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8 Ways Marketers can Better Target Gmail Subscribers

Gmail celebrated its 10th birthday yesterday. And while it’s great to reminisce about the past, it’s important to learn from history and apply those learning to the present. Our Gmail gurus summed up years of email marketing knowledge and came up with eight ways marketers can better target Gmail users today.

Know how many Gmail users are in your database

Gmail has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years. According to the “Q4 2013 Email Marketing Compass” report by email marketing software and service provider Yesmail, Gmail users accounted for 43% of all new Q4 2013 subscribers, compared to AOL (7%), Hotmail (18%), and Yahoo! (32%) subscribers. These subscribers appear to be more active, as well. Nineteen percent of Gmail users had been active with marketing emails within a year versus AOL (10%), Hotmail (12%), and Yahoo (14%) users, according to the same report.

Keeping this in mind, Brad van de Woerd, director of deliverability and market intelligence for Yesmail, advises marketers to know exactly how many Gmail users are in their databases. Besides knowing which ISP addresses tend to be more active, identifying which consumers have Gmail addresses can help marketers ensure that their messages display and render properly, he says. It can also help marketers improve their ability to measure which Gmail tab their messages landed in.

“If you’re sending email to Gmail and AOL, Gmail is going to cache your image where AOL isn’t,” van de Woerd says. “If you have any sort of dynamic images or content within your message, that image caching is going to prevent it from working in the way that you intended to when you sent it to Gmail versus another ISP.”

Segment by interest, not by ISP

While van de Woerd urges marketers to know how many Gmail users reside within their databases, Matthew Grove, deliverability engineer for email marketing solutions provider MailChimp, recommends segmenting by interest instead of by ISP.

“Rather than defining your list as a series of ISPs, you’ll get better results by figuring out what your subscribers are interested in,” Grove says. “Segmenting your list by interest group can be hugely powerful.”

Have consistent sender addresses

Marketers want to establish relationships with their customers. However, it can be difficult for customers to get to know a brand if its constantly changing its sender address or sending messages from various From addresses. Think about it, would you remember a friend’s name if they introduced themselves with a new name every time you met them? It would also be kind of creepy.

Hence, Grove suggests using consistent From addresses to avoid coming off as spammy.

“You build a personal reputation on that address, but it’s also true that spammers like to send the same content from a lot of different addresses,” he says. “Using a consistent From address helps to identify you as a marketer and not a spammer.”

Track inbox placement rates

Marketers should be measuring inbox placements rates for every message they deploy, says van der Woerd. For instance, a marketer may hit the inbox Monday through Wednesday but end up in the spam folder on Thursday, he explains.

“The most important thing in that situation is that the marketer is taking a look that that’s happening,” van der Woerd says. “You can’t do that unless you’re properly measuring your inbox placement rates.”

Inbox placement rates can also serve as a “warning sign” for marketers, van der Woerd adds, and indicate that they need to improve the relevancy of their messages.

Be wary of shorteners

Marketers often have a lot to say in a little bit of space—that’s where link shorteners can come in handy. However, spammers leverage shorteners, as well, Grove notes, and frequently disguise their links with shorteners.

“Gmail’s anti-spam automation latches on to bad domains very quickly, and they end up blocking some of the most popular shorteners,” he says. “If you have to use a shortener, go with something custom.”

Test constantly

Success isn’t achieved by sitting on the sidelines, and it often isn’t obtained the first time around. Grove encourages marketers to get involved, actively test, and generate their own data.

“The companies [that] I see with the best engagement and the best deliverability don’t sit back and send the same email over and over,” Grove says. “They test subject lines with A/B splits, and they’re looking for new ways to segment their list. They want to target just the right group for each piece of content, and they’re willing to remove addresses that aren’t engaging if it improves their reputation.”

Rethink email marketing

Not every subscriber is a potential customer; however, van der Woerd says that many marketers struggle to shake this mentality.

“[It’s] moving away from the thought process that ‘everyone in my database is a potential buyer’…to ‘not everyone is this database is worth sending to,’” he says. “I need to know my audience, what kind of messages they’re interested in, what kind of messages they’re actually acting on and purchasing from, and focus more on the relevancy of an email marketing program overall.”

Don’t fear the inevitable

If there’s one thing marketers know for sure, it’s that change is inevitable. Rather than crying wolf and saying that “email is dead” (again), marketers should embrace change and face it head on.

“I’ve learned to not be afraid of change,” says Chad White, lead research analyst for digital marketing software provider ExactTarget. “Social was supposed to destroy email, but it has only made it more powerful. Mobile has made email more powerful, as well. And all the changes that Gmail and other ISPs have put in place to give their users more control, to make their time in the inbox more efficient, ultimately, are good for email as both a communication and marketing channel.”

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