Gmail’s unsubscribe button – what it means for marketing

Skip Fidura, our Director of Client Services, weighs in on Google’s recent announcement that the Unsubscribe button has entered Gmail’s main user interface.

“It’s the end of the World as we know it…and I feel fine”
– REM, 1987

I am probably showing my age (this was a favorite Friday anthem in University), but this song has been floating around my head over the past few days since Gmail’s UI change has kicked off the email doom and gloom story du jour.

In case you haven’t heard, Gmail recently changed their user interface to include an unsubscribe button next to the senders from name.

Gmail's new Unsubscribe button

In the recent days, many have written varying views on the meaning of all of this. However, one headline that caught my eye was from eConsultancy, “Gmail offers unsubscribe link and the world of email marketing comes to an end.”

So, the first fact that we need to cover off is that this functionality is not new.  All Google has done is move their native unsubscribe functionality from a drop down menu in their navigation bar to be more prominent is the users email header. Most email marketers did not even realize that Gmail offered this functionality, so when it appeared earlier this week they thought it was something new.

Is this really the end of email marketing?

In short, no.The end is at hand sign

Too many marketers worry that making their unsubscribe link prominent will lead to a mass exodus.  This is the same kind of negative thinking I mentioned in my blog post “When is too much email marketing not enough?” If your email program is so weak that you are afraid your readers would leave if given a chance, then why are you sending it at all?

Putting your unsubscribe link at the top of your email template has been considered best practice for years. Hiding it at the bottom of your email in a small light gray font is like avoiding your partner when you are about to get dumped. Not answering the phone will prevent you from being single in the very near term but the longer you put it off, the worse it will be.

We can also look back at the introduction of the “This is Spam” button as a predictor of the likely impact of this change.  In the short term you may see an increase in your unsubscribe rate but these are people who were not engaged with your brand in the first place, unlikely to buy from you no matter how many emails you send them.

I can already hear that little niggle of doubt creeping into your head. But Skip, that button would label me a Spammer, a big step for a consumer to take! An unsubscribe is much less offensive and thus, the easy consumer option.

Reality check: your recipients define any email that is unwanted at the moment they see it, as Spam – and they aren’t worried about your feelings to care about calling you a spammer. Your recipients have had the functionality to get off your list for years and haven’t.

What’s in it for Google?

Hopefully, you’ve stopped panicking, are coming to grips with the Gmail change and the fact that it won’t impact you noticeably. You might have started wondering, why would Google make this change? What is in it for them?

Based on what they are saying, it looks like they want to identify more accurately what is and what isn’t Spam. In fact, Vijay Eranti (Head of Google’s anti-abuse efforts was quoted as saying, “One of the biggest problems with the Gmail spam filter is identifying unwanted mail or soft spam.” Users are signing up for emails but then use the Spam button when they no longer want to receive these emails, sending the wrong signal to Google about that message in particular, and about that sender in general.

He attributes this to consumers not being able to find the unsubscribe functionality – but I also suspect that some of this is the continuing urban myth that marketers use unsubscribe requests to identify valid email addresses. Eranti went on to say that Google wants to “empower users with an easy way to control what they want to receive,” which is conveniently aligned with what we want to achieve as marketers.  Email is a direct one-to-one channel. If somebody no longer wants to receive your email, we should make it as easy as possible for them to get off the list.

Why this is all good news

The change will help us keep marketers’ lists clean and allow us to keep delivering email into the Gmail inbox – albeit most likely into the promotions tab.  They have further helped us by also implementing a feedback loop – when a recipient does click the Spam button, we can now take appropriate action on our side.

The moral of the story is to take a breath and don’t panic. Look at your analytics, test and test again, be clear in your message and listen to your consumers – i.e. what you’ve been doing all along! Your emails are good. Be proud of them

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