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What will Gmail’s new unsubscribe link mean for marketers?

12th May 2014
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Gmail recently rolled out additional changes to its inbox that could have implications for marketers, including an unsubscribe link next to the sender’s details in the head of an email. The unsubscribe link will be placed on all commercial emails and gives email recipients an additional place to unsubscribe from marketing messages they no longer wish to receive. While this change is exciting, it also may have some impact on marketers.

What is the unsubscribe link?

The unsubscribe link is shown in the header of all emails with a List-Unsubscribe Header regardless of the tab where the email is received.

Some notable points include:

  • The concept of an ISP/email provider-based unsubscribe link is not entirely new. and some filters have been doing something similar for a while based off of the List-Unsubscribe Header.
  • Gmail has previously provided the same functionality, though it was hidden behind a menu versus the current next-to-sender (from name) location. While this is more of a UI change, it will be more prominent to receivers.
  • With the original functionality, the presence of an unsubscribe link was based on reputation of the sender. This new change will most likely be based on the same standards, but it’s not yet clear.
  • Why is this feature based on reputation? Sending messages from true spammers can be dangerous, and Gmail aims to avoid doing so. The option to unsubscribe rather than report as spam will only be present when a sender has a good reputation.

What Is a List-Unsubscribe Header?

The List-Unsubscribe header is an optional portion of text that email publishers and marketers can include in the header portion of the messages they send. Recipients don't see the header itself; they see an unsubscribe link they can click if they’d like to automatically stop future messages.

What does this mean for marketers?

For marketers, this means that because recipients have an extra opt-out option in addition to the one required for marketing messages in most countries and included by default by almost every email marketing software technology. With the addition of an extra unsubscribe link, there’s a chance opt-out rates will increase slightly.

But don't panic, this is actually generally a good thing. Here’s why: The "Report spam" icon appears in Gmail above the actual message, meaning that previously recipients could more easily report the message as spam than opt out using the unsubscribe link, which is typically placed by the sender at the footer of commercial messages. As a result, consumers looking to opt out would sometimes use the "report spam" button rather than the unsubscribe link.

Now, since the new Gmail link makes it easier to unsubscribe, the shift is likely to reduce spam complaints and could contribute to better deliverability for some email marketing programs with low engagement and higher-than-average spam complaint rates.

As with the other recent changes to Gmail’s inbox, such as Gmail Tabs, this change just confirms and further highlights the necessity for marketers to be relevant and targeted with their communications. If marketing emails are blanket, irrelevant messages, they receive a quick delete or remain unopened in the inbox. Incorporating past purchase data, Web behaviours or relevant product reviews not only increases your brand’s relevance, but also makes your messages more enticing for customers to open and engage with. 

Loren McDonald is vice president of industry relations at Silverpop.

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