What Gmail’s new tabbed inbox means for you as an email marketer

In late May 2013, Google announced that it was introducing a new inbox for Gmail.

The biggest change was the introduction of tabs, where emails are automatically sorted:

  • Primary
  • Social
  • Promotions


There are then two other tabs – Updates and Forums – though these are not enabled by default.

The long and short of this is that marketing emails are now automatically assigned to Promotions and no longer the Primary inbox.

So what does this mean for you as an email marketer?


Accept It 

If you’re user, you’re probably pretty happy with your new tabbed Gmail inbox.

But if you’re an email marketer?

You’ve probably worked out by now that the seeming and immediate downside is that your beautifully curated marketing and promotional emails will no longer be front-and-centre in your user’s Gmail inbox.

Unless a user decides to ‘star’ your email and in doing so, awarding you a special place in their Primary inbox for evermore, your emails are going to be sitting with the rest of the user’s promotional emails and will only be seen if your user decides to have a look.

And of course, even if they do this, you’re amazing email will be surrounded by so many other amazing emails; ironically, when I look at my Gmail, the marketing emails I do look at stand out thanks to the billions of identical emails from the different group buying websites I long-ago subscribed to… this is however, slightly beside the point.

So the two key concerns any email marketer should have:

  • My messages are less likely to be seen by my users and customers.
  • My campaigns will be less effective; a drop in ROI.


Valid concerns to have.


Be positive and know the facts

Exact Target is an email marketing platform a few of our clients use.

They emailed me an interesting – though slightly partial – white paper with their take on the new Gmail inbox.

Where I say partial, the point of Exact Target’s white paper is to try and allay the fears of its customers, though if you read between this, there are some interesting outtakes for marketers.

Users can still access your emails albeit under a new tab; your emails are still being delivered.

Gmail ranks slightly below Outlook.com and Yahoo Mail, being around four percent of email. If there is an impact to open-rates etc, it only affects four percent of your email database… in theory.

You cannot tell Gmail to move your email to a different folder. Gmail makes the decision of where to place emails, based both on its own algorithm as well as by watching users dragging emails between tabs.

The change affects the iPhone and Android Gmail apps. Positively for marketers, most iPhone users use the default iOS email app to get their Gmail and the default iOS email app does not support Gmail inbox tabs.

(You can see the new Gmail inbox tabs on my phone below:)

Probably the most salient point Exact Target makes is also its most common sense.

As an email marketer, really focus on the quality of your emails; build your brand so that users do open your emails when they see them.


Exact Target reckon they haven’t seen any discernable impact on open-rates among their clients and I guess that has to be accepted and certainly is positive for its marketers if it is true. Of course, it is for them to downplay the impact of the Gmail tabbed inbox, though they make some valid arguments.

As gloomy as the new tabbed Gmail inbox might seem for marketers, it is good for users and ultimately, good and disciplined marketers with good emails and good content will be rewarded.

Time to double down as an email marketer.