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Graymail – Demanding the new avatar for tabbed inboxes in 2015

The term GRAYMAIL was first coined at the CEAS Conference 2007, in a paper called “Improving Spam Filtering by Detecting Gray Mail”; presented by ...

The term GRAYMAIL was first coined at the CEAS Conference 2007, in a paper called “Improving Spam Filtering by Detecting Gray Mail”; presented by researchers from Microsoft and has been widely used by bloggers ever since!


Graymail constitutes emails and newsletters which a subscriber has legitimately signed up to receive, but eventually lost interest from. Basically, unwanted emails that do not deem fit to the definition of spam. Over a span of time, these emails clutter your inbox and thus can be easily be mistaken for spam.

Graymail resides between the good emails and spam; mainly emails subscribers opted-in for but no longer want. Another term, Bacn (pronounced like bacon) has also been sometimes used for graymail; described as ‘email you seek but not at the moment’.

According to one of the surveys, 75% emails marked as spam are actually Graymail.

Characteristics of GRAYMAIL:

  • The email is solicited.
  • The email is legitimate.
  • The email content is targeted to specific subscribers.
  •  The email is not spam.
  • The content is valuable however relevancy and interest fluctuates.
  • It accounts for 80% of inbox.

Examples of GRAYMAIL:

  • Newsletters that people signed up for but lost interest in over time.
  • Website and social network updates.
  • Emails that are sent via pre-checked boxes associated with signing up for another newsletter or service.
  • Emails on email addresses requested while you pay for your shopping.

The ‘how & what happens’ of GRAYMAIL!

Graymail results from subscribers’ email behavior as they technically opt-in to receive those emails, but at a later point don’t wish to engage with them. Hence, emails unengaged since a long while, can easily be mistaken as graymail while actually these emails might not be opened on account of vacation, holidays, inbox overload or any such reason.

There are tools (Gmail’s Priority Inbox, etc.) to assess and address graymail. Hotmail as well has a product to address graymail. An email identified as graymail is likely to get routed in any of the graymail products like the promotions folder. Thus, the email is delivered but not always seen.

Recipient’s engagement is the deciding factor for considering an email a graymail or otherwise. ISPs grasp what you consider as a graymail based on your email actions verses actions of other recipients of the same domain and categorizes accordingly.

What can marketers do to prevent emails from becoming GRAYMAIL?

With a little bit of preemptive planning paired up with ethical email sending best practices, you can definitely prevent your emails from turning gray. The following points may be of help to you to stop your emails going THE GRAY WAY:

  1. Clarify the type and frequency of emails you are going to send at the time of opt-in itself.
  2. Provide subscribers with an ‘always open’ chance to manage their preferences regarding what they want to read about from you.
  3. Make sure all the subscribers on your list have opted-in. A double opt-in preferably, would help confirm that your email list has confirmed and valid email addresses only.
  4. Also, pre-checked boxes are a strict no-no as they are more likely to be perceived as spam by several email clients.
  5. Follow clean list hygiene practices, to keep all your email metrics healthy.
  6. Segment your list beyond just the basic parameters to be able to cater the most relevant content to all your subscribers.
  7. Plan better email campaigns with rich information, healthy offers and competitive discounts.
  8. A clear unsubscribe option in all your emails can just not be ignored – it’s more of a legal necessity now!
  9. Keep an eye on open rates and mark the idle subscribers in the list to understand if your serving is engaging enough for the subscribers and is there a need for any re-engagement campaign.
  10. Deal with the prospect of graymail routing your emails with a well thought out combat strategy extracted with the use of engagement data, unsubscribes, etc.

So Voila!! GRAYMAIL is nothing to worry about and can be dealt with, by taking care of the above suggestions. However, as 80% of inbox actually accounts for graymail and not spammy emails, would there be a need to revamp the tabbed inboxes with a new avatar in 2015 incorporating graymail?

Let us know about any graymail experiences you have had, and some possible implications of graymail in 2015; in the comments below!

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Kevin George

Kevin is the Head of Marketing at Email Uplers, one of the fastest-growing full-service email marketing companies. He is an email enthusiast at heart and loves to pen down email marketing content. You can reach him at or connect with him on LinkedIn.



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