Google’s 2024 Email Sender Guidelines: What Do They Mean for B2B Marketers?

Adam Smartschan

Partner & Chief Strategy Officer

Beginning in February 2024, Google will enforce new restrictions for bulk email senders. What do the new email sender guidelines mean for business-to-business marketers? The impact should be negligible. Still, it’s important to understand what Google’s going for, and why.

Google Email Sender Guidelines

 

Overview

  1. What are the new Google email sender guidelines?
  2. Who does the change impact?
  3. How do I comply with Google’s email sender guidelines?
  4. Why is Google adding email sender guidelines?
  5. What is Gmail?
  6. Are Google’s email sender guidelines the same as CAN-SPAM?

What Are the New Google Email Sender Guidelines?

Google’s new email sender guidelines are stricter requirements targeted at users or companies that send bulk emails to Gmail accounts. There are two sets of guidelines – one for users or companies that send less than 5,000 messages to Gmail accounts every day, and a stricter one for senders of more than 5,000 message to Gmail accounts daily.

Both groups of senders are required to:

  • Set up DKIM or SPF domain authentication
  • Ensure sending domains or IPs have valid forward and reverse DNS records (PTR records)
  • Use a TLS connection
  • Keep Postmaster Tools spam rates below 0.10% on average, and never above 0.30%
  • Format messages according to the Internet Message Format standard
  • Avoid impersonating Gmail From: headers
  • Add ARC headers (if the account regularly forwards email)

These are all relatively standard requirements, and shouldn’t cause much concern for marketing email users. DKIM/SPF, PTR and TLS are all handled by any competent email vendor, and it’s common sense to avoid spammy email tactics. Except for users with bad intentions, these guidelines – which apply to senders of any volume to Gmail accounts – are standard fare.

“Bulk senders” who send more than 5,000 daily messages to Gmail accounts face slightly more draconian guidelines. In addition to the above, they’ll need to:

  • Set up DMARC email alignment and authentication
  • Align the domain in the From: header with the DKIM or SPF domain
  • Support one-click unsubscribe
  • Include a clearly visible unsubscribe link in the message body

DKIM and SPF are basically tokens in the email itself that validate if it originated from the domain it says it does. (Think of them as two-factor authentication.) Google is simply saying that the domain the email is coming “from” (e.g., altitudemarketing.com) in the from line must be the one validated by DKIM or SPF. DMARC instructs the email client on what to do if it can’t validate DKIM or SPF. Google explicitly says it can be set to “none,” which means the message should be delivered normally.

One-click unsubscribe is standard for most reputable email marketing systems; Google wants to work unsubscribe into its native Gmail UI and UX.

All the guidelines go into effect on Feb. 1, 2024. Accounts that don’t follow them are likely to see email deliverability drop or vanish in Gmail inboxes.

Who Does the Change Impact?

The new guidelines impact any email marketers who send to Gmail accounts. But the stricter changes – the ones causing LinkedIn and Reddit chatter in January – only apply to senders who send 5,000 or more messages to Gmail accounts on a daily basis.

Because the changes only apply to personal Gmail accounts and not Google Workspace accounts, most B2B marketers won’t be affected. Five-thousand daily sends to personal Gmail accounts is a lot, even for a B2C eCommerce retailer. For business-to-business marketers, it’s exceedingly rare. That means the vast majority of the B2B world will feel little or no impact from Google’s new email sender guidelines, and then only if they’re somehow not using DKIM or SPF authentication already.

How Do I Comply with Google’s Email Sender Guidelines?

Do what they ask!

Fortunately, it’s clear … and pretty much table stakes.

  • DKIM and SPF authentication is simple in any reputable email marketing application, as long as you have DNS access. HubSpotActiveCampaign and Mailchimp all offer their own instructions.
  • Keeping spam rates low is a best practice. Only send to users who can reasonably expect to hear from you, only offer what you can deliver, and make sure your email content matches your subject line’s promise.
  • TLS and IMF are standard offerings of any reputable email marketing platform.
  • Send from your real, authenticated domain. Certainly don’t say you’re someone you’re not.
  • Keep unsubscribe workflows basic. Nobody wants to type their email address or answer a “survey.” Those are just bad tactics to get someone to abandon trying to unsubscribe. If someone wants out, let them go.

If you follow these rules, you’ll be good 99% of the time – particularly if you’re not sending an extreme amount of messages to Gmail inboxes.

Why Is Google Adding Email Sender Guidelines?

Google’s email sender guidelines are designed to create an easier experience for Gmail users. Nobody wants to get unwanted marketing emails, wonder whether they’re seeing spoofed email, or have to jump through hoops to get off a mailing list.

On the marketer side, the guidelines clarify Google’s expectations of email senders. Again, they’re mostly common sense – particularly the ones that affect the vast majority of B2B marketers.

What Is Gmail?

Gmail is a free email service developed by Google. Users can access Gmail on the web and using third-party programs that synchronize email content through POP or IMAP protocols. Gmail started as a limited beta release on April 1, 2004, and ended its testing phase on July 7, 2009. It currently has an estimated 1.5 billion users worldwide.

At its launch, Gmail offered one gigabyte of storage capacity, a significantly higher amount than competitors offered at the time. Today, Gmail comes with 15 gigabytes of free storage. Users can receive emails up to 50 megabytes in size, including attachments, while they can send emails up to 25 megabytes. To send larger files, users can insert files from Google Drive into the message.

Gmail has a search-oriented interface and a “conversation view” similar to an Internet forum. The service is notable for its high-capacity storage, deep integration with the Google ecosystem, and its range of features, such as powerful search, spam filtering, and the use of AI to organize and prioritize emails. Gmail’s user interface designer, Kevin Fox, intended users to feel as if they were always on one page and just changing things on that page, rather than having to navigate to other places.

Are Google’s Email Sender Guidelines the Same as CAN-SPAM?

Google’s 2024 email sender guidelines contain some of the same DNA as CAN-SPAM, but they’re not the same.

The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 2003, requires that businesses correctly identify themselves in email and offer users a way to opt out of receiving electronic communications. Both are similar to Google’s email sender guidelines. Google goes into more detail about how specifically to set up authentication, and demands fast, easy unsubscribe options.

tl;dr – Google’s Email Sender Guidelines for B2B Marketers

The fallout from Google’s new email sender guidelines should be minimal for the vast majority of B2B marketers. The guidelines that apply to any Gmail deliveries are simple; you’re likely already compliant. The stricter guidelines only apply to bulk senders, who send 5,000 or more messages each day to personal Gmail inboxes. For most business-to-business marketers, that makes them effectively irrelevant.

In general, your email sending domain should be real and authenticated, users should expect to hear from you, and unsubscribing from your lists should be easy. Even outside of Google’s ask, this is stuff you should be doing! Think of Google’s new Gmail guidance as one extra reason to get your email house in order.

Adam Smartschan

Adam Smartschan heads Altitude's strategic marketing and branding efforts. An award-winning writer and editor by trade in a former life, he now specializes in data analytics, search engine optimization, digital advertising strategy, conversion rate optimization and technical integrations. He holds numerous industry certifications and is a frequent speaker on topics around B2B marketing strategy and SEO.
Adam graduated from Northeastern University in Boston in 2007. He grew up in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, just miles down the road from Altitude's headquarters in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.