Dealing With Gmail Tabs: Just How Effective Are Dedicated Gmail Campaigns?

As an account manager at Return Path, I’ve had many clients ask me about Gmail Tabs, specifically how it will affect their emails and what they should do to make sure their emails are still being seen and read by subscribers.  One thing that some marketers are trying is sending a campaign to their Gmail subscribers with instructions on how to continue receiving their mail in their Primary tab.

I was interested to see how effective these campaigns really were.  Were subscribers reading them?  Were subscribers taking enough action on these emails to truly cause an impact to read rate and inbox placement rate?  Using Return Path’s subscriber panel data, I was able to research this and get some interesting insights.

Let’s start by going over what those instructions are.  It’s actually pretty simple: for any mail that you receive to a non-Primary tab in your Gmail account, you can drag it into your Primary tab.  Gmail will then move the mail for you and show a pop-up that reads, “The conversation has been moved to “Primary”.  Do this for future messages from [sender address]?”  To receive mail from that sender to your Primary tab moving forward, simply click on “Yes” and this preference will be saved within your Gmail account.

The first email I saw that addressed Gmail Tabs head-on was from Bulletproof Executive, a site which promises emails to help you upgrade your performance, health and life.  Sent on July 25, this campaign was sent to the full subscriber list and saw Excellent engagement.  Interestingly, Bulletproof Executive chose not to send a separate campaign to just Gmail users, but rather to include the Gmail instructions within their regular podcast campaign.  Ultimately, I’m not sure this was the best strategy, since the email would be been just noise to non-Gmail subscribers, but nonetheless the campaign saw a 40.39% read rate, which is slightly higher than their 30-day average read rate of 38.33%.  The subject line used was “The Latest Podcast & A Message for Gmail Users…”













LivingSocial also sent a Gmail dedicated campaign to subscribers on August 13.  The subject line used for this campaign was “Don’t Let Great Deals Get Lost in your Inbox.”  This campaign saw Average engagement and only a 11.82% read rate, which was just slightly higher than their 30-day average read rate of 9.7%.  This could be because they didn’t create a sense of urgency or give a strong reason why subscribers should move their mail into the Primary folder, only stating “Here’s a quick way to make sure you don’t miss out on all the great local things to see and do.”  Something I did like about LivingSocial’s campaign, however, was that they added a secondary call-to-action at the bottom of the email: “And you’re finished!  Why not reward yourself with something fun?  View today’s deals.”

LivingSocial Gmail Campaign

Finally, mega-retailer Gap sent Gmail subscribers an email about Gmail tabs on August 6.  I like the subject line they used – “Gmail users: Never miss an offer from Gap!” – because it specifically called out Gmail subscribers to grab their attention.  However, the pre-header used – “Never miss an offer from Gap!  Click on the icon next to Gap emails in your Gmail inbox” – was potentially confusing as it conflicted with the full instructions in the body of the message, and was also misleading since clicking on the star icon will only move that one campaign into the Primary folder and will not be an on-going change for that sender’s campaigns.  Unlike LivingSocial, Gap chose to stick with their normal promotional template and even included a hero image of a Gap model.  While I like the branding consistency, I wonder if this was potentially too much clutter for the email and caused the actual Gmail instructions to be less impactful.  One thing I did like, however, was that Gap included a discount for subscribers at the bottom of the email as a thank you for updating their preferences.  Overall, the campaign saw Average engagement with a 14.62% read rate.  Compared to their average 30-day read rate of 17.13%, it’s clear that this campaign didn’t resonate as much as the others did.

Gap Gmail Campaign

While the results of the individual campaigns are interesting, more important is what impact these campaigns had to the senders’ read and inbox placement rates (IPR) at Gmail, if any.  Using Return Path's Gmail subscriber panel data, I was able to pull the data for each sender before and after their Gmail dedicated campaign was sent, below.  As you can see, most of these campaigns had a positive effect on the sender's read rate – especially for the Bulletproof Executive with a 14.07% read rate increase! – however, for most the impact was minimal.  What this tells me is that your most engaged subscribers will seek out your campaigns, even if sent to the Promotional folder, so Gmail Tabs is having minimal effect on those recipients.  However, it is still early in the game and maybe too early to make any definite conclusions, so this is something we will continue to keep an eye on.


Sender Campaign Date IPR Before IPR After IPR Difference Read Rate Before Read Rate After Read Rate Difference
Bulletproof Executive July 25 100% 100% N/A 38.10% 52.17% +14.07%
LivingSocial August 13 91.11% 91.47% +0.36% 12.62% 13.10% +0.48%
Gap August 6 96.75% 95.74% -1.01% 17.48% 17.97% +0.49%



Interested to see how your read and inbox placement rates have been affected by Gmail tabs?  Simply enter your sending domain at  We'll tell you how your email program was affected during and after Gmail Tabs release, and how you compare to the rest of your industry and the entire email industry. 

Want to see even more data from Return Path?  Download our "Gmail Tabs Analysis" report here.



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