail guidelines checklist to help brands. Shane McElroy, product manager at Klaviyo, emphatically agrees: “The upcoming requirements have long been recommended by inbox providers as best practices. By moving from recommendation to enforcement, Google and Yahoo are making it clear that proper authentication is essential for email marketing success.”

Optimize for unsubscriptions

Utilize tools like Klaviyo to automatically include a one-click unsubscribe link in the header of every email, simplifying the opt-out process.

Audit Email Campaigns 

Regularly audit email campaign templates to ensure alignment with the evolving standards, maintaining a proactive approach to compliance.

Sending Practices to Avoid

To adapt to these changes and communicate with consumers better than ever before, we're recommending the following best practices:

  • Don't combine messages: If you're sending an order confirmation, don't include tons of promotional information. Send those emails separately.
  • Don't purchase email addresses from other companies: In other words, don't send promotional or marketing emails to customers who haven't asked to be messaged by you.
  • Slow down bulk sends, then increase the frequency of emails slowly.

Calling all marketers & ecommerce operators: Recalibrating your strategy will be key 🔑

The landscape of email marketing is undergoing a seismic shift. Adapting to this evolution is not a choice but a strategic imperative. The collaboration between Gmail and Yahoo is emblematic of a broader trend: an industry-wide commitment to consumer protection and privacy. As marketers, our success hinges on our ability to navigate these changing tides with precision and foresight.

May your emails find a receptive audience, your strategies weather the storm, and your brand emerge stronger in the wake of these transformative changes. As we chart the course into 2024 and beyond, let us embrace the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, anchoring our strategies in resilience, adaptability, and a deep understanding of the evolving seas of digital communication.

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