A Deep Dive into Google and Yahoo’s Email Spam Filter Changes

Update Jan. 23, 2024: With an average complaint rate of 2.01%, our new Spam Complaint Rate study suggests B2B marketers are in trouble.

Google and Yahoo recently announced significant changes to their spam filter algorithms, prompting a reevaluation of strategies for email marketers and sales teams engaged in both inbound and outbound marketing efforts.

Here at Customers.ai, we see this as an opportunity for better email marketing campaigns.

Because the reality is, when it comes to email, less is more. The more targeted you get, the better. The more intent signals you have, the better. The more customized your campaigns are, the better they will perform.

If you are doing email the right way, these updates shouldn’t have a significant impact on your business. 

We have a lot more to dig into here. To help our customers and email marketers as a whole better understand what these changes mean, we are going to explain key algorithm changes, discuss their impact, and provide strategic considerations to help navigate these changes successfully.

Two Key Algorithm Changes

  • Mandatory Digital Email Signing.  One noteworthy adjustment is the requirement for senders with over 5,000 emails to use DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) for digital signing. While this is already a best practice, non-signed emails are now treated more suspiciously. Digital signing enhances email authenticity, providing a layer of trust that is crucial.
  • New Complaint Rate Threshold. A complaint rate over 0.3% now poses the risk of being blocked. For context, popular platforms like Mailchimp suspend accounts for a 0.01% complaint rate. It’s also essential to clarify that a complaint occurs when a user marks an email as spam, not when they unsubscribe. 

Understanding & Analyzing Email Dynamics

Understanding email dynamics is essential for devising effective strategies and understanding what these changes mean for performance. 

For instance, many promotional emails land in the promotions tab, effectively reducing the visible complaint rate. If 80% of emails go to the promotions tab, the effective complaint rate could be 5x higher and still be ok for the remaining 20%.

In another instance, if emails are going to spam, people aren’t complaining. Low deliverability actually makes it hard to get spam complaints.

Now, we aren’t advising you to lower your deliverability rates. What we are saying, is you have to understand the dynamics at work to truly understand how this change impacts your campaigns. 

Strategic Considerations for the Google & Yahoo Spam Filter Updates

It boils down to this; If the complaint rate equals the number of complaints divided by total emails sent, the strategy is simple; reduce spam complaints and increase total emails sent. 

Let’s dig into these two factors:

Reducing Spam Complaints

When it comes to reducing spam complaints, there are a number of things to consider. 

  • Clear unsubscribe options are crucial. You may think it’s a good idea to hide your unsubscribe but we’ll be the first to tell you it’s not. If a user can’t find the unsubscribe button, they are more likely to complain and mark you as spam.
  • Multiple unsubscribe links in emails can help reduce complaints. Again, not only is it best to make your unsubscribe visible but we also recommend giving your users several options. Make it easy! Include one in the body and the footer.
  • Use shorter, engagement-based outreach cadences. It’s not about blasting your customers for everything, all the time. Focus on engaging them through timely messaging and relevant content.
  • Diversify outreach communication channels. Go beyond email. Focus on channels like direct messaging or even phone calls.
  • Tighten your target audience. You can create better audiences by layering additional data filters. Better audiences mean more engagement and less complaints.
  • Enhanced email outreach customization is key. The more customized your email is to the individual, the less likely it is they will complain. Utilize segmentation, AI email writers, and make sure you are giving your audience what they want.

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Optimizing Email Volume

If the way to avoid penalties is to reduce spam complaints and increase total emails sent, we have to optimize our email volume. That doesn’t mean buying huge lists and going overboard. In fact, you should never do that.

What it does mean, is being strategic about the database you have and emails you are sending. A few ideas:

  • Maintain inactive contacts. By maintaining some inactive contacts, you can strategically increase email volume without causing complaints. Since you know those people won’t open it, they won’t mark you as spam. It’s worth noting here, we believe that maintaining a clean database of emails is important. But if you are toeing that 0.3% complaint rate line, maybe don’t delete your emails so aggressively. 
  • Increase helpful transactional emails. Emails like order confirmations, tracking information, or purchase follow-ups can help increase email volume and won’t result in complaints. We have seen companies send 3-4 tracking emails alone! 
  • Reduce the use of Slack and online chat. As every email reply from a customer sends positive signals to algorithms, moving all of your conversations away from email could result in a loss of email deliverability. Again, this doesn’t mean we should make the lives of customers harder but we see many companies moving away from email support when it actually could benefit you in the long run. 

Strategic Takeaways: Who Does This Impact?

The biggest takeaway is that we have a number – 0.3%. Both Google and Yahoo have disclosed the threshold for complaint rates. It’s an unusual move and in actuality, helps email marketers. 

Previously, those consistently sending emails, who feared getting penalized, didn’t know what the line was. Now it’s a math equation that can easily be monitored and adjusted.

The question comes down to, “Who does this impact?”. 

The reality is that it’s not the big businesses with established customer bases and large inbound lists. This update actually helps those companies.

They likely have low existing complaint rates and can more easily and safely expand their outbound efforts, especially now that they know the target number.

The challenge will be for start-ups or smaller, less established companies. Specifically, those in the B2B space that may be using more aggressive outbound strategies or have been leaning on ABM to establish their brand. These companies must adhere pretty closely to best practices to avoid hitting the 0.3% threshold. Risk analysis will be crucial in adapting to these changes effectively. 

Customers.ai for Better Email Deliverability 

As mentioned previously, we believe that when done the right way, email is an amazingly effective tool. 

Looking at our own metrics, where we typically send 300,000 emails, our complaint rate is 0.008%, 36 times below the new 0.3% threshold. Here’s a small sample of those (Note 0 abuse reports):

If you are doing outbound marketing based only on ICP, you are in danger. What you should be focusing on is those who are already aware of you. Those who are familiar with your brand or have been to your website.

That’s why we launched our Website Visitor ID X-Ray pixel. It identifies who is on your site and who has interacted with your brand. It prevents the cold outreach that so often results in spam complaints. 

Convert Website Visitors into Real Contacts!

Identify who is visiting your site with name, email and more. Get 500 contacts for free!

On top of it, it allows you to go beyond email. When in doubt, remarket!

If someone has visited your site, specifically an internal landing page, you can feel pretty safe remarketing to that person. Take those emails and put them into your Facebook or Google Ads remarketing lists. You are now reaching out to them but in a less intrusive way that won’t result in spam complaints.

It’s an Exciting Time

The changes in Google and Yahoo’s email spam filters present an exciting opportunity for those who can adapt. We know where the boundaries are! By aligning strategies and tools with these new guidelines, email marketers and sales teams can showcase their expertise and commitment to navigating and succeeding in their email marketing efforts. 

Embracing these changes positions businesses to thrive in the dynamic world of email marketing.

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