Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of the New Gmail Tabs


This week the email marketing world has been very concerned about the new Gmail tabs that Google began rolling out to all users (after announcing them on May 29). Before we dig into the data after everyone has used the new feature a while, why not take a deep breath and see why the new tabs are not as evil as they appear to some.


The new Gmail inbox now allows users to receive emails categorized into one of 5 tabs:  Primary, Social, Promotional, Updates and Forums. The key word here being “users” — as the new feature gives them more control over their crowded inboxes. It’s meant to make their lives easier (as opposed to the lives of email marketers — but heck, after all, these are not their inboxes, even though I sometimes have the impression some marketers think the opposite).




While we’re waiting to see the long-run impact of tabs on open and click rates, here are a few things that might help you keep your cool and not give in to the “Gmail tab” craze.



 (that’s exactly what you shouldn’t be doing.)


The Promotions tab does not equal the spam folder.

It’s simply a designated place where all the promotional emails are grouped together. What’s more, people are more likely to check this particular tab with a “buying” mindset — looking for attractive offers when they have time — rather than being annoyed at having to fish their personal correspondence out of all the promotions. It also helps that new emails in each tab are always signalized with a color-coded label, so it’s easier to keep track of what’s waiting in line.




Your newsletter is actually competing with LESS email.

Marketers are afraid their emails will be swamped with other promotional stuff; but the truth is, they already are — plus all the social network notifications and other emails in the primary inbox. You’ll never have control over how many emails other companies are sending; what you can do is send engaging content your subscribers look forward to, with a catchy subject line that stands out from other similar phrases. (And don’t forget about a trusted From field address).


Users decide which tab the emails go to.

If you’ve built good relationships with your subscribers, and if they’re indeed waiting for your emails, you really have nothing to worry about. What you can do, though, is to send a special email to subscribers who use Gmail, asking them to move your emails to the Primary inbox (just as you would ask them to whitelist you as a sender), or add a reminder to the regular emails you send. Gmail not only allows that (e.g. by dragging the email or starring it), it also asks if they want all future emails from that sender to be delivered to that tab.

(But remember that staying in the Primary inbox means living up to your readers standards, and these most certainly will be high.)



Another good idea is to remind them on the thank-you page after they sign up to look for your newsletters in the Promotions tab.


Actually, it’s all about the user and what they want.

So looking for ways to sneak into the Primary inbox is not such a good idea. Even if you find a way, you risk annoying your subscribers who might still move your newsletters to the “Promotional” tab anyway, and all your efforts will be in vain. What’s worse, you’d also be risking the spam folder or more unsubscribes (hey, the new tabs might actually reduce your unsubscribe rate!)


Not every Gmail user will use the new tabs.

They still have the choice to switch back to just one inbox. And a lot of them aren’t actually checking their Gmail account via the web interface or the mobile Gmail apps; they’re using desktop and mobile clients that ignore the tabbing altogether (and so does Gmail on older versions of Android – you’ll need to have at least 4.0 to see the tabs).

At this point it’s really hard to say how many will use the tabs (and how many are already doing so, as the feature is still being rolled out). So maybe it’s not worth losing too much sleep over it. (Remember the Gmail Priority Inbox? ;))


From my personal experience as a Gmail user, I actually loved the new tabs, because they instantly decluttered my inbox, especially the tons of social network notifications I get (such as LinkedIn group discussion updates and Facebook notifications). It also made it much easier for me to browse through the promotional emails and choose the ones that are really worth looking at.

Of course, there are a lot of challenges for email marketers at this point, especially with things like timed promotions. So you should pay special attention to your timing (which you always should anyway) and adjust it, as well as all the other essential elements.

Our analysts will keep a close eye on what’s happening with Gmail user stats, and we’ll certainly inform you of the results as the stats pour in. And in the meantime, keep calm and send great emails your subscribers will love, regardless of the tab they land in. 😉




What do you think? Is email marketing doomed because of the new Gmail tabs?

  • Great, foreward looking piece of comment and advice. As a gmail heavy user I have to say I love the new inbox and I do check the promotions tab. And, just like you noticed, I do it with a “buying” mindset instead of a “let’s declutter the inbox” mindset I used to have.

    One thing worth noting is that on mobile devices the tabs work on Android 4.0+. Using a lower version of Android the inbox on my mobile got super cluttered. From my phone I delete a lot of the promotional emails to keep the inbox clean.

  • Karolina Kurcwald

    Thanks Paweł! I’ll make sure to update the post with the info on Android apps.

  • terryjett

    Thank you for sharing your insight on the new Gmail tabs.

    They rolled them out to me on 1 June. At first did not like but soon found them to be very useful. Now I can choose the time of day to read certain emails.

    First thing we did was start educating our lists on the “benefits” of using them. It has been very well accepted and open/click-thru rates might even be a tad bit better. Think now our emails are even more targeted:)

  • I love the new Gmail tabs, not only as a user, but for my subscribers, too. In fact, i think I’ll shoot a tutorial video to educate them on how to use the tabs.

    As you suggest, Karolina, when subscribers put our emails in the Promotional Tab, it’s so they can look at them when they’re ready. If these promos just flood their inboxes, it’s far more likely they’ll be ignored. When the subscriber is ready… ready to read and ready to possibly purchase, join or whatever your action goal is… he/she will do it because they want to.

    Emails can’t trick folks into buying your stuff. Maybe they can trick them into opening your emails, but if the value is not on there when they open it, they’re likely to stop opening your emails.

    Meanwhile, as you also point out in this article, email marketing is not (ie., should not be) about forcing people to do things they don’t want to, it’s about building relationships with them so they look forward to your emails. Heck, my goal as a marketer is to have my subscribers happily put me in their Primary tab! That’s when I know I’ve been doing a great job of building relationships with them.

  • Karolina Kurcwald

    Thank you David! I really appreciate your comment.
    I was actually inspired to write this post by a few people asking about “tricks” that will get their emails into the Primary tab. And I thought email marketing was not about tricking your subscribers but about building meaningful relationships. If you do that, no Gmail tabs can be an issue.

  • Karolina Kurcwald

    Thanks! I think education is the key here, both for email marketers and their subscribers. Glad to hear about the higher opens & click-thrus. That is great news!

  • Great post, and some great reminders and information for marketers. I’m not crazy about you suggesting people send their list a message about the change, because I’ve gotten 6 of those messages this week. If it was mixed as an article or something in the regular newsletter, I’d have liked that a lot better than getting extra messages cluttering up my inbox.

  • Karolina Kurcwald

    Thanks Terri! I can see your point about the separate email with info for subscribers, but a reminder in your regular email is definitely a good idea, maybe a special post on your blog or Facebook page if you have one could also be helpful.

  • Arvind Krishnan

    Great perspective, I think you are absolutely right about why the tabs will actually help more than hurt. When the purchase intent is strong, and therefore for the subscribers that truly matter, the engagement is likely to be much higher. At Swym, we are trying to address that exact same opportunity by leveraging the mobile device.

  • Karolina Kurcwald

    Thanks Arvind! Good point about mobile emails as well.

  • riceboy1701e

    I have already received emails from some of the marketers asking me to move their emails from “Promotions” to “Primary”. They apparently have no qualms about making damn sure that you see their marketing. Consequently, if the marketer does not hound me about moving their mail from “Promotions” to “Primary”, then I will leave them alone. It’s the “BUY OUR STUFF! NOW! PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE!” factor that gets my goat.

    When this happens, it automatically goes to SPAM. *IF* I want to see their marketing crap, I’ll let them know. Otherwise it’s SPAM, just like all advertising. To me, marketing=advertising=SPAM.

  • riceboy1701e


    See my post above.