The War Against Graymail — How Will It Affect Your Email-Marketing Efforts?

A few months ago, Hotmail focused a lot of attention on the term “graymail,” which is used to describe emails and newsletters that users had opted in to receive but no longer wanted. According to The Windows Blog, graymail accounts for as much as 75% of email classified as spam by users. As a result, Hotmail declared “a war on graymail,” introducing new tools for its users to keep graymail out of their inboxes. So how will this impact the results of your email-marketing campaigns, and what can you do to avoid having your emails classified as graymail? That’s what we discuss in this month’s feature article.

What Is Graymail?

On a scale of black to white, graymail is email that falls somewhere between welcome email messages and spam – depending on the individual recipient’s perspective. In other words, some people may consider the graymail messages as unwanted and “spam,” while others don’t.

Some examples of graymail include:

  • Newsletters that people signed up for but lost interest in over time.
  • Updates from websites and social networks.
  • Newsletters that are sent via pre-checked boxes associated with signing up for another newsletter or service.

How Will the “War on Graymail” Impact Your Email-Marketing Results?

Owned by Microsoft (the developer of Outlook), Hotmail is one of the biggest free webmail providers, accounting for about 12% of the email client share. So that gives you an idea of the approximate percentage of your subscribers who likely use Hotmail as their email client and, therefore, what kind of impact Hotmail’s new tools might have on your email campaigns. Keep in mind, however, that this identification and handling of “graymail” is not unique to Hotmail. For example, other email clients – including Yahoo and Gmail – will automatically route email messages to spam folders due to a lack of response as measured by opens and clicks.

For Hotmail users, one of the primary changes is that newsletters and certain other bulk email will be automatically categorized as “newsletters.” In addition to adding the new category, Hotmail also now enables its users to:

  • Conduct “Schedule Cleanup” that assigns an expiration date for mail from certain senders and automatically deletes messages when they expire (e.g., after a certain number of days, as specified by the user). The Schedule Cleanup also lets Hotmail route newsletters directly into a subfolder or delete them right away, depending on what users specify. Users can also opt to keep only the latest message from certain senders.
  • Unsubscribe in one click from email lists through Hotmail, which will handle the unsubscribe process or block the emails from an identified sender. Plus, users can use the Sweep option to remove old messages from that sender.
  • Flag emails they consider important, which will keep those emails at the top of the list, even as new emails come in.

What Can You Do to Prevent Your Emails from Becoming Graymail?

Although there is currently no way for email marketers to track what percentage of the emails they send become graymail, open rates and inactive subscriber rates are good indicators of whether your content is continuing to engage your subscribers.

The following are eight important ways to help prevent your emails from “going gray”:

  1. Let prospective subscribers know exactly what they’re signing up for. This includes types of emails (e.g., newsletters, sales announcements, coupons) and the frequency you’ll be sending them.
  2. Give subscribers the opportunity to manage what they receive from you. Ask your subscribers what they want to hear about, as well as provide options as to how often they get emails from you.
  3. Ensure your list is opt-in – preferably double opt-in. Double opt-in is when users subscribe to your email-marketing messages and then confirm from their email account that the email address is their own.
  4. Don’t have pre-checked boxes on your subscription forms. This is a classic way to instantly have your emails perceived as spam by recipients and classified as graymail by email clients.
  5. Be sure an unsubscribe option is prominent in all of your emails. If subscribers no longer are interested in receiving your emails, make sure that unsubscribing is clear and easy to do.
  6. Segment your list. Find out as much as you can about the subscribers on your list. Then use that information to optimize the relevancy of your email content for individual subscribers.
  7. Track your inactive subscriber rate and periodically run reengagement campaigns to maintain good list hygiene. For more information about reengaging inactive users, read a previous NewsLever article: “5 Steps for Reengaging the Inactive Users on Your List.”
  8. Continually create valuable content. In other words, make sure every email you send is worth opening – whether it’s useful information in your newsletter, a special discount, breaking news, or an upcoming sales promotion.

Ultimately, the goal is to send email messages that are high quality and have value to your list. If you do that, the war being waged against graymail will likely not hurt you, but rather help you by keeping your emails more front and center with your target audience.

Need help optimizing your email-marketing strategy? Email us or give us a call at 215-489-9336 and the email-marketing experts at FulcrumTech will get you started today.

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