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New Google and Yahoo rules governing sending email will lead to an arms race pitting email providers against spammers. Conscientious emailers, caught in the crossfire, will be collateral damage. 

Authentication of outgoing emails, limiting user-reported spam rates and providing simple unsubscribe are the focus of the new rules.

The stated goal of the new rules is laudable: Combat spam, phishing and other malicious activities that undermine user trust in email. Requiring authentication and imposing penalties for user-reported spam (what those penalties are is unknown) should reduce unwanted and harmful emails that reach users’ inboxes. 

Further, these new measures will improve email deliverability and open rates for legitimate marketers, as users become more confident that the emails they receive are from trusted sources. Better email marketing practices will result in an improved user experience and more effective email strategies. By prioritizing quality over quantity, marketers can build stronger relationships with their subscribers and ultimately drive better results. 

But there’s a more sinister interpretation: By mediating the relationship between mail senders and recipients, the platforms will render email marketing much less effective. 

Marketers will be forced to move to more expensive channels like PPC and display advertising; channels controlled and monetized by the very platforms behind the new rules for email delivery. 

If you’ve been in digital marketing for any length of time, you’ve been to this rodeo before.

Dig deeper: How to survive (and learn from) email marketing mistakes

Spammers won’t be deterred

The new email delivery rules won’t deter bad actors. They’ll find ways around them. 

For example, they’ll use email distribution services that sell rotating IP addresses and the tools to warm up hundreds, if not thousands, of email domains. Here’s a description of one such service:

[Bulk email brand X] offers you a high high-power dedicated mass email server that can send up to 1 million emails per day. Each server can have up to 255 dedicated IPs for sending out the emails. Due to this, emails are delivered quickly to multiple recipients with rotating IPs.

For just $600, you can send up to two million emails a month. The price per email decreases with higher volumes. These services have been around for years. I found Reddit threads discussing the practice dating back to 2016. 

Clearly the bad guys are successfully delivering mail, despite Google’s efforts, and have been for years. If getting around email security has been mastered, it’s difficult to imagine that Google, or any single platform that relies on monetizing users, will be able to “solve the spam problem.” 

Legitimate mailers will be collateral damage

Legitimate marketers will suffer the consequences of the new rules, whether intended or not. (Author’s note: I won’t debate where the line between legitimate email and spam is drawn. That’s a topic for another piece.)

Costs will increase. Legitimate marketers will spend more to comply with the ever-changing rules of an increasingly fragmented email landscape. Those expenses will include staff time and software to authenticate the sender’s identity and ensure compliance. 

The new rules will just add to an already complex environment. For years, legitimate emailers suffered the consequences of an ecosystem mediated by email platforms (e.g., Google and Yahoo) and email clients, particularly Microsoft Outlook. 

Google added the “Promotions” tab to the Gmail client in 2013, with the goal of better organizing users’ experiences. Marketers have been attempting to divine the workings of the algorithm that enables that filtering ever since… with little luck and fewer insights. 

By default, Microsoft Outlook doesn’t load images included in emails from external sources. This can dramatically alter the mailer’s intended experiences and presumably the results they achieve. Historically, attempts to get users to change default settings have proved futile. 

Dig deeper: Why it’s time to rethink your feedback emails and how to do it right

Google’s checkered history in creating better experiences 

Google’s attempts to police online user experiences are littered with debris. Core Web Vitals, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and AMP for Email are three examples. Website owners invested time and money to implement and comply with each. They expected to gain an SEO ranking advantage. 

Google abandoned AMP after several years and admitted that Core Web Vitals neither aided nor detracted from SEO efforts. Many site owners felt misled. They’re now skeptical of investing to comply with Google edicts. 

But Google’s not alone in changing the rules. Over the last several years, emailers have complied with an alphabet soup of authentication schemes (SPF, DKIM, DMARC, etc.). All come with a learning curve and investment in implementation and monitoring. 

What happens when these authentication methods are abandoned or Google unilaterally makes them obsolete? We, as an industry, managed to agree on TCP/IP and protocols such as HTTPS, but no such luck with email.

We are all stowaways on this voyage 

Like other endeavors mediated by Google and other platforms, we’ll be reading the tea leaves that govern email delivery indefinitely. The lack of control is unsettling. Efforts to ensure delivery will be expensive.

Here’s what we’ve done so far to play by the “rules” as we understand them: 

  • Implement every available authentication scheme we can: SPF, DKIM, DMARC and even BIMI.
  • Provide one-click unsubscribe options.
  • Write high-quality emails and promotions. 
  • Use third-party tools to validate our code and content. 
  • Monitor soft and hard bounces for warning signs. 
  • Master Google Postmaster Tools to identify any delivery penalties, despite not knowing what those penalties will be. 

You might consider these, and add your own. Also, be vigilant and flexible, ready to navigate uncharted waters of changing “rules” and technological complexity. 

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