November 10, 2023

Navigating Google’s updated inactive account policy: A guide for email marketers

👋 Hello newsletter enthusiasts,

As the year winds down, many email marketers campaigns are ramping up.

From Cyber Monday to holiday campaigns, the next couple of months might feature some of your highest volume sends of the year.

But, are you aware that Google is gearing up for some digital decluttering that could impact your email strategy?

On May 16, 2023, Google announced a policy update to delete inactive accounts from its system. This initiative seems to be part of broader efforts to enhance security across Google services, including the recent updates to sender requirements, placing a growing emphasis on digital hygiene and email best practices.

So, what does this mean for you and your email marketing efforts?

☕️ 🫖 Grab a cozy beverage, and let’s dive in!

🔍️ What is Google’s new policy regarding inactive accounts?

In an era where digital security is paramount, Google has announced a policy that will see the deletion of inactive accounts to safeguard against potential vulnerabilities. This measure is part of a larger strategy to protect sensitive information from being compromised due to account neglect.

Key details of Google’s updated policy include:

  • Two-year inactivity threshold: Any account that hasn’t shown signs of activity for more than two years is at risk of deletion. This encompasses data across various Google services, including Gmail, Google Docs, Drive and Photos, among other services.
  • Exemptions to the rule: The policy focuses on personal Google Accounts. Google Accounts associated with business, education or Google Workspace seem to be exempt.
  • Phased implementation: The policy went into effect on May 16, 2023, the same day as the announcement, but account deletions will start ~December 2023, following a gradual, phased approach. Google also mentioned that before deleting an account, they will “send multiple notifications over the months leading up to deletion, to both the account email address and the recovery email (if one has been provided).”

This new policy from Google underscores the growing importance of managing digital footprints proactively. It seems to be a part of Google's broader efforts to ensure that user data isn't left unattended on the web, since inactive accounts are often less secure and can become targets for malicious activities.

📧 The impact on email marketing

Google's latest policy could signal a pivotal shift in how email marketers approach subscriber list management. While the policy update may initially seem disruptive, it actually aligns with industry best practices for maintaining healthy, engaged email lists.

Active engagement contributes to better deliverability and protects your reputation as a sender.

The consequences of neglecting list hygiene could lead to an inflated subscriber count, skewed engagement metrics and a heightened risk of hard bounces. Accounts that Google marks as inactive and subsequently deletes will result in hard bounces if you send to them, which can significantly harm your sender reputation.

The cost of complacency: Hard bounces and your Sender Score

As Google begins to delete inactive accounts, and if they’re still on your email list, it will likely lead to a rise in hard bounces. Hard bounces occur when emails are sent to addresses that no longer exist, which can severely tarnish your sender reputation.

These potential hits to your sender reputation can take time and effort to rebuild. It's crucial to get ahead of this by cleaning your lists of inactive subscribers. Your best defense is a good offense — prune those inactive accounts before Google does.

Side note: Your Email Service Provider (ESP) might already be purging hard bounces from the system, but they also might not. It’s helpful to check in with your ESP or review documentation.

For those already practicing diligent list hygiene, Google's inactive account policy will reinforce your ongoing efforts. But for anyone without a Sunset Policy, it's time to put one in place.

Google's policy update offers a blueprint for identifying and managing inactive subscribers based on user activity — or the lack thereof.

Unsure of what a Sunset Policy is? Keep reading:

🧽 Sunset policies: A critical component of list hygiene

If you're already keeping watch on your subscriber list's health, you may be familiar with the concept of a Sunset Policy.

Those with a Sunset Policy — a strategy for removing subscribers who don't engage with your emails — will find Google's move aligns with practices you likely already follow.

For those without such a policy, consider this a nudge towards proactive list management, and a prompt to tidy up your email lists.

The Sunset Policy journey

1️⃣ Define inactivity: Establish what “inactive” means for your list. This could be based on not opening emails* for a specific period, not clicking on any links, or not making any purchases.

*Consider metrics that indicate direct interaction, such as clicks and conversions, rather than solely relying on email opens — which can be an indicator, but are less reliable due to privacy measures such as Apple Mail Privacy Protection (MPP).

It’s also important to determine a time frame that aligns with your communication frequency — it could be inactivity for more than 30, 60, 90 or whatever # number of days.

2️⃣ Notification before removal: Prior to removing inactive subscribers based on your defined criteria, send them an email encouraging engagement, and let them know they need to do so with X amount of days. This email should inform them that they're at risk of being removed due to inactivity and provide them with a clear call-to-action.

3️⃣ Clear Call-to-Action: Give subscribers an easy way to stay on the list. This could be as simple as clicking a link that confirms their desire to continue receiving emails.

Here’s an example of some copy:

…but we encourage you to learn more about Sunset Policies here!

“Hello! We noticed you haven't been engaging with our emails lately. We don't want to clutter your inbox with unwanted emails, so we're giving you the option to stay connected with us. If you'd like to continue receiving updates and offers, just click below before [DATE] or within [30 days]. Otherwise, we'll respectfully remove you from our list.”

This email can be a step in your Sunset Policy, emphasizing the subscriber's autonomy in choosing to stay engaged with your brand while also upholding list hygiene standards.

📯 With Google's policy change on the horizon, consider reaching out to your dormant subscribers now

With Google's updated policy to delete inactive accounts fast approaching, now is the opportune time to establish or refine your Sunset Policy.

Consider the following steps:

1️⃣ Assess your list: Look specifically at subscribers with Gmail email addresses. How many have been inactive based on your criteria established above? These are likely the subscribers most immediately at risk of being purged by Google, and if you don’t remove them, will later translate to hard bounces.

2️⃣ Launch targeted campaigns: Before Google starts purging inactive accounts, launch a re-engagement campaign tailored to Gmail email addresses. You could include a message about the upcoming Google policy update alongside a clear Call-to-Action (CTA) to prevent these subscribers from being removed from not only your email list, but Google’s systems.

3️⃣ Broader campaigns: Beyond Gmail, you could think about creating a campaign that motivates engagement across your entire subscriber base. This helps ensure that all users, including those with Gmail accounts, maintain active status.

➕ Bonus observation

As you’re ensuring subscriber engagement, don’t overlook the technical aspect of email authentication. Methods such as SPF, DKIM and DMARC are not just good practices — they will soon be requirements for some senders. But it really is becoming more of a necessity than an option.

These protocols verify your emails and help maintain your sender reputation, aligning with Google’s upcoming sender requirements going into effect ~February 1, 2024.

🎁 Wrapping up

As Google's policy on inactive accounts begins its process of account deletion starting ~December 2023, it might be a good time to think about how your subscriber list is managed and what is an active or inactive subscriber.

Here’s a quick recap to guide you through these changes:

  • Segmentation is critical: Begin with a precise look at your Gmail subscribers. Identifying those at risk of account deletion helps you target your efforts effectively, and understand the impact on the updated policy on your email marketing.
  • Engagement is essential: A re-engagement campaign is your first line of defense. Send a message to subscribers with Gmail addresses with a clear call-to-action to remain subscribed, and if they don’t, remove them from your email list. Especially before Google does, since that email address may likely lead to a hard bounce.
  • Broaden your approach: Extend your outreach beyond Gmail. Keeping all your subscribers engaged is a best practice that pays dividends beyond the scope of Google’s policy updates.

Next steps for email marketers:

This moment is an opportunity to strengthen your engagement strategies and refine your list management practices. As you put these plans into action, remember:

  • Proactivity prevents problems: Don’t wait for Google to act. Take control of your subscriber list now to prevent future deliverability issues.
  • Drive engagement: Implement strategies such as re-engagement campaigns and personalized content to keep subscribers active.
  • Adapt your policy: Consider developing a Sunset Policy if you haven’t already, defining engagement and a timeline for when to remove inactive subscribers from your list.
  • Continuous improvement is key: Use this update as a catalyst for ongoing list hygiene and engagement practices. It's an investment in the health and longevity of your subscriber base.
  • Monitor and adapt: Monitor deliverability metrics, but especially post-Google policy implementation, and be ready to adapt your strategies accordingly.

In conclusion, while Google's policy might present new challenges, it also offers an opportunity to refine your email marketing strategies for better engagement and deliverability. By taking proactive steps now, you can ensure that your email marketing efforts remain effective and that your messages continue to land in the inboxes of interested and engaged subscribers.

Remember, the goal is not just to avoid being swept away by the tide of digital policy changes but to ride the wave to even greater email marketing success! Keep those lists clean and those subscribers engaged!

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