A client asks: “We recently purchased a list of email addresses from a reputable vendor for use in a campaign targeting competitive installations. Do the new Google/Yahoo deliverability rules make using a third-party list too risky? How should we approach the campaign differently?”
First, whereas the new rules (see below) increase the potential risk from using purchased lists, they don’t necessarily render such tactics irrelevant. There are also steps you can take to ensure that any risk is minimized.
Let’s review what the new regulations are, in brief. Yahoo has yet to define their rules in detail, but Google’s are published here and summarized as follows:
The new Google rules affect companies sending 5,000+ emails per day to any Google users, including Gmail accounts but also (crucially) Google Workspace domains. This means, in effect, that you won’t know how much of your list is subject to the new rules. (For example, our agency runs on a Google Workspace account but the domain is unique to us.)
Starting in February 2024, senders exceeding the 5,000 email daily threshold must:
* Authenticate their emails using security protocols such as DKIM, SPF, and DMARC
* Allow unsubscribes by clicking just one link, and honor those unsubscribes within two days
* Maintain a spam complaint rate lower than 0.3%
Yahoo’s rules are expected to be similar. Senders who don’t adhere to the new regulations may get blocked, meaning their emails won’t reach Google or Yahoo users.
House lists (customers, leads, and other opted-in contacts) are not immune. The risk in using house lists may be lower, since (in theory) these contacts have some relationship with your brand and are less likely to prompt spam complaints. But much of the following applies to those lists also.
Now, to recommendations. Let’s start with the obvious, and that is to comply with the letter of the law:
* Ensure your emails are authenticated (your MOPs team can confirm this)
* Audit your unsubscribe process (and re-engineer it, if needed) to ensure that any requests are honored simply and quickly
* Monitor your spam complaint rate closely (again, your MOPs team or agency can provide this data)
You can also eliminate most risk entirely by maintaining bulk email volume to fewer than 5,000 emails a day. That may be a challenge, however, for all but the smallest companies. In the context of a purchased list, you could choose to split the list into multiple, smaller broadcasts. However, remember that the threshold may also include bulk sends from sales tools like SalesLoft or Outreach.
Next, it’s important to recognize that the use of purchased lists doesn’t equate necessarily or solely to mass emailing that list. I wrote recently on this blog about a general, prescribed approach to the use of purchased lists that leans heavily on personalized sales outreach, paid social ads, display advertising, and content syndication, with bulk sends only as a last resort. (As that previous article made clear, emailing to anything but opt-in lists may be at odds with the license agreement of your marketing automation platform (MAP) or email service provider.)
Lastly, these new regulations only reinforce what should be email marketing best practices, regardless:
* Focus on value, not volume
* Strive for relevancy, at all costs (hint: segmentation)
* Offer information that solves problems vs. pitches a product
Note that I don’t mention personalization. Basic, token-based personalization (e.g. “Hi Sally”) is a band-aid at best, and may even increase spam complaints by branding your message immediately as a marketing email. True personalization – understanding your prospect and segmenting message and offer by persona, industry, and other categories – is something else entirely.
In sum: yes, purchased lists are still very much fair game, but to minimize risk you should first and always:
* Ensure your emails are authenticated
* Audit your unsubscribe process
* Watch your spam complaint rate
* Prioritize tactics beyond merely bulk sends
* Know your audience and strive for relevancy at all times
* Adhere to general email marketing best practices
As with the data privacy laws (CAN-SPAM, CASL, GDPR) that preceded them, these new regulations will most impact the bad actors who spam indiscriminately. Responsible marketers who follow the rules, market intelligently, and adhere to best practices have much less to fear. Furthermore, if these new rules are successful in combatting spam, inboxes may become less noisy and the “good” email marketers will have a better opportunity to generate engagement.
UPDATE – in the days following the initial announcement (and this blog post), Google quietly amended the supporting documentation (see support article here) to indicate that the new rules would only apply to Gmail addresses (addresses ending in gmail.com) and NOT Workspace accounts. This change limits the exposure somewhat for most bulk senders but doesn’t alter our key recommendations around following email best practices.