What you need to know about Google’s new account deletion policy

Woman uses laptop open to the Google home page

It’s always a good idea to stay on top of list hygiene and segmentation practices, but a recent update from a major mailbox provider could soon have you taking a closer look at your engagement targeting.  

Last month, Google announced via their product blog that they would begin systematically deleting accounts that had been unused for at least two years. This change is designed to bring account retention policies in line with industry standards and help improve security. 

Google’s statement indicated deactivations would start no sooner than December 2023, with accounts that were created but never used first on the chopping block. 

Given that Gmail users typically make up half or more of a B2C email list, it’s totally understandable for email marketers to wonder how their programs might be impacted as a result of this change. 

How will this change impact me?

The most likely impact from Google’s change is an increase in the number and/or rate of permanent bounces for recipients with Gmail addresses. These bounces will likely indicate the account in question does not exist, or that the user is invalid. 

While all senders are likely to see some increase in bounce rates, following best practices around list hygiene and targeting will help mitigate these increases. Marketers who send most frequently to recipients with recent engagement and suppress those addresses that show no engagement are likely to see the least impact. 

What should I do about a higher bounce rate?

For senders who are impacted with higher bounce rates, however, we believe this shift could still lead to a positive result in the long run. 

Google’s mail filtering algorithm is tightly-guarded, but it’s no secret that sending to a large number of unused Gmail accounts is considered a negative reputation factor. Marketers whose database contains a larger contingent of aged and/or inactive addresses are currently penalized for continuing to mail these accounts. 

When Google starts deleting inactive accounts, these senders will receive bounces indicating the inactive recipients should be suppressed/removed from their database. As a result, senders who suppress those bounces from further mailings will see fewer inactive recipients in their lists, which should contribute to a higher reputation at Gmail over time. 

How widespread will the impact be?

While the reach of these changes remains to be seen, Google indicated they’ll make every effort to get the account owner to re-engage. This includes emails to the account in question, along with any associated recovery accounts, urging the user to take action to keep their account active.

It’s also noted that using the “Sign In with Google” feature to log into a third-party site or application is considered activity for the sake of keeping the account alive. As such, it seems that only the most egregious of account abandonments would be affected by these deletions. 

It’s also worth noting that Google isn’t the first major mailbox provider to enact such a policy. Yahoo has an observed history of deactivating unused accounts on an annual basis. Typically their process takes place in the Spring of each year, prompting many senders to notice an uptick in hard bounces to that provider around that time.

Moving forward

We believe it’s safe to say the sky isn’t falling as a result of Google’s announcement; however, it does serve as a good reminder to start checking your list hygiene and segmentation practices sooner rather than later.

Cleaning your email list is crucial to maintaining a healthy marketing program and now is a great time to make sure you’ve removed any invalid email addresses as you gear up for the busy holiday sending season.

About the Author

Brad Gurley

Serving as MessageGears’ Director of Deliverability, Brad spends his days watching mail queues, analyzing customer delivery data, and researching the latest updates to email technology. He’s been in the email marketing space for the better part of two decades and harbors a passion for educating senders on how to more effectively deliver mail to their subscribers. When he’s not busy updating MTA configurations, you might find him preparing a variety of smoked meats or leading a group of friends to the closest karaoke bar.