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Does the Gmail Tabbed Inbox Impact Email Marketing? by Megan Totka

Tabbed inbox and email marketingMany email marketers view the Gmail tabbed inbox as a potentially serious obstacle. Designed to make people’s lives easier by giving them a way to sort and prioritize incoming email, the inbox design defaults to three separate tabs: Primary, Social, and Promotions.

Guess where all your marketing messages are probably ending up?

The idea behind the concern is that with a separate Promotions tab, Gmail users can and will ignore every email that gets filtered into this spam-sounding void—and open rates will plummet like Facebook stock shares. But are these fears really justified?

MailChimp, a popular email marketing service, took an in-depth look at historic data and found that Gmail tabs seem to have caused a small but definite drop in open rates, from 13 percent to 12.5 percent. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s significant enough for most marketers to take action.

Fortunately, there are a few proactive steps you can take to give your email marketing messages the best shot at seeing the light of Gmail users’ screens.

Deliver High Quality Content and Offers

This is the golden rule of email marketing, and it applies now more than ever. Gmail’s sorting algorithms are forever cloaked in mystery, but the platform is very good at categorizing messages. Great content always has a better shot at making it through.

More importantly, if you deliver content that your subscribers want to read, they’ll continue to seek out your messages—even if they end up filed in the wasteland of the Promotions tab.

Shine Up Those Subject Lines

Maybe you’ve been getting along with marketing subject lines like “My Company’s Monthly Newsletter” or “A Special Offer from My Company.” With Gmail tabs, there’s no doubt messages like these will be sorted as promotions.

If you’ve been slacking on subject-crafting, it’s time to brush up your skills and start coming up with sizzling, irresistible—or at least engaging—subject lines that will stand out from all the “Yet Another Message You’ve Read 100 Times Already” ranks that are filed under the Promotions tab.

Tighten Your Campaign Deadlines

Limited-time offers are a traditional, time-tested strategy for email marketers. With the possibility of increased competition for subscriber attention—hopefully sometime before they check the “Delete All” box in the Promotions tab—it may help to make your campaign times even more sensitive.

Be sure to include the expiration dates of your offers, contests, and promotions in your subject line, so your Gmail subscribers can clearly see why they should open your message right away.

Increase Your Mobile Marketing

In good news for email marketers, more than half of Gmail users read their email primarily on mobile platforms—none of which support the tabbed interface.

If you don’t already have mobile email strategies in place, make sure your marketing messages are designed to work with the mobile experience: short paragraphs, bulleted lists, and large, easy-to-tap calls to action are a good place to start. Here’s more on getting started with mobile marketing.

Ask Subscribers to Whitelist You

Gmail is all about personalizing the email experience—so of course, they offer ways for their users to change where their messages are delivered. In many cases, all you have to do is ask your opt-in Gmail subscribers to mark your messages as important.

You can include a brief note as part of your regular mailings, or send out a special message explaining that Gmail users might not be receiving your emails, and asking them to adjust the labels for emails sent from your address.

The process is simple: to change where emails end up, subscribers can just drag and drop any of your messages from the Promotions tab onto the Primary tab. Gmail will then ask if all incoming messages from the address should be handled the same way. When the user clicks “yes,” all your emails will be delivered to the Primary inbox.

Gmail’s tabbed interface may not have any significant impact on your open rates. In any case, implementing these tips will improve the overall effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns—and might get you delivered into more Primary tabs.

If you’re interested in learning more about the future of e-commerce and marketing via the social, local, mobile web, register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web and what it means for your business, including:

About the Author:
Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

Image credit: Image courtesy of comedy nose via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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