As if email deliverability wasn’t a big enough challenge, Google has gone and made it even harder to reach certain subscribers. In case you haven’t heard, over the past few months Google has rolled out a new inbox layout for their popular Gmail service. Given that Gmail has more than 425 million active users, email marketers everywhere are standing up and taking notice. Should you be concerned?
How the New Gmail Inbox Works
The big change lies in how the new Gmail inbox sorts emails. Incoming messages are now sorted into three to five tabbed folders:
- Primary: Messages from friends, family and other messages that don’t appear in other tabs. Also includes starred messages.
- Social: Messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, online dating services, gaming platforms and other social websites.
- Promotions: Deals, offers and other promotional emails.
- Updates: Automatic notifications, such as confirmations, receipts, bills and statements.
- Forums: Messages from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists.
Users can drag and drop a message to place it in a different folder, or in some browsers, right-click on the message to move it. Users can also tell Gmail to always do this with messages from that sender.
The Good News for Email Marketers
It is likely your promotional emails will end up in – you guessed it – the “Promotions” tab. But that might not be such a bad thing. When users look at their messages in a particular tab, they’re in the mind frame to look at those specific messages. This means your email stands a better chance of being well received. Also, your emails in the “Promotions” tab won’t be competing for attention with all those emails from your subscriber’s BFF, Aunt Judy, work or YouTube updates and LinkedIn notifications, which could actually help your email stand out.
It’s also important to remember Gmail has perfected (or nearly perfected) the art of filtering. As Ginny Soskey of HubSpot mentions, Gmail is smart enough to know that engagement equals relevancy. So as your subscribers engage with your emails, Gmail is more likely to consider your emails important and send them to the “Primary” tab.
Kevin Senne of Responsys is delighted that, with the new layout, tabs that contain new messages are highlighted. “Human behavior makes it really tough to avoid taking a peek at those new messages,” he explains. This means emails stuck in the “Promotions” tab won’t necessarily be perpetually ignored – which could mean improved metrics for you.
And finally, if the user has tabs but hasn’t opted to include the Promotions tab, Gmail will deliver your email to the coveted “Primary” tab instead.
The Bad News for Email Marketers
Gmail has always delivered sponsored ads. But with the new inbox, these ads are displayed to look more like regular emails – meaning you might face even more competition in the “Promotions” tab.
Additionally, Senne is concerned that brands with a tendency to mail a lot could be in jeopardy. As promotional emails are consolidated in the “Promotions” tab, users might notice a large amount of emails from the same sender, which could leave a negative impression.
What Email Marketers Can Do
The best course of action to ensure your emails appear in the “Primary” tab is to ask your subscribers to manually set this up in their Gmail accounts. You can make a few different recommendations. The first is to show your subscribers how to click and drag your email to the correct folder. Be sure to tell them to click “Yes” when asked if all future messages from you should go to that folder.
The second is to show subscribers how to manually set a filter that will send your emails to the “Primary” tab. MailChimp offers the following instructions:
- The user should search for your “from” email address. Then click the small grey arrow on the right of the search bar to bring up the advanced search criteria. Click the “Create filter with this search” link at the bottom of the results.
- From the advanced filter window, in the “Categorize as” section with the drop-down box, select the “Primary” tab. Once the user has created this filter, all emails from you currently in the user’s inbox will automatically appear in the “Primary” tab, as will all future emails from you.
What Difference will the New Gmail Inbox Make?
The jury is still out on whether this change will be a blessing or a curse for email marketers and subscribers alike. The numbers that are coming in so far are, at best, inconclusive:
- On the bright side, HubSpot found its customers saw an average of 58.9 percent more email opens and 63 percent more unique email opens in the first month after the new Gmail features were rolled out.
- In a more neutral vein, Responsys saw less than a 0.2 percent change in their Gmail open rates.
- Discouragingly, a MailChimp study saw open rates decrease three weeks in a row after the new layout was launched.
Of course, the best advice to mastering the new Gmail inbox is the same advice you’ve always heard: Know your subscribers and send relevant, value-added messages following email marketing best practices. If you do this well, and do it consistently, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
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