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Ankit Prakash in Transactional Emails

Marketers Terminologies: Gmail vs Outlook Vs Yahoo Mailbox

Email marketing is touted as the most popular and effective form of reaching out to users and clients. In order to have a successful email campaign, a lot of factors need to be kept in mind. The foremost of all is to understand how your email provider works. A majority of users have more than one email account, either with the same email provider or with different providers, like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook.  Whether you steer the discussion to Gmail vs Outlook, or Gmail vs Outlook vs Yahoo! Mail, it is a fact that any user with multiple email accounts would want to log into all of them from one place. Outlook’s inbox does allow to login to five other email accounts, unlike Gmail. Every mailbox provider has a unique way of filtering spams.If you have Gmail accounts, you can add accounts and sign in from one place.gmail vs outlook vs yahoo

According to the listing on Top 10 Reviews, Gmail lists on #1 position out of the top 10 free email service providers, followed by Outlook at #2 and Yahoo! Mail at #3.

gmail vs outlook

Gmail vs Outlook

This article will take you through the ways in which email deliverability works, how each mailbox provider fights spam, major points of Gmail vs outlook and so on. To begin with, email deliverability is largely driven by the content and reputation filtering. Studies have shown that permission-based emails mostly fail to reach the receivers’ inboxes. As mailboxes get smarter with the way spams are being kept at bay, receivers are enjoying a clutter-free inbox! We will begin with Gmail, one of the most popular email providers.

Gmail

Launched in 2004, Gmail purchased the domain name gmail.com in 2005.

As of 2012, Gmail recorded around 425 million active users and a 44.3% usage of the Gmail app in the US.

It took just 24 hours for Gmail to launch its logo design after getting launched.

Unlike its competitors, Gmail fails to provide

  • Tools or support for senders
  • Feedback loops
  • Use of public blacklists
  • Lot of direction
  • Whitelists
Gmail vs Outlook

However, in this article, we’ll talk about all of these. As we will go through the details of how Gmail functions, it will also bring into the limelight another important facet: Gmail vs Outlook. Although this article is not intended towards a direct comparison, but when you are talking about such popular mailboxes, comparisons are bound to seep in!

How Gmail Filters Spam

So, how does Gmail identify a spam email?
Gmail does not use any separate rocket science for this. Like all other major mailbox providers, Gmail too relies on its community to determine a spam mail. To identify a spam mail, here are the 7 filtering points Gmail considers:

  1. Emails that a majority of users have reported as spam
  2. Emails that a majority of users have not reported as spam
  3. Emails that have been read
  4. Emails that have been read and then deleted
  5. Messages that have been starred
  6. Messages to which a majority of the users have replied
  7. Inbox activities of the users

To sum it up, Gmail accesses the ways in which its community deals with a particular email from any brand. And now let’s check the broader aspect of how Gmail filters spam

Content as a major filtration key

The content of the email headers, email subjects, email body and attachments are a source for keywords, images, HTML codes, URLs, viruses, malware and other components. Content has been tied to the overall spam filtering, but the weight it carries is usually dependent on the reputation of the sender the emails.

Gmail gauges users’ reactions to emails from new IP addresses

Usually, Gmail blocks any new IP address without a reputation for the initial 2 to 24 hours. Then, it sends out the email in small parts to gauge how the receivers react. If a majority of the users mark it as ‘not spam’, then Gmail concludes it to be safe. Else, it ensures that any email from that IP address always lands in the spam box only.

More the engagement, better the reputation

The number of active users affects the email reputation and inbox replacement. Various studies conducted have supported this fact.

Blacklist is not very Common with Gmail

Evidence shows that Gmail does not directly consider blacklist, but it can widely affect your email reputation. There is a correlation between spam filtering at Gmail and Spamhaus.

Shift from Google Postini Services

Google is the owner of both, Gmail and Postini products. However, each service uses their own unique proprietary technology.

The Postini products were mainly used by Corporations to manage their enterprise emails. However, by the end of 2013, all the Postini users were urged to shift to Google Apps.

In case you find your message stuck in the Google Postini Services’ spam filter, you can use the Message Analyser. This allows you to examine the tags in the email header closely and figure out the issue. Although you might encounter slight issues with this, the only option to get through it is to test different contents and see which one surpasses the filters.

Email Infrastructure

Gmail has laid down few points to keep in mind if you want a proper email set up. They are as follows:

  1. Use the same IP Address(es) to send emails.
  2. Make sure that the rDNS is valid for sending IP addresses pointing to your domain.
  3. Use the “From:” domain based on the type of email.
  4. Use DKIM and SPF to authenticate sending domains.

Authenticate your Email

You must implement SPF and DKIM authentication. It is important for your From: domain to match with the d= in your DKIM. Those who use shared IPs at ESPs must ensure that they have signed the DKIM with their unique signing domain. The signing should be something like this: d=esp.client.com rather than d=esp.com
If for any given reason you fail to authenticate, then Gmail will create a ‘best-guess’ record and try to match the IP with your domain in order to authenticate the email.

Partners

Gmail has no partners but thousands of hosted business domains that use Google Apps. 

Postmaster Services

Google postmaster includes the following:Google postmaster

Google Bulk Sender Guidelines

The best way to reach the user’s inbox is to comply with Gmail’s Bulk Sender Guidelines, as follows: 

  1. Make sure to publish an SPF record and sign with DKIM.
  2. Make sure to get permission.
  3. Your unsubscription link should be prominent.
  4. “Not Spam” clicks informs Gmail the messages are solicited.
  5. Use different emails for promotional and transactional.

Senders can complain if their emails are sent to the spam folder in spite of following the best practices, via the Bulk Sender Contact Form.

Feedback Loop

Gmail does not provide feedback loop services according to the conventional sense. The unsubscribe feature only works for senders with a good reputation. This is done to prevent abuse.

For this feature to work correctly; the following things are required:

  • An unsubscribe header should be present which suggests that users can easily unsubscribe to the emails being sent.
  • Sending domains should publish an SPF authentication record; they should also sign the outgoing email with DKIM, and also pass at least one authentication protocol.
  • The sender should have a good reputation within Gmail system.
What is a list-unsubscribe?

List-Unsubscribe header is a piece of text which is optional and can be added to the header of your emails. Recipients cannot see this header itself, but they can see an Unsubscribe button on which they can click if they want to stop receiving emails from a particular sender in future.

For a sender, including a List-Unsubscribe header in their emails will drastically reduce complaints rates, improve deliverability and enhance the experience for the subscribers. The List-Unsubscribe header is easy to operate and is for free. Having a List-Unsubscribe header is viewed positively by most ISPs and spam filters. It also allows unsubscribing reputation services such as Lashback to analyze unsubscribe compliance more accurately. User feedback is one of the most significant factors in deliverability at the major ISPs. Including an Unsubscribe button for the senders with a good reputation will heavily reduce “false positive” spam complaints, reduce huge numbers of customer service requests, and improve the experience for your customers.

Methods to Unsubscribe:

Gmail gives you the option to unsubscribe. If you get large amounts of spams from a sender, you can unsubscribe to them. Users can access the list-unsubscribe functionality by showing message details to Gmail.

Showing Message Details:

To see list-unsubscribe link, the user needs to expand the message details by clicking on the small arrow next to “<> to me.” This arrow brings down the message details list and also the “Unsubscribe from this sender” hyperlink at the bottom.

Report Spam and Unsubscribe

This method triggers a spam complaint; the sender will get a notification to unsubscribe. 

Whitelists and Prioritised Delivery

Gmail doesn’t provide any whitelist or third-party whitelists.

Gmail Inboxes

Mailbox providers have been offering ways to deal with your inboxes. This, in turn, has led to the emergence of Graymail. Graymail lies between legitimate emails and spams. These usually comprise of the overwhelming amount of newsletters, coupons, promotional emails and advertisements that have been legitimately opted in but become non-essential over time and turn into pure annoyance at some point of time.

Gmail Priority Inbox

Gmail Priority inbox was launched in September 2010. It uses predictive analytics and manual feedback to identify the important emails. The messages are predicted on how important they are by Gmail according to past results. Gmail makes this decision on the priority of your emails according to the open rates, how often they are starred or read, and marked as spam.

User Interface Features

Gmail works round the clock to provide a clean UI for its users. Better UI means better engagement.

Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox and Category Labels

Gmail innovated its inbox by releasing a new email feature which is based on labels and inbox tabs in May 2013. Gmail’s tabbed inbox has become the default view for new Gmail accounts. Gmail users still have the option of turning the tabs off. Five labels correspond within the inbox. The five labels are as follows:

  1. Primary: These include personal conversation messages that do not appear on other tabs.
  2. Social: These messages are from social media sites, online dating services, online community sites, media-sharing sites, and other types of social websites.
  3. Promotions: These comprise of just deals, offers, promotions and other forms of marketing emails.
  4. Updates: These include auto-generated updates, personal updates like bank statements, bills, booking confirmations and receipts.
  5. Forums: This category puts together messages from online groups, chat rooms, discussion boards and mailing lists.

Gmail users have total control on how individual messages and emails are labeled.

  • You can select your desired tab from “Move to tab” menu by right- clicking on it.
  • By starring a message, it will appear in the primary inbox.
  • You can label an email as important.
  • You can also drag a message to the primary inbox.

Gmail prompts the users asking if they would like all future messages from a particular sender to go into a selected tab. If you wish so, select yes so that all messages from that sender will automatically be sent to the primary folder or your choice of folder.

Outlook

After Gmail, we have Outlook from the desks of Microsoft. Like mentioned earlier, Gmail vs outlook will now be evident as we go on to discuss the introduction of Outlook to the world and how it handles spam filtering.

In 2013, Microsoft rebranded Hotmail and Windows Live Mail to Outlook.com. It was a very bold and fruitful move by Microsoft. Hotmail was launched in 1996. It was the first web-based email service to be released to the world. Hotmail continues to be one of the most famous and important domains of the world.

Outlook.com follows Microsoft’s Metro design language and closely mimics the interface of Microsoft Outlook. It has features like unlimited storage, contacts management, a calendar and a very close integration with OneDrive, Office Online, and Skype. There are about 400 million users of Outlook.com. This site receives about eight billion emails a day and about 30%-35% of those emails reach the inboxes. Microsoft has their offices around the world to support their email infrastructure. They have designed tools and services to fit the needs of their diverse global audience.

Spam Filtering

As mentioned repeatedly, every mailbox provider has its unique ways of handling spam filtering. And Outlook is no different. The spam filtration in Outlook enlists the following:

Smart Screen: Outlook is equipped with Microsoft’s patented SmartScreen. SmartScreen is an anti-spam filtering technology. In this technology a machine learning approach is used to help protect users’ inboxes from spams. SmartScreen technology acquires its information from known junk emails, such as virus infected emails, spam, and phishing threats. It also gets its information from reports of Outlook.com’s users who have willingly participated in the Feedback Loop Program (FBL).

Sender Reputation Data: Outlook.com considers factors like volume, spam traps and spam complaints into their spam filtering like many other ISPs. But, Outlook.com places a significant proportion of their spam filtering decisions from the data they receive from their Sender Reputation Data (SRD) network. Sender Reputation Data (SRD) network is referred as Spamfighter Club by Microsoft.

Postmaster Services

Similar to Gmail, Microsoft’s Outlook also enlists certain postmaster services, as follows:

  1. Smart Network Data Services (SNDS): Smart Network Data Services (SNDS) is a free service offered by Outlook.com that provides data on email volume, subscriber complaints, spams, spam traps, and many more issues. It uses a color code system which indicates a sender’s trust-worthiness:
    • Green indicates a positive sending reputation and a higher inbox placement rates.
    • Yellow signals some reputation issues starting to surface and a mix of the inbox and junk folder arrangements.
    • Red means that there are some serious underlying reputation problems, which are causing most, if not all the emails sent to the spam folder.
  2. Junk email Reporting Program (JMRP) and SRD together assist to train and improve the way in which SmartScreen technology classifies messages based on their content and sender reputation. The participants of the SRD program are selected from active Outlook.com users randomly from over 200 countries. You cannot volunteer for this program without being handpicked by the website. Participants vote on whether or not they think that a particular email looks spam-like.

Message Features

Outlook’s mailbox includes the following message features:

  1. Scheduled Clean-up: A scheduled clean-up allows customers in setting up rules to automatically delete old emails, and keep only the latest emails from the senders. For most businesses and brands sending emails, this isn’t an issue. For senders that send users multiple times a day, a different ‘From: address’ for each mail stream would be required.
  2. Categorization: Outlook’s categories can be used as Quick Views for its users, which is kind of a similar concept to Gmail’s tabbed inbox. The biggest difference between them is that Outlook.com allows categories to be customized according to the user’s convenience.
  3. Delete All From: The delete all from function allows Outlook.com’s users to quickly delete all emails from a particular sender based on the From: address. It is a good news for any business or brand that had to deal with any Hotmail users who used the “Report Junk” button in the past.
  4. Archive: Outlook.com’s Archive feature is very similar to Gmail’s, but the only difference is that it moves all messages to the Archive folder which helps keep the main inbox clutter free.

This brings us to the end of all the details of Outlook.com, as well as the discussion on Gmail vs outlook. And now we proceed to the next popular mailbox provider: Yahoo! Mail.

Yahoo! Mail

Yahoo! Mail is the first free webmail providers in the world. While Yahoo! Mail has over 281 million active users, after including hosted infrastructure, Yahoo! Mail caters to over 320 million users. Yahoo redesigned its email client to be more responsive and better optimised for mobile devices in October 2013.

Spam Filtering

The majority of the spam algorithms of Yahoo are built in- house. Yahoo puts up a strong emphasis on URL filtering, email content and spam complaints from users. The filter emails by domains and not IP address.

  1. Reputation: Sender’s reputation is very critical in determining their email inbox or bulk folder placement. It is driven by many factors which include unknown user’s rates, spam complaints, spam traps and known bad addresses. A sender’s reputation is made up of IP Address + Domain + From Email Address; therefore it is important to maintain proper consistency in all three of these components. Changing any of these could lower down the reputation and degrade the ability to get a place in the inbox.
  2. Engagement: The participation of the recipients is an important component to measure the subscriber’s interest in the sender. Most mailbox providers have recently started to make significant investments in research, in-house spam filters and third-party software which might help in measuring subscriber engagement for determination of appropriate folder placement. The factors that are being considered are- which messages are being opened, what messages are moved between folders and how quickly a particular email is being deleted. This means getting back to the basics: Send relevant emails that your subscribers want to read or are interested in by tracking opens, clicks, and conversions. If a large number of your subscribers never open or engaged with your email then it may be time to take a second look at those addresses and determine if there is a faint chance that you can win them back; else just let them go. Inactive subscribers ultimately hurt the sender’s ability to get their emails delivered at all mailbox providers.

Postmaster Services

According to Yahoo the best way to get your emails delivered to the inbox is to avoid looking like a spammer.

  • Troubleshooting SMTP Errors: If you find that your emails are not getting delivered to Yahoo!, then you must refer to your SMTP logs.
  • Yahoo! Complaint Feedback Loop: Yahoo offers a complaint feedback loop service. It is recommended to suppress the users who have complained or unsubscribed immediately, to maintain a positive reputation with Yahoo! DomainKeys or DKIM authentication is required to sign up for FBLs.
  • Yahoo’s Whitelisting Option: Yahoo Mail has two kinds of priority listings which are internal whitelisting and Return Path Certification.
    • Yahoo! Internal Whitelist: It is Yahoo’s whitelist. Hence it is free. Businesses can sign up for Yahoo!’s whitelisting services. Brands that are whitelisted are still subjected to certain filters, which include user level filtering, content filtering, and URL filtering. The exact criteria needed to be accepted into Yahoo!’s whitelist aren’t public; it is known that they require a positive sending reputation. Mailing from a new IP address like moving to a new Email Service Provider or adding new IP address will need 30 days of reputation before Yahoo! considers of whitelisting it.
    • Return Path Certification: Return Path Certification acts as a whitelist; it allows only accredited senders to bypass certain filters to reach the inbox of the users. Those senders that are accepted into the accreditation program are required to maintain the standards set by Return Path and its partners.

Mail Infrastructure

  • SPF, DKIM, and DMARC: Yahoo recommends authentication of emails with SPF and DKIM. Yahoo supports DMARC and the standards required for it.
  • Connection and Throughput: The servers should be configured to allow simultaneous connections with the performance which is set at 20 emails per connection. Rate limiting would occur by Yahoo for high complaints and poor reputation, therefore follow the guidelines correctly.
  • rDNS: You need to publish a PTR for sending your IP address and use a Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) so that it does not look like a dynamically assigned IP is sending emails.
  • Use a Consistent and Static “From:” address: Senders who use consistent domains and From: addresses, benefit the most when subscribers whitelist their email address. It prevents email campaigns from being identified as spam by Yahoo!’s spam filters. It saves time and money. This feature ensures that your emails are reaching the right people.

Partners

Yahoo has many partners. AT&T (including BellSouth, SBC, and Ameritech), Verizon, BT, Rogers, TNZ, ExtraNZ, and Nokia use Yahoo!’s infrastructure for their user’s emails. They all have their filtering at the gateways before the emails get handed over to be processed by Yahoo!’s filters.

Now you have a brief guide to Yahoo Mail, Outlook.com, and Gmail. This data may help you in understanding the inner working of these primary Mailbox Providers and majorly .

What is the best way to handle so many inboxes and their regulations?

Each mailbox provider has a different set of rules. For a brand to send email campaigns, it has to analyse each mailbox separately before sending out an email campaign. This can be difficult and time-taking. Since brands cannot make all their subscribers stick to one mailbox provider only, they will need a solution that will handle this analysis part for them. Most brands opt for PHP Mailer or Sendmailer, which doesn’t resolve this issue completely. However, a befitting solution is Aritic Mail, which uses a single API to deliver emails to multiple mailboxes.

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