How Gmail’s Structured Data (Schema.org) Can Shape The Next Generation of Email Marketing

Once every couple of days I take out a few hours just to explore new and interesting stuff which I can somehow use for my next side project. I got my last side project idea – Chrome extension for GrowthHackers.com when I stumbled upon Yahoo Query Language. I knew I had to scrape something and what better than GrowthHackers.com.

This time I stumbled upon Gmail Integration because I’ve been flirting with the idea of making a completely free add-on to schedule your emails in Gmail inbox, something like Boomerang or Yesware but totally free. This lead me to Gmail Actions which are structured data markups using Schema.org standard in email. It allows marketers to include different structured data to make it easier for users to interact with emails.

If you use Gmail you must have seen this in your inbox –

One click action in Gmail Inbox

 

I first saw this feature back in July 2013 and tweeted about it to Mailchimp.

At the time of writing this article I haven’t seen much adoption of Gmail Actions but I know of at least two companies who are using it – Mailchimp and Skillpages.

Even though there is good documentation present for Gmail Actions, I would quickly explore through each of them and present some ideas on how companies can take advantage of it.

Once Click Actions

One click actions are aimed to allow users to take a certain action (once) with a single click without leaving Gmail inbox or even opening the email. It looks like the one shown at the beginning of this article.

There are two types of one click actions:

  1. Confirmation Action: It could ask users to confirm a meeting, subscription, appointment, starting or stopping a campaign etc.
  2. Save Action: It could ask users to save something in their account like a product (clothes, accessories), deals, song, coupon etc.

How It Works?

Here is the sample code on how to add it in your email:

When a user clicks ‘Approve Expense’ button (line #3) a HTTP request is sent by Google to the URL specified in line #5. The request looks like:

Once the request is received, www.myexpenses.com has to handle the request and perform three actions:

  1. Verify the request
  2. Process the payload
  3. Return a response code

The above three steps are quite technical and it’s better you read them on official documentation.

Examples of How To Use It

  1. Mailchimp uses it to allow users to confirm subscription when they sign up on someone’s blog through their Mailchimp form.
  2. Social networking websites can use this when a user gets a connection request so she can accept it with a single click.
  3. App that relies on two people meeting online/offline can send an email one hour before the scheduled time of the meeting asking the user to confirm if they would attend it. If they confirm the other party can get an automated confirmation.
  4. Music app can send an email about new song which a user can ‘Add to Queue’.
  5. User has created a campaign but haven’t started it. You can ask him to start the campaign.
  6. In an e-commerce site if I follow a particular brand, I get an email when a new product is up which I can ‘Add to Cart’ from my inbox.
  7. When your credit card is charged you’ll get an email and you can easily ‘Approve Charge’.
  8. Similar to #6, on a website like Quora, when a user gets an email about an interesting question, she can directly ‘Add to Reading List’.

Rsvp Actions

This can be used to send invitation with RSVP actions. When clicked it displays an invitation card with basic details and RSVP actions.

RSVP actions card in Gmail

 

How It Works?

You add the ‘Events’ schema in the email like this:

Breakdown:

Line #1 defines the ‘Event’ schema and rest everything is inside it.

Line #2 – #14 is defining the the details of the event including start date, end date, location and address.

Line #15 – #20 defines the first RSVP action – ‘Yes’.

Line #21 – #26 defines the second RSVP action – ‘No’.

Line #27 – #32 defines the third RSVP action – ‘Maybe’

Based on the RSVP action taken by the user, the HTTP request is sent to the designated URL and then the site takes care of it as explained in the previous section.

Examples of How To Use It?

Its usage is very limited – related to events so any company which sends or receives event invites as a major part of their product can use this action for better engagement and to stand out.

Review Actions

You can use it to send out emails with ‘Review’ button which can trigger a card having a 5 point rating system and/or a user comment of up to 10000 characters.

Review Action in Gmail

 

How It Works?

Currently Gmail allows Review Actions to be integrated for following three types:

  1. Movies
  2. Restaurants
  3. Products (including commodity services).. Yay! Most of us can use this now. :)

Here is a sample code of how you can add ‘ReviewAction’ schema to  your email:

Breakdown:

Line #4 – #6 defines what is it that is being reviewed.

Line #7 – #10 defines the 5 point scale of rating.

Line #12 – #21 defines how the user action is handled and sent to the website using ‘HttpActionHandler’ schema

Note – The feature of user comment is an optional property and you can define it to be a required property on line #17 by changing itemprop value to ‘requiredProperty’.

Example of How To Use It

  1. Food delivery services can use this action to get user reviews for restaurants they have ordered from. Response rate is considered to be higher as user doesn’t have to open a new link and can do so from inside her inbox.
  2. Companies like BookMyShow.com and MovieTickets.com can use this action to generate more user reviews, faster.
  3. All the product companies can use this action to get reviews for their products specially the ecommerce websites. Adding this action to the email that is already being sent to users once they buy the product will only enhance the response rate.

Go-To Actions

Go-to actions take users to a new page when they click on it. Unlike One Click Actions a user can interact with Go-To Action multiple times.

Go-To Actions in Gmail

 

How It Works?

Gmail currently supports two types of Go-To Actions:

  1. View Action – It can be used to send user to a page where they can complete a certain process/action like online check-in on an airline, download your product, answer a question etc.
  2. Track Action – It is helpful when you want to send your users a page link where they can track the delivery of a certain product.

Let’s take a look at the sample code on how to use ‘ParcelDelivery’ schema:

Breakdown:

Line #2 – #8 defines the address where the product is shipped.

Line #9 defines the expected arrival date of the product.

Line #10 – #12 defines the name of the parcel service that will deliver your product.

Line #13 – #15 defines the product that is shipped.

Line #16 – #21 defines the order number and the organization from which you have ordered the product.

Line #22 defines the tracking URL where you can track the shipment of the product.

You can add more detail about the organization from where the user bought the product by using publisher property of Organization schema:

Examples of How To Use It

There are so many ways companies can use this and I feel almost every company can use this somehow.

  1. Movie sites can send an email to users about a new release and use this action to add ‘Watch Movie’ button.
  2. Discussion forums, Q&A websites can use it to display ‘Open Discussion’ or ‘Answer Question’ link.
    Go-To Actions in Gmail 1
  3. Send your users an email to download your product.
  4. Send your user an invoice and add ‘View Product’ link for them to directly land on the product page if required or to cancel.
  5. Music websites can send an email with a new song and add ‘Listen Song’ link.
  6. A discussion platform like GrowthHackers.com, Inbound.org or Product Hunt can send an email when someone signs up and add ‘Submit Product’, ‘Submit Story’, ‘Read Stories’, ‘View Products’ links.
  7. Publishing platforms can add ‘Complete Story’ link for users who have incomplete drafts saved in their account.
  8. If your product have some sort of messaging system and your user gets a new message, you can notify them via email and add ‘View Message’ link.
  9. Trying to sell a ticket? You can add ‘Buy Ticket’ link or use ‘EventRegistration’ schema as explained here.

Possibilities are endless.

How To Start With Gmail Actions?

This is the tricky part. In order to ensure the right usage of Gmail Actions, Google team has a very strict process of allowing companies to use it. You need to register with Google and there is a whole list of guidelines that you need to follow. Read all the guidelines here.

A few important highlights from their guideline:

  1. You must be sending high volume of emails from your domain like at least a hundred emails to Gmail users every day for a few weeks.
  2. Actions should be used for transactional emails where a high rate of interaction is expected. They should not be used on promotional bulk email.
  3. You must have a very very low rate of spam complaints from users.

This should give you a good idea of what you can do with Gmail Actions and how it can be a strong driving force in future. This is one of the features that is yet to come on a big radar so if you move fast, you’ll have an advantage.

Would love to hear your creative ideas on how you can use it in your service. Let me know in the comments. :)

Pallav Kaushish
Pallav Kaushish
A marketing junkie fascinated with the amalgamation of marketing and psychology. I work with startups to boost their growth. Always happy to share ideas and learn from others. Feel free to drop me a note via about page.
Related Posts
  • Amol Ghemud

    Thanks for this great knowledge!!

  • Paul Warren

    Awesome find Pallav!

    • Pallav Kaushish

      Thanks Paul.

  • http://www.andykuiper.com/ Andy Kuiper – SEO Analyst

    Basecamp is using this as now – nice feature :-)

  • http://portage.co/ Dennis Yu

    Pallav– well-done! Enough people use gmail that this is something all marketing automation companies should integrate!

    • Pallav Kaushish

      Thanks Dennis, I totally foresee that happening in future.