Aug 31, 2010

Gmail gives engagement priority

special-offer-guyGotta love Google for continuously innovating with email. Gmail just launched Priority Inbox, which automatically sorts your "important" email to the top. You can read more about it on Mashable:

Gmail Priority Inbox Launches: Your Email Will Never Be the Same

The basic idea is that Gmail will prioritize email from senders that you interact with the most.

Some of our customers are already asking me how this impacts email marketers. How can we get our emails "prioritized"?

First, here’s some information from their support docs that explains how Gmail Priority works…


In order to predict which messages are important to you, Gmail uses some of the same technology that it uses to weed spam out of your Inbox.

Automatically determining importance
To predict which of your incoming messages are important, Gmail automatically takes into account a number of signals, including:

  • Who sent the email (For example, if you email Bob a lot, it’s likely that messages from Bob are important.)
  • What terms it includes (If you always read messages about soccer, a new message that contains those same soccer words is more likely to be important.)
  • The actions that help us determine which people/terms are important to you include: replying, using stars, archiving, deleting (Messages you star are probably more important than messages you archive without opening.)

This is all done automatically, and no humans ever read your mail.

The takeaway for email marketers? Well, it’s kind of the same old story. Send awesome emails. If your recipients are more engaged and interact with your emails more often, you get priority. Here are some tips for sending more engaging emails…

Get to know your engaged subscribers

In MailChimp, you can run a segment on your most engaged customers. If you haven’t read Juliana’s tutorial on using our segmentation tool, read that first.

For example, I went into our MonkeyWrench email newsletter list, and created a segment like this:


These are my most engaged recipients (using MailChimp’s built-in "Member Rating" feature to find people with greater than 3 stars) who clicked on our recent MonkeyWrench newsletter, and (just for kicks), who use Gmail.

It gives me back a couple hundred people who match all the above criteria.

Next, I alt-clicked on all the "view" buttons to open up those recipients’ profiles in new browser tabs. Then I just browsed through all the member profiles to learn "what makes them click."

If you try this exercise yourself, you’ll notice how we’ve redesigned the member profile page. It pulls in your subscriber’s gravatar (if it exists). This, imho, is huge. Seeing your subscribers’ faces can have a really profound effect on you. If you’ve got our Social Pro add-on enabled, we’ll pull that recipient’s social graph into the profile page, including their twitter or facebook avatar, a little demographic information, and more. Our geo-targeting functionality even gives you a rough approximation of where the subscriber is from. With the new profile design, you can learn a lot more about your subscribers than you could in the past.

Here’s one of my "engaged gmailer" members:


At the bottom of the profile page, you’ll see his recent click history. What’s interesting to me is he clicked on the links to some of the nerdiest, most technical articles we wrote about in that newsletter (ZDnet’s article on Facebook’s Like-powered semantic search engine, MailChimp’s new Facebook-friendly image tagging trick and an article on Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm).

And this was the same for almost every member profile I opened up from this segment. They all clicked the same set of links about Facebook, Facebook’s Like button, and our Facebook image tagging trick.

Speaking of the Like button, MailChimp’s Like tracking feature allowed me to see who "Liked" my campaign on Facebook.

So I took a look at those member profiles as well:


Theoretically, these are my subscribers who liked the newsletter enough to share it with their friends.

Same deal. These members were mostly interested in the nerdy content:


My favorite part of this research is that the most-clicked link across my entire list was our "Let’s Get Social" guide, and that was located way down at the bottom of the email:


Nice to know our readers are actually reading all the way down to the bottom like that.

So use your campaign stats to find out what content your subscribers are clicking.

Then, send more of that stuff.

Be more human, get more replies

You’re probably wondering how you can get more of your subscribers to reply to your emails, since that’s one of the criteria Gmail uses to determine priority.

I’ve tinkered around with this idea myself. I took our MailChimp company newsletter, and switched the reply-to and "from" information from a role address (newsletter@) to my own personal information (ben@). Either way, the replies go to me, and I always answer them. But when I changed it to ben@, I got way more replies than normal. Also, the replies were of a different nature than usual. Less tech support, and more personal encouragement and stuff. It was a fascinating experiment for me.

I got the idea while using Rapportive (a really cool plugin for Gmail), and seeing Jon Swanson’s face whenever I opened his email newsletter. I blogged about it all here:

Making your emails more human with Rapportive

Our webinar team is taking this idea to another level. They’ve created a special twitter account and Facebook page for their webinars@mailchimp address. They’ve setup an avatar (using our gigantic Freddie mascot aka "Big Freddie") and gave him a bio. All in order to make their emails we send more human. Rapportive is actually working on ways to pull in your company’s information as well, so you don’t have to go to these lengths. We’re just a little crazy about this stuff.

They can’t engage if they never open

None of the tips above are gonna help you if you can’t even get your recipients to open your email. So you might want to brush up on writing effective subject lines. We’ve also found that segmenting your list often leads to better open rates (about 14% on average).

You should definitely try out MailChimp’s Subject Line Suggester tool to see how certain keywords have worked on other users’ campaigns:

The subject line suggester anonymously aggregates subject line data we’ve collected across hundreds of thousands of users. It’s a great way to start your subject line research. Sometimes, it even gives me new, adjacent ideas for my subject lines. After that, you can do some automated A/B testing of different subject line ideas.

They can’t open if they don’t get it

Finally, no matter how good your subject line is, it’s not going to help you if gmail blocks your message.

That’s why we built MailChimp’s Delivery Doctor.

Before you send your message, run it through Delivery Doctor, and we’ll see if it gets blocked or accepted at Gmail. If it’s blocked, we’ll dissect it to try to find out why. We’ll send another copy without images, and see if that helps (sometimes, image-heavy images can get you blocked). We’ll send a copy with a different subject line, to see if that’s the culprit. And on and on, until we (hopefully) find the problem.

The tests usually only take a few minutes (amazing, when you think about the number of variables we’re testing). Of course, if Delivery Doctor can’t find the answer, you can do a deeper analysis with our Inbox Inspector.

Be realistic

If you’re an email marketer sending daily coupons, there’s just no way you’re going to out-prioritize a subscriber’s girlfriend in their inbox.

I know that for a fact, because Gmail makes this abundantly clear in their video:


See, the "special offer guy" is sinking into a trap door.

Poor guy.

Gmail or not, he should’ve been asking the question smart email marketers have always asked: "What can I do to make people love my emails?"