How Will Gmail Tabs Affect Your Emails?


Monday, September 16th, 2013

:: Tips & Tricks

On May 29, Google announced a new, simple way to organize your inbox and “put you back in control” — the new inbox groups your mail into categories which appear as different tabs:

  • Primary (messages from friends/family and other messages that don’t appear in other tabs)
  • Promotions (deals, offers and other promotional messages)
  • Social (messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, gaming platforms, etc.)
  • Updates (notifications such as confirmations, receipts, bills and statements)
  • Forums (messages from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists)
  • This means that all the emails we receive are organized and at a glance we can see what’s new and decide which emails to read and when.

    So what does this mean for email marketers? We’ll outline the good and the bad of this change, along with what you can do to help ensure that your legitimate messages reach the inbox, are opened and read by your audience.

    Gmail Open Rates Declining

    For starters, evidence shows that the new tabs may be impacting Gmail open rates. According to Litmus, although there has been a positive trendline over time, Gmail opens have decreased 18% in the past three months. Is Gmail tabs to blame?

    Downfalls to Email Marketers

    This new layout can cause newsletters and other promotional material to end up in the Promotions tab, rather than the Primary inbox, causing great concern for marketers. Grouping all promotional material means that your message may no longer stand out; your subject lines will appear directly next to your competitors. This also means that last-minute reminder emails (“Only ONE Hour Left…”) may not be seen as quickly or even after-the-fact.

    Lastly, Gmail users may treat the Promotions tab as another spam box, performing mass deletions before browsing the contents of the tab.

    The Good News

    An email that looks like it came from an ESP will be automatically categorized under the Promotions tab (or possibly the Updated tab) by Google. However, if the subscriber is utilizing tabs but did not opt to using the Promotions tab, Gmail will deliver the message to the Primary inbox instead.

    Although Gmail opens have slightly declined, it is too early to tell if the new tabs are to blame or if this is a new trend. It’s also important to note that while Gmail users have the ability to open their email in any email client, using programs such as Outlook, Apple Mail or mobile devices, not all these environments support the tabbed interface. Also, keep in mind that although Gmail is a popular email client, it is not the only email client.

    Above all else, using best practices to consistently deliver legitimate and relevant messaging to your audience, incur few complaints and experience low bounce rates, will greatly impact your audience’s willingness to open and read your emails, regardless of the new tab layout.

    Surviving Gmail Tabs

    Be Proactive – In your next scheduled email campaign, include a clear call to action (near the top of the campaign) that asks/prompts your subscribers using Gmail to “star” your messages (clicking the star located left of the sender line). This will ensure that your messages are placed in the Primary inbox as opposed to the Promotions tab.

    Be Bold – Directly ask your subscribers using Gmail to manually move your messages into their Primary tab (if they have switched to the new layout). Gmail users can drag-and-drop emails from one tab to the next and create a filter for that sender in order to send future messages to the desired tab. Include a clear call to action in your next scheduled email campaign, send a stand-alone campaign, write it on your blog, or talk about it on social media so that your subscribers will take action.

    Be Resourceful – For the audience who loves to hear from you, utilize your blog and social media to support and promote important emails. In other words, use these outlets as a reminder to your subscribers to check their inbox for important emails from you, such as time-sensitive offers or interesting content.

    Be Creative – When a tab is inactive, Gmail dictates that only the sender name will be displayed. Thus, the subject line will not be visible in this case. As a result of this, ensure that your sender name is short and recognizable. If multiple emails hit the tab at once, Gmail will abbreviate sender names and it may be unrecognizable to your subscriber upon first glance. If you are clear and concise, your subscribers will click, be able to see the subject line, and hopefully open your email. Keep in mind that well-written subject lines are still extremely important, especially when competing against other promotional messages.

    Be Relevant – Revisit your existing subscriber lists and analyze your subscribers and campaign results. Determine how you can further segment your lists to ensure your messages are relevant and valuable to your audience, and to increase the likelihood that your messages will be opened. Be sure to only send messages when you have something new, exciting, valuable and useful to share.

    Be Consistent – Continue to follow best practices to maximize your results. If your tactics have worked in the past, there is no reason to leave them behind – simply adjust your campaigns for Gmail users.

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