Last year, Google announced that they were rolling out a new feature for Gmail called “Quick Action Buttons.” It took a few months before the feature was actually made active, and a few months after that before it finally started appearing in Gmail, but if you do any online shopping, you may have seen these buttons appearing to the right after the subject line on emails. Quick Action buttons, as their name implies, let you take certain actions immediately, without having to open up the email first. These actions can be anything from tracking a package, to verifying a reservation, to submitting feedback. Quick Action Buttons are limited to transactional emails, and you will have to jump through a few hoops to get them to appear in your email.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Google divides these buttons into two basic types: “In-App Actions,” and “Go-To Actions.” The In-App Actions let you perform some task without leaving your Gmail. A confirmation of a subscription, for example, is one possible use. When you click on a button featuring an In-App Action, a small pop-up window appears to either verify that you clicked the button, or ask for additional information. Once you’ve done this, the pop-up window disappears and you are still in your Gmail inbox.
Right now, the most common use of the In-App Action button is to confirm subscriptions using double opt-ins. The appeal of this is obvious. Many email marketers avoid the double opt-in because it requires the potential subscriber to open, read and respond to an email before they are added to their subscriber list. The Confirm Quick Action button certainly speeds up the process. The code for a Confirm Action button may look something like this:
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/EmailMessage">
<div itemprop="action" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/ ConfirmAction">
<link itemprop="url" content="https://subscriptionhandler/">
<meta itemprop="name" content="Confirm Subscription"/>
<meta itemprop="description" content="Please confirm your email address."/>
As you can probably deduce from the information above that the key to Google’s buttons is schema.org. Schema.org is a system for structured data markup that has been approved by the three major search engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing). It is primarily intended as a way to identify information on a web page so that its meaning is less ambiguous, but Google has developed a way to use it to improve their Gmail capabilities.
Besides confirmations, the In-App Action button may also be used to perform coupon saving, playlist queuing, or other actions that don’t require a visit to an external page, or for review purposes, where a rating window pops up that will let you rate something. Google is also planning to add RSVP capabilities to the list, but as of this writing this has not been implemented.
Go-To Actions, on the other hand, take you out of Gmail and send you to a separate web page. You will see these used for things such as tracking packages and reservation retrieval. Go-To buttons are easily identified by the small arrow on their right side. Go-To Actions fall into two types: View Actions and Track Actions. View Actions take the recipient to your site to complete a transaction, and Track Actions, as the name implies, are intended for tracking orders.
Quick Action Buttons are not a simple matter of plugging in data and suddenly they work. First you’ll need to get approval from Google, which isn’t surprising. After all, here’s an action that can immediately direct a recipient to another web site without even opening the email. To be approved, your emails must be authenticated via DKIM or SPF, and the DKIM or SPF signatures must match the domain of your “From” address exactly. Subdomains are not allowed.
As you might expect, the Go-To Action buttons have more restrictions than the In-App Actions. According to Google’s website, they are currently only approving Go-To Actions for “very specific high-value use case with high interaction rate,” which is just another way of saying if you’re not Amazon, or United Airlines, your odds of getting approved dwindle significantly.
Test and Test Again
Also, as with responsive design, you’re Quick Action button may require several test rounds before it’s ready to use. You can test schemas by sending email to yourself, but this won’t help you identify potential issues in your company email. In any case, testing is an absolute requirement. My own tests with the Quick buttons worked well in most cases, but when I tried to develop a complex example, it led to a situation where I found myself receiving the same email every hour on the hour over several days.
The full list of Quick Action requirements along with a link to the registration form can be found here.