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Google Adds an Unsubscribe Button to Marketers’ Emails

Responsible email marketers have for years provided methods within their messages for recipients to unsubscribe from future mailings. But Google made a change recently to its Gmail service that puts an unsubscribe button at the top of all emails it identifies as coming from email marketers. EcommerceBytes spoke to two experts to see if the change is a landmine or opportunity for ecommerce marketers.

Back in 2009, Google’s Gmail presented auto-unsubscribe, a feature that acted upon a user marking a message as spam. The feature offered to attempt to automatically unsubscribe the recipient from future messages.

This year, Google modified the feature to display an Unsubscribe button at the top of promotional messages that Google believes are not spam. It’s an easy way for a recipient to simply make a once-desirable mailing from a company just go away.

Ecommerce pros don’t need more obstacles as they try to reach customers with marketing that their data and research tells them should be a good match. They shouldn’t fret too much over Gmail’s little button, as EcommerceBytes learned from conversations with Yesmail Director, Market Intelligence & Deliverability, Brad van der Woerd, and Monetate VP of Product Management, Bruce Ernst.

EcommerceBytes: As an email marketing business professional, what is your opinion on Google’s Gmail auto-unsubscribe, a feature the company updated a few weeks ago that enables one-click unsubscribing from emails?

Yesmail’s Brad van der Woerd: The unsubscribe button provides an easy way to get consumer feedback and weed out those who aren’t receptive or actively resistant to your message. If you’re still on the fence, think about what your subscribers likely did before the new unsubscribe button. Were they more likely to open the email and hunt for the unsubscribe button or just hit spam? The new unsubscribe button is not only a feedback loop, but prevents inboxing issues by reducing reliance on the spam button.

Monetate’s Bruce Ernst: Much like the “promotional” tab in gmail, it sounds like a consumer-friendly, anti-spam feature. It may or may not work for consumers, since it circumvents the carefully crafted unsubscribe procedures of legitimate marketers. In reality, it has little to no effect on spam, if anything use of this feature helps spammers as it provides them assurance that the email address is “live”.

EcommerceBytes: What kind of changes in unsubscribe behavior have your clients observed from the Gmail subscribers on their mailing lists?

Yesmail’s Brad van der Woerd: Although the date has yet to be determined, Gmail plans to release reports based on the unsubscribe button that includes details such as the date someone actually clicked “unsubscribe,” the complaint rate and a message identifier. Based on these results, marketers will be able to take a closer look at unsubscribe rates and improve marketing strategies.

Monetate’s Bruce Ernst: We haven’t seen any change so far. We maintain that the most serious unsubscribe issue for marketers is the “mental unsubscribe” – the automatic deletion of an uninteresting, irrelevant email with no notification to anyone.

EcommerceBytes: Has Gmail’s new feature prompted your clients to respond with changes to their email marketing formats? If so, where have they made adjustments to keep their emails appealing to recipients?

Yesmail’s Brad van der Woerd: The best bet for marketers at this point is to follow general marketing best practices, like including company branding within the email and making sure users understand why they are receiving messages. A lot of deliverability related issues can be resolved at the sign up process itself, so we always encourage marketers to consider a preference page for their subscribers so that the subscriber has full control over what emails they want to receive and when.

Monetate’s Bruce Ernst: This and other changes continue to reinforce that the secret to successful email marketing is quality over quantity. We believe the attention we have gotten in the market with our Interact and Engage products is a direct result of the marketers need to be relevant or die.

EcommerceBytes: Ecommerce pros have long made unsubscribe options easy to find within their email messages. Google has prided itself on keeping spam out of its Gmail inboxes. Why do you feel Google decided this additional feature needed to be implemented at this particular time?

Yesmail’s Brad van der Woerd: It removes the situation where a Gmail user needs to search through a marketing email to find the unsubscribe mechanism themselves, and as a result Gmail users should be more satisfied with using Gmail as an email service. According to a Yesmail report, Gmail’s user base is growing the fastest and its users are the most engaged.

Monetate’s Bruce Ernst: This is one for the conspiracy theorists 🙂 Gmail has the best anti-spam capability in the industry and the best experience for its users. The “Promotions” tab, caching images, unsubscribe buttons – these are all very curious for a company that only subtly marks its own promotional search results as ads, and makes it obscure and difficult to opt out of its own promotional content. Makes one wonder about their motives?


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David A Utter
David A Utter
David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. You can find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.