Have you noticed all the changes to Gmail over the past year? Google has been busy upgrading the Gmail app with a visual redesign and other helpful features, such as a confidential mode and smart replies. But one new feature is raising concern with email marketers: predictive unsubscribe.

A historic move among ISPs, Gmail will proactivelyrecommend that users unsubscribe from mailing lists that they haven’t engaged with recently to help reduce inbox clutter. Gmail’s suggestions are based on important information, like how many emails a user receives from individual senders and how many of these emails they actually open.

So when people get a lot of marketing emails from a company and never engage with them, the Gmail app will start automatically prompting users to unsubscribe in an effort to help them optimize their inboxes. This means unsubscribing requires nothing more than an easy tap; users don’t even need to open an email and find an unsubscribe link to do it.

Gmail's Predictive Unsubscribe

Many email marketers are concerned that these changes will hinder their ability to reach their audience and unfairly trim their subscriber lists, and they’re worried that other email service providers like Yahoo! are developing similar app features. But before you panic, know that marketing automation can help you engage these folks – keeping them on your mailing list.

Remember, the main goal of email marketing should always be getting people to open and engage with your emails – not keeping unengaged and uninterested subscribers on your list forever. An unopened email doesn’t serve anyone.

Audience Engagement is the Key

Gmail’s unsubscribe feature isn’t trying to destroy everyone’s marketing efforts. Instead, it’s giving businesses an ultimatum:

Engage your audience, or we will help them unsubscribe.

Marketing Automation Drives Audience Engagement

So what can you do to engage your subscribers? One of the main benefits of marketing automation is that it allows you to send the right message to the right person at the right time. Whether it’s a lead nurturing email that offers a piece of content based on a subscriber’s particular product interest, or a personalized follow-up email after a sales demo, knowing exactly where a lead is in your pipeline is vital to creating a message that will truly resonate.

Here are some specific ways to use marketing automation to offer real value to your audience with an eye toward engagement, so they won’t be prompted to unsubscribe.

1. Create personalized messages

The more relevant your message is to individual subscribers, the more likely they are to engage. Use your marketing automation platform to gather data on leads, like their demographics and known attributes, so you can segment your audience into dynamic lists and create valuable content that speaks to their individual needs. With features like personas, dynamic content, and A/B testing, you have everything you need to for each segment of your audience.

2. Send behavioral-based emails

Beyond crafting the right message, it’s critical to send every email at the right time in a buyer’s unique journey. To accomplish this, you need insight into every engagement with your brand – not just email engagement. Your email strategy should not be siloed from your other tactics.

A fully integrated marketing automation solution allows you to send behavioral-based emails to each subscriber based on their known actions – like how they’re interacting with your website and social channels, or based on their last conversation with a salesperson. Marketing automation empowers you to stop using piecemeal information and instead start tracking leads in real time through every stage of the funnel, so you can send data-driven communication that’s optimally timed for conversion.

3. Optimize email volume

Over-delivering is one of the most common mistakes email marketers make. Instead, reducing unengaged subscribers with fewer emails and a higher open rate is the way to go. Sending out too many emails or the wrong kind of emails can annoy your audience rather than nurture them into customers. If someone signs up for your newsletter, don’t start sending them 10 sales emails per week. Deliver what they signed up for, and optimize for volume. Use analytics from your email campaigns to find the right cadence for engaging with your audience.

4. Re-engage subscribers before they disengage

By the time subscribers stop reading your emails, it might be too late to re-engage them. It’s better to reach out to your audience at key points to keep them interested in your business before they disengage.

There are lots of helpful analytics features you can use to determine if subscribers are likely to engage with your emails. Your marketing automation platform should be able to calculate engagement scores for individual subscribers beyond just opens and clicks, including website visits, form fills, social activity and more.

Keeping Engagement Your Main Marketing Goal

Gmail rolled out its predictive unsubscribe feature to help make inboxes less crowded. This is actually great news for serious marketers. It’s now easier for people to weed out promotional emails from annoying or spammy businesses, letting your valuable message stand out in less-crowded inboxes.

There are a lot of key performance indicators to focus on as a marketer – like site traffic, sales, and conversions – and it’s easy to push engagement down as a secondary indicator of marketing performance. But in reality, it’s the core metric that drives all the others. Gmail’s unsubscribe feature just serves as a reminder of how important engagement is for email marketers today.

Jon Marburger
Jon Marburger
Director of Email Deliverability and Product Utilization, SharpSpring