In March, SendGrid’s VP of Delivery, Paul Kincaid-Smith, wrote an open letter to the Gmail team regarding the spam feedback loop they recently launched. Another feature Gmail has rolled out is their “easy unsubscribe” option. What this means is, if an email is sent from a sender with a good reputation that implements a List-Unsubscribe header, Gmail will automatically display an unsubscribe function at the top of the email. Here’s an example:



Gmail’s reason for making this change is to allow them to more easily tell the difference between spam and “soft” spam. Gmail’s definition of “soft” spam is: “an email that a user of their services has signed up for, but doesn’t want to receive.”

Improving the Email Experience

Shortly after the announcement was made, PCWorld suggested that easy unsubscribe may be a business killer. I think it’s just the opposite. Why would we want to force someone to receive an email they’re only going to take a negative action on? Wouldn’t we rather have a smaller, highly engaged list of subscribers who want to see our emails, than a larger list of subscribers who will vote our email as spam?

The effects of receiving spam votes are more detrimental than having those same people simply unsubscribe. Gmail is giving our subscribers the chance to opt out in a way that isn’t detrimental to those who DO want our emails. It will grow our business by giving us the ability to reach subscribers who will take action. I think that’s a beautiful thing. It’s one more way that Gmail is doing what they can to improve the email experience.

This stance is clarified by Vijay Eranti of Gmail, who PC World quotes as saying, “One of the biggest problems with the Gmail spam filter is identifying unwanted mail or soft spam…We want to empower users with an easy way to control what they want to receive.” This confirms that Gmail’s intentions are to provide more transparency for senders, not to kill businesses.


So, what do you need to do in order to benefit from this opportunity?

  1. Work to have a good sender reputation. Do your best to make sure you’re sending mail that is relevant and will drive your business, not harm it. If you need help, there are plenty of resources available to help get your email program to a healthy place, starting with our Deliverability Guide.
  1. Implement List-Unsubscribe. List-Unsubscribe allows users to easily remove themselves from your list if they’d like. SendGrid customers who enable our subscription management app will have a List-Unsubscribe header inserted automatically. Not a SendGrid Customer? Just add a “List-Unsubscribe” header to your emails that specifies how to unsubscribe. You can use either a mailto or a browser unsubscribe. We recommend either using the mailto function or using both. Here’s an example:

List-Unsubscribe: < < subject=*redacted

That’s it–2 steps! By having a trustworthy sending reputation and implementing the List-Unsubscribe header, you’ll have helped Gmail make the inbox a better place for everyone–subscribers will have an easier way of telling Gmail what they want in their inboxes and senders will be able to have a list of customers that want to hear from them.

Tanya is SendGrid's Email Deliverability Consultant.