Death by Tabs?
If you’ve somehow missed this story, which has created much gnashing of teeth among online marketers recently, here’s the summary: Gmail, when viewed in a non-mobile environment, now automatically (at the sole discretion of our friends at Google) segments received emails into three folders, accessible with tabs at the top of inbox. These folders are “Primary” “Social” and “Promotions”. Primary is intended for email from real people. Social is for the myriad of “hot trigger” social updates in the “some guy you didn’t really like in high school, but are now obligated to pay attention to in your 40s has liked your photo” vein. Promotions is for the rest, which is primarily email newsletters and commercial appeals. And that’s where it gets sticky for marketers.
The fear is that the “Promotions” tab will be a newfangled spam folder, an email shantytown where only the bravest recipients dare venture. Many marketers send legitimate email that people ostensibly desire, like our own One Thing email we send each day with the single most important social media/content marketing story you need to read (you do get One Thing, right?). The challenge is that the One Thing (and probably any email that you send to subscribers) is now going into the Promotions folder. The theory is that people won’t check that folder much because it’s perhaps less urgent and personal than the Primary emails, and thus open rates will fall, we’ll all make less money, bunnies will perish, and chaos will reign.
Too Soon to Tell?
And perhaps it is bad news for bunnies. Early analysis from Mail Chimp finds a .5% drop in open rates. That’s not a big drop, of course, but it is a drop, and considering they studied a billion and a half email accounts, it’s certainly valid in terms of sample size. But, is a .5% drop in open rate (your mileage may vary) a big deal to you? Well, it depends on how many Gmail subscribers you have, doesn’t it?
This Impacts 4% of Email Accounts (on average)
The good folks at ExactTarget just published an outstanding advice guide about what to do regarding this whole Gmail kerfuffle. You should download it as soon as you’re done here – it’s free (link below). In contrast to Mail Chimp, ExactTarget has not yet seen a demonstrable drop in opens or clicks, and they point out in the free guide a very important fact: only 4% of email accounts – on average – are impacted by this change. You may have a lot more than that, depending upon your subscriber mix. In fact, nearly one-third of the subscribers to One Thing are on Gmail. But remember, this is only an issue when you use Gmail in a computer environment, not mobile devices. So, given the SoLoMo profile of our subscribers, the actual impact is far, far less than one-third.
But, we at Convince & Convert are most definitely testing our results among Gmail and non-Gmail subscribers to see if WE are affected. And that’s PRECISELY what you should do. Is is disconcerting that Google has made this change? Yes. But no more so than Facebook deciding which posts we say based on its Edgerank algorithm. What matters is whether and how YOU are impacted, and if you are what to do about it.
I’ve already received emails from Derek Halpern (Social Triggers) and Jonathan Fields (Good Life Project) asking me (as a Gmail subscriber to their emails) to take some steps to help get their messages in my Primary folder. But, as ExactTarget reports in their guide, there is no fool-proof method for doing so. Personally, I’d rather not email my list and ask them to do something until or unless I knew for a fact that this change was a problem, and that I could offer a sure fire solution.
The Secret: Relevance
But ultimately, this is just the first shot across the bow (or the latest). EVERYTHING in this category is adding up to algorithmic filtering of content. Computers and social networks will continue to determine what gets visibility, and how. Which is why it is even more critical than ever that everything you send or say is truly, inherently useful to your subscribers. If you’re a Youtility, an honest-to-goodness provider of marketing so useful people would pay for it, Google could insert your emails into a den of vipers and people will still find a way to find and read them.
You want to defeat Gmail’s new gimmick? Send better email. You’re welcome.
(for a better, longer, more detailed version of this advice I encourage you to download the free guide Gmail’s New Inbox right now)