What Google’s Email Changes Really Mean for B2B

When markets are turbulent, marketers can get desperate. And your inbox pays the price.

Facing pressure to engage with any and all potential buyers, growing companies too often rely on outreach habits that are unsophisticated and unstructured. At the same time, industry leaders are guiding us away from mass blasts and toward personalized emails supported by sophisticated data and buying signals.

The good news: the pace of that change is about to accelerate, driven by stricter standards from the biggest email platforms. 

As a consumer, you’ll probably see fewer unsolicited messages in your personal inbox. As a go-to-market professional, you’ll need to ensure your team is ready to handle the serious business implications. Here’s why you should care — and how to get ahead of the curve.

What’s Happening?

Google recently announced that it’s changing the requirements for emails sent to Google users. The rollout and enforcement will be gradual and progressive, but February 2024 is the start of what looks like a wave of significant change. 

The new requirements are: 

  • Your emails should all have DMARC records. This is an indication that your email is “trustworthy,” a definition that we’ll dive into a bit later.
  • Your emails need a one-click unsubscribe link. There must be a clear unsubscribe link in the body of both marketing messages and subscribed messages. 
  • Your spam complaints need to be below 3 per 1,000 emails (0.3%) per day. This requirement is an industry first aiming to relieve users of spam overload.

When these changes were first announced, the phrasing was somewhat unclear, and the business community reacted strongly to the idea that these restrictions would apply to business-to-business communication. 

Google has since clarified that these changes only impact business-to-consumer communication — but left open the possibility that these changes could extend more broadly in the future. 

So even if you don’t fall in the B2C category, we recommend getting your email communications squared away today. Here are some important things to consider. 

What is a DMARC policy?

A DMARC policy (Domain-based Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance) is a snippet of code that essentially signals to recipients that you are trustworthy. DMARC code is completely free to set up, and when attached to your business emails, tells recipients what you want them to do if you fail authentication

Your DMARC policy can be one of three options: 

  • None: Email servers will still attempt to deliver your email.
  • Quarantine: Email servers will hold your email and prevent the recipient from seeing it.
  • Reject: Email servers will not deliver your email.

What is the Impact of a DMARC Policy?

A DMARC policy of “none” is the bare minimum based on Google’s new enforcement announcement. Eventually, having no DMARC policy at all may not be enough to improve your perceived trustworthiness as a sender.

A “quarantine” DMARC policy implies a lower level of trustworthiness. Recipients generally prefer emails to be rejected if they fail authentication, so requesting that they be quarantined instead may come across as less sincere.

A DMARC policy of “reject” tells the recipient you don’t want them to receive emails from your domain that fail authentication. This is perceived as the most trustworthy by recipients of your emails. 

Trustworthiness is one of the most important elements of good email marketing; if you appear trustworthy, you’re more likely to make it into more inboxes more often. That’s why our recommendation is to have a DMARC policy of “reject.”

The Google Factor

Google is a major force in email. ZoomInfo’s data on email hosting providers suggests that Google hosts 34% of the more than 2.9 million companies listed as using a specific email hosting product. On the consumer side, the share is much larger: Google email addresses (mostly @gmail.com) make up 75.8% of the personal email market in the United States and 61% of all email users globally aged 18-29. 

Because of Google’s market presence, this change in enforcement signals a trend toward a higher standard of trust for all senders. 

And while Google isn’t going to immediately begin rejecting emails outright, it is announcing a fundamental change to the way it thinks about email deliverability and the direction it wants to move things. For these reasons, Google’s decision will influence the market in more ways than we can even reasonably predict.

How Do I Set Up a DMARC policy?

It’s relatively simple to set up, but it will likely require collaboration with your domain controller — in most cases, your company’s IT team and/or your email hosting provider. You don’t need to pay for a DMARC service, but we strongly recommend purchasing a DMARC service to assist with anything past the most rudimentary setup.

Why Now? 

Unwanted email is a massive problem for everyone, including Google. Google is enforcing a DMARC policy that has been prescribed as a “best practice” for nearly a decade. Google had a direct hand in creating the DMARC system in 2012, and is principally interested in protecting its users from spam, phishing attempts, and otherwise irrelevant messaging.

The decision to enforce this policy comes partly as a result of the massive volume of bad emails. In 2022, Google blocked more than 15 billion unwanted emails per day, with a 10% increase during the holiday season. Enforcing a DMARC policy for all users means there is massive potential for us, as recipients of these emails, to see a dramatic improvement in that experience over the next 8-10 years.

While email has been a proverbial “wild west” of preference and individual standards, Google’s decision coupled with its massive market presence signals that these kinds of policies may become the new standard for the industry. 

Yahoo, for example, announced the same decision on the same day. We should anticipate that Apple, Microsoft, and other providers may begin enforcing similar policies in the interest of protecting their users, and it would be wise to assume the world of email marketing is going to change dramatically in the next decade. 

What is the Timeline of Enforcement? 

Starting in February 2024, bulk senders who don’t meet sender requirements will start getting temporary errors (with error codes) on a small percentage of their non-compliant email traffic. These temporary errors are meant to help senders identify email traffic that doesn’t meet the guidelines so that senders can resolve issues that result in non-compliance.

In April 2024, Gmail will start rejecting a percentage of non-compliant email traffic, and gradually increase the rejection rate. For example, if 75% of a sender’s traffic meets requirements, Gmail will start rejecting a percentage of the remaining 25% of traffic that isn’t compliant.

Bulk senders have until June 1, 2024 to implement one-click unsubscribe in all commercial, promotional messages.

Note: Gmail will prioritize technical support for email delivery issues for bulk senders that meet all the requirements described in its email sender guidelines.

The Bottom Line

Email authentication enforcement is increasing. A sub-standard approach to outbound email will make your business less successful in the long term — and those standards are only getting higher.

The days of spraying and praying are largely over. Email marketing as we know it is changing for the better.