If you haven’t heard, Gmail announced new requirements for bulk email senders.
- Gmail published a blog post announcing the changes, and
- Gmail’s Email sender guidelines went through a series of updates in line with the announcement.
As someone sending cold emails, what should you make of these changes?
I think you should stay calm – contrary to what you may read online.
That being said, let’s discuss the details.
1. In the past couple of months, Gmail has been reworking its email sender guidelines, enforcing stricter rules for those sending bulk email to Gmail users.
2. The first controversial update to the guidelines happened in October 2023 and announced the enforcement of a 0.3% spam complaint rate threshold for bulk senders.
3. In December, Gmail revised the guidelines to emphasize that the 0.3% spam complaint rate only applies to those sending over 5,000 emails per day to PERSONAL Gmail accounts (those ending with @gmail.com or @googlemail.com.) This means it doesn't apply to legitimate cold email senders.
4. I expect Gmail to enforce stricter guidelines for cold emailers soon, but I'm convinced they won't be nearly as strict, so there’s no reason to worry about the future of email outreach.
Gmail’s new requirements – October 2023 update
In the blog post written by Neil Kumaran from Gmail’s Security and Trust team, there are three requirements outlined. Namely, by February 2024, Gmail expects bulk senders to:
- Authenticate their email (implement email authentication protocols – SPF, DKIM, and DMARC).
- Enable easy unsubscription (enable users to unsubscribe in exactly one click, and process unsubscription requests within two days).
- Ensure they’re sending wanted email (observe a clear spam rate threshold).
These rather generic requirements were further explained in the October update to Gmail’s Email sender guidelines.
The document defines “Bulk senders” as those sending 5,000 or more messages a day to Gmail users, and it provides new requirements for all senders and stricter requirements for bulk senders.
Namely, all senders must:
- Set up SPF or DKIM email authentication
- Ensure that sending domains or IPs have valid forward and reverse DNS records
- Keep spam rates reported in Postmaster Tools below 0.3%
- Format messages according to the Internet Message Format standard
- Not impersonate Gmail From: headers
- Add ARC headers to outgoing email if it’s regularly forwarded.
On top of that, bulk senders must:
- Set up DMARC email authentication for your sending domain
- Align the From: header with either the SPF domain or the DKIM domain
- Support one-click unsubscribe, and include a clearly visible unsubscribe link in the message body.
What’s the risk if you don’t abide by the new rules? “Your email might not be delivered as expected, or might be marked as spam.”
Just to reiterate, these regulations would apply to those sending emails TO Gmail users, not FROM a Gmail account.
The new requirements caused a short-lived panic among some cold email practitioners. After all, a spam complaint rate lower than 0.3% is difficult to maintain, even for opt-in email communication. With cold emails, it’s virtually impossible to stay below 0.3%.
But it seems that Gmail noticed the panic and revised the guidelines in December 2023.
Gmail’s revised guidelines – December 2023
In early December, Gmail changed the email sender guidelines again and introduced a key distinction: the guidelines that mention the 0.3% spam complaint rate threshold only apply to those sending to personal Gmail accounts (those ending with @gmail.com or @googlemail.com.)
This means that the policy changes announced in October 2023 were not aimed at cold emailers but rather at spammers who send unsolicited emails to personal accounts, not business accounts set up on Google Workspace.
This makes the world of a difference. Cold email is meant for business purposes, and you shouldn't send email outreach to your prospects' personal email addresses. So the new guidelines don't affect legitimate senders in any way.
I suspect the December update wasn’t really a policy change from Gmail. It was rather a clarification of a miscommunicated policy change.
Before we get reckless, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Spam complaint rate still matters for your deliverability. But don't worry about the 0.3% threshold.
- If you send cold emails to personal accounts, you should... stop.
Most importantly, does the December change to the guidelines mean that Gmail won't enforce any stricter rules for cold email?
Of course not. If there's an initiative at Gmail to use the spam complaint rate to identify and eliminate spammers, it's likely that we'll soon see some new regulations aimed specifically at those sending cold emails to Google Workspace accounts.
However, I'm convinced the rules won't be nearly as strict:
Would Gmail want to penalize a plurality (or majority) of its customers?
At Hunter, we send automated email comms to the users of our product. It's fully opt-in, and these emails are meant to help you get more value from Hunter.
And our average spam complaint rate in the past 120 days borders on 0.3%.
Think of your own business. Even if you stopped sending email outreach, are you confident that you'd be able to keep your spam complaint rate lower than 0.3%?
I don't think so.
But I still expect Gmail to introduce some changes in 2024.
And since I continually monitor Gmail's guidelines, I'll let you know when it happens!