Handling Gmail Tabs the Right Way

By now you are all familiar with the new tabbed Gmail interface, which categorizes mail as Primary, Promotions, Updates, Social, and Forums (depending on the user’s preference). This is now the default configuration for all new Gmail accounts, and existing accounts have been automatically converted (if not done manually). Businesses that rely heavily on email to communicate with their customers are concerned that subscribers won’t see and interact with their mail if its not getting to the main (Primary) tab. As a result, they have sought out ways to change the inbox categorization of their mail. But, is it worth the effort?


Our data suggests that thus far the tabs have had a positive and minimal impact on read-rates. In fact, the most active Gmail users are showing signs of reading more promotional emails with the tabs, likely because Gmail users can spend more time and attention reading, rather than sorting and deleting emails. If you send promotional content, they can easily find your emails in the Promotions tab, instead of your mail getting lost in the Primary tab, where person to person communications live. In addition, most marketing mail is getting lower complaints, since users expect to see this mail in the Promotions tab.


We’ve received a lot of questions from businesses about how to handle the tabs. Of course, most of them are focused on how to get their mail delivered to the Primary tab instead of the Promotions tab. Some of the more common questions are:


  1. If I match *this* address to *that* address will my mail look like person to person communications and go to the Primary tab?

  2. What can we change in our content that will get us delivered to the Primary tab?


Trying these tactics could lead to all your email – even notifications, receipts, etc. – being sent to the Promotions tab, or worse, to the Spam folder. If you get your email to the Primary tab – without the user choosing to drag it there – it will generate more complaints, because the user doesn’t expect to see it categorized under that tab.


It seems Google has been getting a lot of questions as well, since they recently updated their Bulk Sender Guidelines to help businesses navigate the tabs. Here are the highlights:  


  1. Use a consistent friendly “From” for each type of content you send.

  2. Don’t cross the streams! (read: Don’t mix different categories of content – like transactional and marketing – in the same email.)


So, how do you handle the tabs the right way?


The important thing is to focus on what matters. Instead of devoting a lot of resources to getting your mail into a category that it doesn’t belong in, focus on sending targeted, engaging, well branded campaigns to subscribers that really want them and they will open your mail, regardless of tab placement. By following these best practices and the guidelines set forth by Google, you will set yourself up for success.


Wondering what impact Gmail tabs have had on your marketing mail? Type in your domain here for a quick analysis.

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