Actionable Emails using Schema.org

4 min read

In this article, you will learn how to use Schema.org to bring your Email Marketing to the next level. If done right, you have all the tools to outsmart even your hardest email competitors in the fight for visibility in your subscriber’s inboxes.

Schema.org is a markup vocabulary for structured data founded by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex. It is actively maintained by an open community process.

In search engine optimization (SEO), Schema.org is commonly used as additional semantic markup inside web pages to help making a website’s search result snippets stand out and eventually perform better.

A Google search result for hotels in New York City. The result showing up in the better position does not stand out while the one below has been enriched by Schema.org markup to also show star ratings.

It is also used in other popular forms of structured data in digital marketing, for instance in Facebook’s Open Graph and in Twitter Cards. In Email Marketing, however, Schema.org is still a ‘secret weapon’ that helps you to stand out from regular emails sent by your competitors.

Schema.org support in Gmail

According to statista.com, Google’s email service Gmail is used by more than 1,5 billion active users worldwide. There have been many Gmail innovations since its introduction in 2004 in order to improve user-experience. Many such improvements have inspired other email services such as Outlook.com, Yahoo and mail.ru to adopt those email innovations into their services as well. Gmail’s implementation of Schema.org is as of today the most comprehensive. Here is an overview of how Schema.org is already used to enhance the email user experience in Gmail:

  • Gmail Actions: Accelerate user actions, such as one-click and go-to actions (two examples below).
  • Highlights in Inbox: The most important information users need from an email are highlighted such as events and flights. Also RSVP, one-click and go-to actions are highlighted.
  • Gmail Promotions Tab: Automatical grouping and highlighting of email promotions.
  • Answers in Search: Using schema markup to allow your recipients to find information faster.
  • Confirmation Cards: Elevate directions, flight status updates, check-out time in hotels, and more.
  • Google Calendar: Using schema markup to extract event information from booking confirmation emails, adding them to Calendar automatically.

In the following two examples we will take a look at at a one-click actions, these are scenarios where an expected behavior from a user is to confirm a pre-defined request. For instance, an event website sends out an email asking to confirm the registration and a music store sites send an email offering to add items to a queue for later pre-listening. In this case, the email recipient doesn’t have to leave his Gmail inbox and just has to click the single button ‘Add to Queue‘ in order to perform the one-click action:

Schema.org enriched email with one-click actions in Gmail and Inbox (Source: Google)

In the next example, an event with RSVP Gmail Actions support is shown both in Gmail as well as Inbox (Gmail’s mobile app):

Event with RSVP Action support in Gmail and in Inbox (Source: Google)

Using Schema.org in Gmail for RSVP Actions as shown above can be used to respond directly within the email inbox realm (without leaving the email web or client interface). In this example the user can respond directly to an event invitation inside the inbox. It renders the action by showing all the details of the event including ‘Yes‘, ‘No‘, and ‘Maybe‘ responses which can be defined by the sender.

Schema.org support in Microsoft Outlook

Microsoft supports Schema.org within Outlook and calls its support for the semantic markup ‘Actionable Messages‘. Those actionable messages enable you to take quick actions right from within Outlook. It is already fully supported in all recent desktop Outlook versions and Outlook Web Access and according to Microsoft, the new feature is coming to Outlook for Mac and Outlook Mobile soon as well.

An actionable email message in Microsoft Outlook (Source: Microsoft)

In the example shown above, an employee submits an expense report to an internal system which sends back an Actionable Message to the person who is to approve or reject the expense. The automatically rendered card within the message contains all information necessary for the approver to quickly understand who submitted the expense, the total amount, and more. It also includes ‘Approve‘ and ‘Reject‘ action links that can be taken right from within Outlook. The user does not have to leave his email client in order to perform these actions.

How to test your Schema.org markup

With Google Apps Script, Google for example provides a free service for interacting with user data, other internal as well as external systems. You can use Apps Script to test your markup by sending yourself an email including schemas.

Microsoft provides an Email Development Dashboard to test their Schema.org enriched ‘actionable messages’ for the Outlook product range. Using Microsoft’s Card Playground, you are able to test sending actionable messages to your own inbox.

Considerations and limitations

In order to see your Schema.org implementation in effect on Gmail, you must go through a registration and verification process with Google before you can use email markup in Gmail. You must meet Google’s email sender quality guidelines. Apart from DKIM or SPF verification (which should be no problem for you as a legite sender for your email domain), you must also make sure to send out at least a hundred emails per day to Gmail users from your sending platform constantly for a few weeks before applying. This way, Google makes sure to see that you are trustworthy, requiring you to not have any or only a very low rate of spam complaints from Gmail recipients.

A quite similar process is necessary if you want to see the Microsoft Outlook way of Schema.org implemention in action. You must go through through Microsoft’s registration and verification process before you can use the actionable messages in Outlook: Microsoft’s email sender guidelines.

Schema.org is primarily used in Gmail and Outlook, summing up to a substantial email client market share in the business world. However, it can be speculated, though, that these enhancements will drive innovation even further, also affecting other email service global players and their email clients such as Apple Mail.

As an innovation leader, you should be amongst the first in your realm to implement Schema.org into your email marketing toolbox, allowing you to be seen as a technology leader in your field. Moreover, it allows you to enhance your email marketing platform with necessary enhancements and changes required to fully being able to deliver the additonal semantic markup code.

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