Google is Deleting Dormant Accounts. How to Handle the Gmail Purge and Avoid Bounces

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It began on the first of December. Google started its purge of inactive Gmail accounts to improve security and combat ongoing issues like phishing, hacked accounts, and ever-present spam.

Like many things with good intentions, there is likely collateral damage. If you’re an email marketer, can you expect “business as usual”? The answer is “no.” You won’t walk away unscathed unless you follow a few precautions.

This article will show you everything you need to do to avoid a deluge of Gmail bounces and keep your email deliverability up.

What is the Gmail purge?

Simply put, the Gmail purge is the name given to Google mass deleting inactive personal accounts. This includes every app associated with those accounts: Gmail, Google Docs, Drive, Meet, and the Calendar. If the account holder hasn’t used it in more than two years, Google is getting rid of it. Many accounts have already been purged, but even more are coming.

Why this decision? Google is getting tough on account hacking and spam, and dormant accounts are much more vulnerable. Yahoo employs similar upkeep and has been pruning dead accounts, which caused a high Yahoo email bounce rate for businesses worldwide.

How will this affect email marketers and business owners like you?

The problem with the ongoing Gmail purge is that many of the email addresses you send messages to can become obsolete overnight. When an email address becomes inactive, your message will bounce back, affecting your ability to reach your active audience.

It’s not just email marketers; virtually every business uses email at the forefront. Sales departments using cold email and email marketers are especially likely to face consequences, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Bounces sends Internet service providers (ISPs) a message that you’re a likely spammer. It’s good that they do this because spam has been a concern of ISPs for decades. When you’re perceived as a spammer, your future messages will land in the spam folder. It doesn’t matter if the bounces are because of the Gmail purge or because you aren’t verifying your contacts.

What can you do to avoid a high Gmail bounce rate

So what can someone do to avoid the setbacks of the Gmail purge? There’s no need to panic. You can survive the purge and may even benefit from it. Google’s elimination of bad data is designed to create a better functioning infrastructure. What you don’t want to do is pretend like nothing is happening.

Validate your email list

If you’re in the habit of practicing email hygiene, you will avoid most of the negative effects of the Gmail purge. If you’re unfamiliar with email hygiene, it’s not difficult and makes a huge difference to the success of your emails.

“If you haven’t validated your list since Google started purging dormant accounts, you’ll want to validate your list right now,” said ZeroBounce Chief Operating Officer Brian Minick. The email marketing expert went on: “Chances are you’ve got a few email addresses that Google recently zapped. You definitely want to validate your list before your next email goes out.”

Do a purge yourself: get rid of inactive subscribers

Maybe some of the contacts on your list are lackadaisical. Their email address is working just fine. However, they rarely engage with your emails. What do you do about this segment? You have to take matters into your own hands, says Simon Harper, a Mailchimp Pro Partner and founder of SRH Design.

“Consistently sending emails to inactive subscribers hurts your email deliverability and increases your chances of landing in the Spam folder. First, iOS 15, and now “the great Gmail Purge”, mean validating and removing inactive subscribers from your lists is ever more critical. Email validation tools like ZeroBounce allow you to remove abusive and invalid addresses and identify temporary/disposable email addresses that lead to deliverability issues,” Harper says.

But how often should you remove inactive subscribers? You work hard to grow your database, so you don’t want to delete potentially valuable email addresses. Simon Harper offers a safe and smart approach.

“Before iOS 15, ‘the great Gmail Purge’, and the upcoming sender guideline changes from Google and Yahoo, a good benchmark for removing inactive subscribers was 180 days – especially if you don’t send many emails. However (and this depends on the data you gather in your ESP), a good base figure for removing inactive subscribers is 90 days,” Harper advises.

Some businesses remove dormant subscribers even more often. “Depending on your send volume and segmentation, you may want to reduce it to 45 days, but 90 days would suffice for most as a good starting point,” Simon Harper concludes.

If you’re reluctant to part with your subscribers, it may be good to keep in mind that there’s no value in emailing someone who doesn’t care enough to see what you’re sending. It means they’re not your ideal customer. If you must, you can always segment those unengaged email addresses first and target them with a knockout offer. You can keep them should they engage.

Make sure you constantly address your email list health

For people who are rightly focused on email hygiene, you’re likely to sidestep most of the Gmail purge troubles. You’re also likely to enjoy higher engagement and ROI. If history is an indication of what is coming, we can expect more and more purges of obsolete data. Like most things, your attention to detail dictates what results you get. Your dedication to maintaining your own data quality, including email, will take you further.

Liviu Tanase
Liviu Tanase is the founder and CEO of email validation, deliverability, and email finding company ZeroBounce. As a serial entrepreneur, he founded five companies and has participated in three exits creating quadruple-digit returns. Liviu writes about digital marketing and technology, focusing on email communication. His goal is to help make email marketing work for your business.

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