Despite the proliferation of digital channels, email remains an old standby: one of the most focused, effective ways to get a marketing message directly into the hands of customers and prospects.

And email hasn’t faded at all, in fact, a recent CMO Council study found that open and clickthrough rates are significantly higher in 2012 than two years ago.

But as we all know, the value of email comes with a challenge: in addition to legitimate email marketers, spammers send billions of messages to consumers every day, leading recipients to use a “when in doubt, report as spam” policy.

In addition, the Q4 busy Holiday season is on the horizon, which means that competition for consumers’ inboxes and eyeballs is increasing multi-fold. So how do you ensure that your valuable messages make it past junk filters and reporting buttons?

As the most popular email client with more than 350 million users worldwide -- as well as a service with some of the smartest spam filters out there -- Gmail is a good place to start if you’re concerned about deliverability. Here are five tips for making sure your marketing emails make it to Gmail recipients:

Direct Readers to Add You to Their Contact List

This is a nice simple way to get started. It’s the most straightforward method of ensuring messages are delivered, because if recipients comply, everything you send will have a stamp of approval. The one wrench in the works is that if at some point you change your sending address, you’ll need to request that readers add that one, too.

Monitor Recipient Behavior

Recipients who open your emails and click through your links are clearly engaged, whereas recipients who never open your messages could become an issue if they decide to report you as spam, even if they signed up in the first place.

ISPs, especially Gmail, use “engagement metrics” as a factor to determine if your recipients are interacting with your email (clicking and opening), just deleting it, unsubscribing or reporting you as spam. If a subscriber hasn’t clicked or opened your email in the last 45-60 days, or two-plus publications, you should consider an attempt to reengage, change the frequency of communication to this user or remove him or her from your list to improve broader inbox placement.

Ask Recipients to Label Your Emails as “Not Spam” and Mark Your Emails as “Important”

Sometimes you can’t stop your email from tripping Gmail’s mysterious junk filters and ending up in the spam folder. To avoid this, simply ask readers to click the “not spam” button, which lets Google know that you’re an approved sender -- not just for that reader, but for others as well. Plus, your ESP should make it easy for you to do this level of segmentation, because you know they are a Gmail user based on their email domain (after the @ sign).

The Hilton Honors program, for instance, adds a header on every message saying “Priority Inbox Users, please click the “+ Arrow” above to ensure that you see your latest offers.” Google puts a premium on user input, and trusts the community to tell them what they want to receive (and what’s not welcome).

Learning Opportunities

Similarly, it’s a good idea to encourage readers to click on the “Always display images from this address” button. This shows Google that you’re a valid sender, and of course it also enables your recipients to view your emails the way you want them to be seen.

Keep an Eye On Domain Level Engagement Reports and Third Party Data

Even though Gmail doesn’t offer a feedback loop for complaints, you should create a domain-level email metrics report and monitor clicks, opens, bounces (by type), unsubscribes, opt-outs and spam complaints for your top sending domains. You can also use this data to make judgments about Gmail engagement and to determine if a specific campaign is causing higher complaints. In addition, you should seed your lists to monitor placement results.

Enable Recipients to Unsubscribe

This may seem counterintuitive at first, but the easier you make it to unsubscribe, the less trouble you’ll see from frustrated recipients. If someone who doesn’t want email from you can’t get rid of you that way, they’ll simply report you as spam, which will subsequently affect your reputation and inbox placement for users who really do want your emails.

This also goes for senders who don’t have an automated unsubscribe function, or who take too long to scrub unsubscribes from their lists. Your recipients aren’t going to be happy when you pop up in their inbox after they took steps to banish you.

By putting these simple tips to work in your email marketing campaigns, you can markedly improve your success rate, and in turn, your ROI. Paying close attention to the wants and needs of your recipients will help you get to the inbox and stay on the good side of one of the biggest email providers operating today.

Image courtesy of PaulPaladin (Shutterstock)