If you’re not one of the 500 million active users of Gmail, or you’re not much of an email marketer, then maybe you haven’t heard: Gmail has been rolling out a brand new inbox for their desktop and mobile users. The new interface automatically categorizes incoming emails into different sections or tabs.

  • Primary: The default tab, showing person-to-person emails from friends and family, as well as any other messages that don’t appear in other tabs.
  • Social: Messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, online dating services, etc.
  • Promotions: Deals, offers, and other marketing emails.
  • Updates: Notifications such as confirmations, receipts, bills, and statements.
  • Forums: Messages from online groups, discussion boards, and mailing lists.


Gmail Inbox

Wait, What’s New About This?

You might be wondering, “Couldn’t I do this before using Gmail’s labels and filters?” The answer is: “sort of.” Labels have allowed account holders to archive email by creating specific rules or filters, and then store them in side/vertical folders. The new inbox uses horizontal tabs that truly divide your inbox.

The new tabs do the filtering for you. You can train Gmail to be smarter about categorization, or you can disable it altogether and re-purpose the tabs for your own categories. You can’t rename the tabs just yet, but you will be able to change the logic behind them. If you prefer a more classic inbox, you can easily disable the multiple tabs and just keep the Primary one, essentially going back to the old format. Instructions can be found here.

Why Email Marketers Think They Should Panic

It seems there’s already a community of email marketers who have expressed concern that these new tabs are going to harm their campaigns. Some have even sent emails and tweets to their subscribers with instructions on how to retrain their Gmail inbox to prioritize their messages. The main issues marketers seemed to be upset by are:

Loss of control: Before, while users could potentially have filters for certain messages, the consensus was there was one inbox, and all new email was getting equal attention by the recipient, at least to some degree. Now, with Gmail’s new tabs, your emails are subject to the auto-filtering rules.

The Promotions tab: It doesn’t appear Google has clearly stated the exact criteria they use to determine how emails are placed in each category, but if you’re in the marketing world and send mail via an ESP, chances are it’s going to end up in the Promotions tab. The Promotions tab isn’t the “Spam” folder, but some marketers might have anxiety that users will view it that way, especially considering the fact Gmail will be placing ads right in the Promotions tab that will appear as if they are actual emails.

Reduced open rates: The fear is the true impact will be felt in terms of diminished open rates for Gmail users. ESP MailChimp has already released results from their own research which indicates a slight decrease in tabbed inbox open rates.

Why Email Marketers Shouldn’t Panic

Inconclusive data: While MailChimp reported decreased open rates, they suggested it wasn’t too substantial. Other ESP’s and marketing organizations have chimed in saying they aren’t noticing a significant drop and some have even seen an increase in open rates.

It’s just Gmail: Yes, Gmail is a very popular email client, but it’s most likely not the majority of your subscribers’ preferred client. Depending on your company’s industry, it could be a much smaller percentage than you think. Just take a look at the last month’s overall client market share numbers. Also, not every Gmail user is thrilled about the new tabs, so they may have have already disabled them. While the tabbed inbox affects the Gmail app on mobile devices, some Gmail users don’t use the app to view their email on their phone and won’t be subject to the tabs.

Already engaged subscribers will find you: If people care about getting your emails, they’ll be sure to find them in whatever tab they’re in, or they’ll create filters on their own. Additionally, Gmail’s auto-categorization learns from user’s activity, so if your recipients consistently engage in your emails, your emails will soon wind up in the Primary tab automatically.

Promotion tab could be a good thing: Instead of your emails getting lost in the shuffle between personal emails and Facebook notifications, they will now be in a location users will visit willingly and on their own time, presumably ready to hear about your latest offer. Open rates could potentially be lower, but click/open rates will increase.

What can you do about it anyways? Sure, you might be opposed to Gmail’s ability to filter your messages, but what can you really do? You can’t do anything specific to Gmail, and every marketer will be in the same boat. If you want to stand out from the rest of the emails in the Promotions tab, you’ll need to craft enticing subject lines and solid content. Guess what? You should be striving for that anyways!

The main take away? This new interface is nothing to lose sleep over as a marketer (or consumer). If you’re really anxious, you should run reports on your list and campaigns to see if open rates have been affected. If you’re really, really anxious about it, counsel your Gmail subscribers on how they can make sure to see your future emails in their Primary tab.

Or… you could just go back to focusing on those enticing subject lines and killer content!

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