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

4 min

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?

Karolina Kurcwald
Karolina Kurcwald
Karolina is a brand messaging consultant and copywriter for SaaS and B2B tech. She helps brands clearly define what sets them apart from the competition and communicate it in a way that resonates with their customers. As a career coach, she also helps people in the creative and tech industries find and communicate their value to potential employers. Catch her at: