Gmail’s spam filters force dealers to use marketing finesse

And that means dealers may have a tougher time getting through to customers with lead responses and marketing messages.

Among email providers, Gmail — which counts more than 1 billion users worldwide — is considered a trailblazer in warding off spam and security threats, said Adam Berry, an operations team lead at Conversica, a lead-engagement software company.

Last year, for example, Gmail started to notify users if an incoming message lacked authentication protocols to verify its sender or encryption to protect the security of the message en route, tipping them off to potential spam threats.

Gmail is also among the major email providers that set up traps to catch suspected spammers. Google uses one such trap, known as a honey pot, to scan for messages sent to invalid or outdated addresses. If a dealer buys a list of email addresses and blasts a campaign that hits one of these addresses, Google treats the email as a solicitation, rather than a response to a customer request. The sender is at least temporarily blacklisted across Gmail’s network.

Evidence of the new vetting: In a recent secret shopper study, Conversica reported only 2 percent of dealership lead-response emails were more than 90 percent likely to avoid spam filters. A year earlier, 59 percent of such dealership emails achieved the 90 percent threshold.

Staying on the right side of that wall requires more finesse in marketing promotions, and it’s key to protecting a dealership’s ability to communicate with customers without being labeled a spammer.

A dealership’s reputation is at risk if it chooses to “spray and pray to 50,000 people with one message,” said James Maynard, vice president of product at VinSolutions, Cox Automotive’s customer relationship management brand.

Instead, Maynard says dealership employees should use data-mining and segmentation tools to reach a smaller group of customers with a more targeted, relevant message.

Some customer relationship management software providers, including VinSolutions, offer services for dealerships to track their online reputation. Companies such as Return Path also help businesses track email deliverability to identify any problems.

Berry of Conversica said reputation tracking means paying attention to unusual feedback — for example, if a particular source of leads has a high bounce rate, or if one campaign is getting half the response rate of another similar one. Dealerships can use third-party services to validate a lead’s email address without engaging a lead to avoid high bounce rates, he said, or to receive feedback on when customers unsubscribe or mark a message as spam.

“That data is crucial and revealing,” Berry said. “It can save you money and your reputation.” ​

Marketing experts say dealership employees should be cautious about the content of emails to avoid tripping the spam filter.Be personal in emails and target them narrowly; the more personal and consumer-specific an email, the less likely it is to be deemed spam.Avoid misleading or vague subject lines with spam trigger words such as “free” or “deal.” Don’t continue messaging after someone unsubscribes or marks a message as spam or after an email bounces.