5 Ways to Beat Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox and Have Your Email Read

Google recently rolled out its new “tabbed inbox” system, letting users’ group incoming emails into categories such as “Primary” (personal emails), “Social” (social networks), and “Promotions” (marketing). The world’s biggest marketer will now be the ultimate arbiter of what message a user sees by default, and it is likely that all your companies marketing emails will be relegated to the Promotions tab – which will be out of view.

What does the Promotions Tab mean for Email Marketing?

Email marketers are scared that the new “Promotions” tab is effectively a type of “Spam-lite”, with all their emails being filtered and the user never receiving them. Currently, all newsletters, deals, coupons, confirmations, surveys, etc. are likely to fall into the Promotions tab. So, if a user doesn’t actively click on the tab, they are unlikely to ever see the email. This will mean a cleaner inbox, but it could spell doom for email marketers.

The last few days have seen a whole host of articles lamenting Gmail’s new tabbed interface and its effect on email marketing. MailChimp’s in-depth look indicates that there is a “small but definite drop” in Gmail open rates falling from about 13% to 12.5%.

Are things really that bad? Should we give up email marketing? It will take some time before the ramifications become clear, but in today’s article we’ll provide some tips to ensure your emails are being read.


IMPORTANT: Check open rates 

Before doing anything drastic or changing the way you are sending marketing emails, check whether your open rates have actually declined. Who knows, maybe your emails are so well-written they are automatically filtered into the Primary tab. It’s better to make marketing decisions based on your own data rather than on market trends.


1. Create useful content

In the past we have explained the importance of creating useful content and this remains the number one factor in making sure your emails are read. This is especially important now, because users have to actively click on the Promotions tab before they can even see your email. So, if your content isn’t interesting they probably won’t even bother.

This creates an interesting situation: the user must already be interested in your content to ensure that they read all future emails. So, make sure that when the user signs up, your first email is so compelling that they cannot resist the temptation to come back for more.

Examine subject lines, sender names, the content of the email, personalization features, and calls-to-action (among other things) to see if any can be improved.

2. Increase visibility by making your subject lines better

One benefit of the new tabbed email1and1 interface is that your marketing emails are no longer competing with personal emails. In the traditional interface your marketing email was more likely to be ignored if it was near an email from a friend or family member, but in the updated look your competition is limited to other promotional emails. This means your marketing emails will need more distinctive subject lines. For example, it’s likely that a lot of the other promotional emails will have “Newsletter” or “Reminder” in their subject, and to stand out you will need to use something which offers more value. MailChimp has a great article about the types of subject lines companies are using.

3. Keep your emails focused

Google is using some mystical method of determining which tabs the emails go into, and you can make things easier by having a clearly defined purpose for each one. Instead of having a coupon or deal in an email about feature updates, separate the two types of content.

It’s also better to have different addresses for each type of email. This will also let you encourage users to whitelist important emails into the Primary tab, while company newsletters and other marketing items will remain in the Promotional tab.

4. Shorten campaign deadlines

If users are opening the Promotions tab infrequently, you can force them to look at your emails by creating time-sensitive content. Perhaps there’s a contest which will end in a shorter period of time. If your readers are really engaged they won’t want to miss future emails.

5. Ask your customers to whitelist your emails

If the above tactics aren’t increasing your open rates it might be worth instructing your customers to select the Promotions tab, and then choose to put emails from your company into the Primary tab. But, this only works if your customers are actually going into the Promotions tab and opening your emails (a chicken and egg problem).

Don’t panic, yet.

Having gone through the article you might be thinking of running for the hills. Fear not, things aren’t as bad as they seem. First, this new feature only affects Gmail users and that’s still a minority of web email users. Second, keep in mind that people are still reading your emails. MailChimp analysis only noted a 1% drop in open rates. Third, it’s become easier than ever to unsubscribe, so if your readers continue receiving your emails it means they are probably still interested in your content.

I predict that the Promotions tab will set in motion a radical shift in the way email marketing is conducted. Although some users may never check the Promotions tab, those who do will be more engaged and valuable in terms of conversions. Hence the focus will shift from acquiring large subscription figures, to creating engaging content.