Baer Facts, Email, Youtility

What To Do About Gmail Tabs


In this edition of The Baer Facts, I talk with Kyle Lacy of ExactTarget about the new tabbed folders in Gmail, and whether marketers should panic or largely ignore this major interface change.

Death by Tabs?

Gmail_TabsIf 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)

Facebook Comments


  1. Dave Link says

    I don’t quite understand the panic among email marketers when it comes to these new tabs. Sure, you run the risk of having your emails sorted into a new category, but so long as you’re providing valuable information and engaging content your recipients will still keep an eye out for your messages.

    Anecdotally, I’ve found myself reading promotional emails more often now than I did prior to tabbing. Instead of having regular email feeds interrupted every 5-7 minutes by things that aren’t truly pressing, now I take a few minutes each day to actually open and give a once-over to all of my promo messages. No longer is it just a subject-line glance and delete.

    Is this going to effect open rates and message views? Sure, but only if the content wasn’t of genuine interest before the switchover. Provide good utility and value and I’d say you have little about which to worry.

  2. says

    Couldn’t agree more with Kyle and your sentiments. One point of clarification. Google has rolled tabs out to the Gmail iOS and Android apps. So, if you have the tabs on your desktop, the mobile app has them too. Will be interesting to see if they roll it out to the Android native mail app and if a later version of iOS’ native app will accommodate them too.

  3. says

    Thank you Jay! Your’s if the first article I’ve read that has taken this perspective, and I am in agreement. I was beginning to think that since I’m not a marketer maybe I just didn’t understand. But as with all things web “content is king” and if you’re providing what users want you should get through.

    As a user I like the tabs. Easier for me to stay organized and keep my vertical screen real-estate short and sweet. Certainly didn’t have a problem seeing or getting your email! 😉

  4. Carin Galletta Oliver says

    For our agency list, the gmail client users are about 11% and we haven’t seen a drop in the metrics that matter to us. For our clients, most of their lists see sub 5% as gmail client users and again, we’re not seeing any drop off in terms of performance. But it’s early and time will tell.

    This should put more pressure on content developers to create meaningful communication, better understand their audience and analyze data from a multitude of channels to refine email messaging.

    And I would jump through a bonfire to get your content. So keep rocking!

  5. Brian says

    Thanks guys. You had me cracking up and I look forward to your new book RELAVISANCEY. An Epic tale of email and unsubscribing.

  6. says

    You know my take, Jay. Quite similar to yours! Additionally I think many marketers are focusing on the wrong metric. It’s not all about opens. What about clicks? Conversions?

    Finally, to your point, maybe this will actually get more of the emails that people actually want READ and CLICKED. Right?


  7. Carrie says

    I disliked the new Gmail format from the moment I signed on and saw what they had done. It took me maybe 5 minutes to visit my Gmail settings and change it back so all email filters to one area.

  8. says

    Not wanting to sign up for ExactTarget’s promotions, I didn’t download the full paper. That said, this question may have been answered there, but how did they determine who’s using Gmail? Are they just basing that off of email addresses with “” in them, are they basing that off of response headers in the users’ messages, or do they have a system to see which mail client people are actually using to read their messages?

    If they’re just basing it off of people having in their email addresses, their numbers could be way off. A lot of people use Gmail to host their domain email and a lot of others forward their other mail to a Gmail account. On top of that, not everyone using Gmail is actually using the Web interface very often.

    Just curious, really.

  9. RedSlice says

    Thanks Jay. As I witnessed in your Twitter discussion the other day, it’s interesting and time will tell. I’m glad you’re talking about it. However, let’s hold back on accusing everyone of panicking or implying that “Well, just create better content.” (I’m looking at you DJ :-) I kid because I love!) We’re talking about smart content marketers here, not Chicken Littles. I’ve actually already noticed that many of my new Gmail subscribers since this change have not completed the email verification process yet. That is probably because the confirmation requests went to Promotions. Now, I obviously haven’t had a chance to prove the value of my content to them yet, and if they don’t confirm the subscription (as blasted Aweber make them) then I never will get that chance. Then one day when they go to clean out their Promotions folder, they may go, “Oh, did I sign up for that?”

    I am all for the idea of a tidier In Box, believe me. But not sure I love Google making the decisions for me (or anyone) about what is a promotion and what is not. And comparing it to Edgerank doesn’t help their cause, as that is a whole other rant!

    Thanks for sharing your perspective! As always….

    • says

      Good comment. I’m not suggesting Edgerank helps the case, but it is symptomatic of the larger trend. Excellent point about opt-in confirmation. Sounds like something for AWeber to think through.

      • RedSlice says

        Very true. You can’t always fight the tide and in the end, we all adapt don’t we? And don’t get me started on Aweber either! Wondering if I should send those subscriber emails a note to say “Check your Promotions tab” or might that be a bit creepy?! :-) Thanks Jay….

    • says

      @RedSlice:disqus: Would love to learn more about why you are requiring your subscribers to confirm / double opt-in. Good discussion for our coffee meet up soon in PA!

  10. Graciousstore says

    I don’t see anything wrong with the new gmail. It simply helps users prioritize how they open their emails. It also does not mean that every email in tabs not primary tab will be trashed. I’m sure users will open the tab to see what type emails are there and decide to open them or not.

  11. Michelle Scott says

    In the intervening weeks since this change began happening, the only noticeable “incorrect” sorting that my email seems to have been subject to has been the result of sender info. Folks with multiple mailing lists need to make sure they’re correctly identifying themselves in the sender details to keep themselves from being sorted (even accidentally on purpose) into a promo folder.

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