Multiple reports have been coming in about Google’s Postmaster Tools data being missing for the past few days. Most reports indicate no data since 8/17, but some of my own domains were last updated on 8/16 even though they sent volume on the 17th.
Generally, GPT data runs a full 1-2 days behind, so the data for 8/17 was likely updated sometime the evening of 8/18. Even so, that leaves us on 3 days without updates. Not terribly uncommon, but many of us are still shook up after the 2-week-plus outage back in June. As usual, there’s been no official acknowledgement from Google.
GPT is a free tool, but it’s the only real insight (directly from Google) we as senders have into Google’s black box of mail filtering. I’m sure it’s not the highest priority project over there, but we sure do miss it when it’s not working properly.
UPDATE 8/22: Sometime last night EST Google appears to have populated data for 8/20 in my own instance and those of multiple others I’ve asked. Data is still missing for 8/18-8/19 (and 8/17 for a couple of my domains). Updates to the data generally happen for me late afternoon EST, so I’ll watch for any new data or backfilling later today.
Not with a bang, but with a tweet: yesterday Google announced via Twitter that Inbox, their alternative mail client introduced in 2014, will shut down as of March 2019.
The transition guide linked in the tweet notes that some of Inbox’s features will be integrated into the traditional Gmail product, including Smart Reply and snooze/nudge options for delayed follow-ups.
The closure of Inbox is not likely to have a major impact on senders. While messages were grouped slightly differently, the structure of Inbox is similar to that of Gmail’s tabs and labels. With that said, it’s always important to watch your own metrics and be mindful of any changes in Gmail response rates around the time of shutdown.
While Google never released solid numbers, it’s easy to infer that Inbox never gained the kind of traction they had hoped – or maybe it was a glorified sandbox that allowed them to test some of their ideas for the primary Gmail product. In any case, those of us who used it as our daily driver are left looking for an alternative before next spring.
Last week, the Oath Postmaster blog published an update on the status of their email migration. AOL (who previously absorbed Verizon’s email) and Yahoo are moving closer to their end goal of a unified email platform under the new Oath brand.
According to the post, all mail sent to either brand is now “handled by…OATH MTAs.” So when you send to any address at aol.com, aim.com, verizon.net, yahoo.com, or any other domain controlled by these providers, the mail is all routed through the same system – including spam filtering. Reports have been surfacing on some industry forums of AOL bounces for Yahoo addresses and vice versa. As a sender, this also means you should start aggregating these domains for your reporting purposes. Monitoring complaints, bounces, and other metrics for anomalies should consider Oath as a single entity – word on the street indicates most ESPs have already begun this process for their customer monitoring.
In addition, spam complaints for AOL recipients will soon be received via the existing Yahoo feedback loop. Since Yahoo’s FBL is domain-based, all mail to AOL addresses must be DKIM-signed to participate in the FBL (if it isn’t already). If you use an ESP that hosts your DKIM, they may need to double-sign to ensure all FBL complaints are received.
So far, the Oath Postmaster blog and their participation in various industry channels have provided regular updates on the migration. Let’s hope that pattern continues as the two current Postmaster sites are combined into an upcoming Oath Postmaster resource.
Earlier this week the spam blacklist Spamcannibal, which had been returning no listings for a few months, had its domain expire and become redirected to some pretty nasty auto-downloads. Many of us suspected malware because of the multiple redirects and prompts to download a Flash update, but that has yet to be confirmed.
In the meantime, though, Al Iverson was able to get in touch with the operator, who has since retaken control of the domain and is working to sunset the list in a more respectable fashion. So Spamcannibal remains dead, but at least the malware zombies no longer have control of the domain.
In other blacklist-related news, it appears the Spamcannibal blacklist has shut down. The domain (don’t go there, really) now presents a number of nefarious redirects instead of the blacklist content. No official announcement has been provided, but the Spamcannibal list was considered among the less-reliable blacklists by many in the industry. If the shutdown is permanent, the impact is likely to be minor as the list was not widely used for inbound mail filtering.
Over the past week, there have been many reports of missing data for Google Postmaster Tools. From what we can see, it appears data on the Spam Rate, IP Reputation, Domain Reputation, Feedback Loop, and Delivery Errors tabs stopped updating for some folks around April 11th or 12th. According to information posted in an industry forum, Google is aware of the issue and working to resolve it. Some progress has been made, but no official statement has been made (seems to be par for the course with Google).
As of this morning in my own account, most tabs have data up to 4/13 (with a gap on 4/12) and data for 4/17, but everything between is missing. It remains to be seen whether the missing data will be restored. After a similar issue last September, Google was able to restore the data pretty quickly – hopefully that will be the case here as well.
There have been some reports floating around today of Gmail not displaying images for some messages.
In my testing I’ve been able to reproduce it with some messages in the Promotions tab, but only in the “classic” Gmail web interface. However, these same messages display images when viewed in Inbox.
This seems intentional, although no official announcement has been made. Maybe Google is launching a push to encourage migrating to Inbox? We’ll await word from the Gmail team, but in the meantime more testing is in store to pin down exactly what in the message is triggering the change.
4/5/18 UPDATE: It seems this change was not permanent, with all messages appearing to display images (even those previously not displaying them). Google has been silent about this, so we’re still unsure if this was some sort of test, an error, or something else entirely.
In late 2013, Google began to cache all images in email sent to Gmail users, storing remotely-hosted images on their own servers instead of accessing them each time an email is opened. Laura at Word to the Wise wrote up some good info at the time, focusing mainly on the parts of email tracking that were (or were not) affected by the changes.
Fast forward to 2018, and it looks like Yahoo has adopted a similar policy of image caching. According to Litmus, Yahoo recently began caching images on their servers in the same manner as Google. And like Google’s version, this one won’t break open tracking – but could cause some unusual data points or issues with geolocation or user agent tracking. If you track the location of email opens, you’re likely to start seeing a lot more traffic from Sunnyvale, CA (the location of Yahoo’s servers), and any dynamically-generated content based on the location of the recipient will reflect that. In fairness, IP geolocation has never been a precise science, so most marketers should rely on other signals along with that data to serve up location-specific content.
When Google introduced this feature, they used it as a platform to allow images to load by default for all mail sent to the Inbox.
There has been no announcement or indication thus far, but Is it possible Yahoo is planning a similar feature? As with most of the changes taking place under the new Oath umbrella; we’ll just have to wait and see. Yes, according to the answers provided by the Yahoo Engineering blog.
This morning, they officially announced the change, also confirming images will now be on by default for Yahoo and AOL in desktop and mobile versions. We can likely presume this applies only to messages in the inbox, though no specifics are provided. The post also indicates that Yahoo will “continue to support most” open tracking via pixel, though again details are sparse.
And for those using IP geolocation to serve dynamic content, the authors “recommend falling back on other tools and technologies which do not rely on IP-based targeting.” I won’t say I told you so.
In late February Return Path released the 2017 installment of their annual Deliverability Benchmark Report, which tallies inbox and spam folder rates by country and industry. Each year the data is generated by monitoring more than 2 billion consumer emails to identify trends and averages for each region and industry segment.
The data, compiled between June 2016 and June 2017, shows little change overall from last year’s report. On average, around 20% of mail worldwide never reaches the inbox, with the majority of that – 70% – rejected at the server gateway (bounced). As in years past, the US falls short of that average: just 77% of mail made it to the the inbox. The good news for US senders is that this represents an increase of around 4% from ’15-16 numbers.
Around the world, Canada and Australia tied for the highest inbox rates, with 90% of mail in those countries reaching the inbox. The merits of Canada’s Anti-Spam Law may be disputed, but it certainly seems to have had a positive impact on inbox placement there. Prior to the law taking effect in 2014, inbox rates in Canada dipped as low as 79% – but they have hovered around 90% since then. CASL certainly isn’t guaranteed to be the cause, but it’s a good bet there’s some correlation there.
Results by industry
The breakdown of inbox rates by industry uncovered a couple of interesting trends. Among the 16 industries tracked, none averaged below 76% inbox rate on the year. The Automotive industry, previously in last place with 66%, now edges out the Nonprofit/Education/Government sector by a point at 77%. Meanwhile the Insurance industry, perennially at the low end of the spectrum, saw a 13-point jump to 89%. Apparel, Electronics, and Home Improvement all saw decreases but remained at 85% or above, while Finance took the top spot with 94% of their mail reaching the inbox.
Last week I wrote about the changes taking place at major email providers, specifically the convergence of AOL and Yahoo’s mail servers. Today on their Postmaster blog, AOL issued confirmation of these changes. The statement indicates the “majority of AOL’s MX records” will be routed to the new combined mail servers with little if any visible impact to senders.
The message also assured senders that established feedback loops (FBLs) should continue to function without interruption. While AOL notes that issues are unlikely, if you see any abnormalities firstname.lastname@example.org remains the best way to reach out for assistance.