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Google Changes Email Authentication Requirements: A Wake-Up Call for Publishers

In the latter part of 2023, Google unveiled a significant upcoming change for all emails hosted by Google, one that’s sure to send shockwaves through the publishing industry. The change, which will begin February 2024, will require bulk senders (those who send more than 5,000 messages to emails hosted by Google in one day) to authenticate their emails. It will also make it much more convenient for readers to unsubscribe from your emails and even ban you, if they don’t think what you’re sending is valuable. 


How Will These Changes Impact You?

These changes will impact all bulk email senders. Once the new rules are in effect, you run the risk of being blacklisted by Google if you’re sending out ad-heavy emails that people perceive to be spam. Your unsubscribe rates could skyrocket and your chances of being reported could become very high. 


Will These Changes Matter to Senders Who Don’t Use Gmail or Yahoo?

In short, yes. Even if you’re sending from your own domain, authentication is going to be required for Google to deliver your emails to its users.


What Action Needs to Be Taken?

With Google and other platforms buckling down on email requirements, it’s time to look at your business a little differently.


“The main thing is to ensure your spam report rate stays relatively low,” says Joel Pape, CEO and founder of MediaOS. “The second that your spam report rate climbs, you need to immediately back off. Google will basically be looking at your spam report rate to determine if you should be penalized. Google doesn’t have customer service so once you are in the penalty box you are there until they decide otherwise. No conversation, no public rules, no jury. Just Google’s way and that’s it.”


Google has also released a list of “to-dos” for bulk email senders to check off before February hits. Those tasks include things like making sure that all of your sending domains or IPs have valid forward and reverse DNS (PTR) records and setting up SPF and DKIM email authentication for your domain. You can check out the full list here.


Why the Change?

According to Google, numerous bulk senders neglect to adequately secure and configure their systems, providing an opportunity for attackers to conceal themselves within this environment. In addressing this issue, they have concentrated on email security: confirming the authenticity of the sender. Google says they have relied on AI-powered defenses to stop more than 99.9% of spam, phishing and malware, but today’s threats are more complex than they were 20 years ago.


“Publishers are going to have to get smarter about the content and the quality of the things they’re sending out,” Joel says. “It’s about to become insanely easy for everyone to start unsubscribing. If you have been using a service that does not already [authenticate emails], your email list is about to shrink like nobody’s business. Many email services haven’t really wanted to [authenticate] because they make money based on how many contacts you have. But now they’ll be forced to.”


How Else Can Publishers Prepare?

“Things will quickly shift and as much as Google has spelled things out, it’s still vague,” says Joel. “I would say the advice for publishers is to proceed with extreme caution.” 


New Requirements for Bulk Senders

Publishers will need to adapt to Google’s new regulations and ensure their email practices comply with their authentication requirements. This may involve adjustments in email list management, content creation, and overall email marketing strategies. By February 2024, Google will start to require that bulk senders:

  1. Prioritize email authentication. Users should be able to trust the source of an email without diving into the complexities of security standards. To establish this trust, Google will require high-volume senders to robustly authenticate their emails in accordance with established best practices.
  2. Simplify unsubscription processes: Unsubscribing from unwanted emails should be a hassle-free experience. Therefore, they mandate that large senders enable Google email recipients to unsubscribe from commercial emails with a single click. Additionally, these senders must process unsubscription requests within two days. 
  3. Ensure the delivery of wanted emails: Google email employs various tools to keep unwanted messages at bay. Going further, they will enforce a specific spam rate threshold for senders to adhere to, preventing Google email recipients from being inundated with undesired messages.


Know the Risks

Publishers who engage in selling or renting email lists to third parties face heightened risks. If these lists result in high spam rates and subsequent authentication issues, Google may enforce penalties, including potential bans. This could directly impact the revenue generated from such practices.


Don’t let one revenue source torpedo both sides of your email revenue. If spam reports go too high, you can kiss your email goodbye.


“Here’s where the big problem is for publishers,” says Joel. “If they have emails they collected from various outlets, and on top of sending their normal weekly email out to customers, they decide to sell those emails or rent them out by sending an email on behalf of a third party. The problem with this is, if you have too high of a spam report now, which is probably going to hit that very quickly, Google will ban you.”


Publishers heavily reliant on email marketing as a primary revenue stream may need to reconsider their strategies. Diversifying revenue streams through memberships, digital advertising, or sponsorships becomes essential to offset potential losses in email marketing revenue. It’s time for publishers to start having hard conversations to discover new ways to bring in that same revenue.


Non-compliance with Google’s authentication rules could lead to severe consequences, including being banned from reaching all emails hosted by Google. Publishers who do not adhere to these new guidelines risk losing a significant portion of their audience and, consequently, a corresponding decline in revenue.


Quality Content Is Vital

As unsubscribing becomes easier, publishers need to focus on delivering high-quality, relevant content. Engaging content becomes crucial to retaining subscribers and alleviating the risk of losing a substantial portion of the audience.


By conducting thorough research to understand your target audience’s interests, preferences, and needs, you can create buyer personas to tailor your content to specific demographics. Focus on creating unique content that is valuable, informative, and well-researched, using engaging visuals, multimedia, and storytelling techniques to make your content more appealing. We have more tips on creating high-quality content.


The Verdict

Google’s upcoming changes represent a pivotal moment for publishers, necessitating a reevaluation of email marketing strategies. The shift towards authentication requirements for bulk senders poses significant challenges, especially with potential spikes in unsubscribe rates and the looming threat of being reported or banned. Publishers must recognize the importance of adapting to these new regulations by focusing on email authentication, simplifying unsubscription processes, and delivering wanted content to prevent spam-related issues. 


As Google tightens its grip on email security, the risks associated with non-compliance are clear – potential bans and a shrinking subscriber base. Publishers are urged to proceed with extreme caution, emphasizing the need for high-quality, engaging content and exploring diversified revenue streams to mitigate potential losses in email marketing revenue. It’s a wake-up call for publishers to navigate these changes strategically and ensure long-term sustainability in the evolving digital landscape.


“I would sit back, watch, and wait to see what happens to those who do not comply,” says Joel. “Play the game properly for a few months and we’ll learn very quickly how to navigate these new complexities moving forward.”

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