Tabbed inboxes: What it means for email marketers

In May, Google announced an update to Gmail that organizes users’ inbox by tabs. While these tabs can be adjusted by the individual user, the default settings separate emails in the inbox into three separate tabs: Primary, Social and Promotion.

The broader roll-out of these changes by Gmail, which has over 425 million active users and is the leading, free email provider, has taken place over the last few weeks.

Several of our email clients are asking what the new tabbed inboxes mean for their brand and email programs. While there appear to be some kinks in Gmail’s algorithm—we’ve seen promotional travel emails land in the Primary tab and bank statements in the Promotion tab—below are steps you, as marketers, can take now to ensure that your emails are being seen by the intended recipients.

While Gmail users do have the option to adjust their inbox tabs, assume they will not and will simply use the default tabs provided by Gmail.

  • Test all of your messages through the Gmail inbox to see which tabs they’re ending up in. Adjust your email templates accordingly,
  • Send a one-time email to your subscriber list or add a blurb to the top of your emails alerting Gmail users of the inbox changes. Include step-by-step directions to edit their settings to allow your brand’s emails to hit their Primary tab or the tab of their choosing.
  • Monitor the overall response rates of pre- and post-tab implementation to understand how the change is affecting your key metrics. You may need to change your forecast projections based on what you discover.
  • Timing is more critical than ever with the new tabs. You should rethink how you customize communication streams to be based more heavily on consumer behaviors and triggers and other ways to contact consumers when they’re most likely looking for brand communications, no matter what tab they land in. Also, focus on understanding when consumers are most likely to go into the Promotions tab versus other tabs.
  • Additionally, while 90% of email activity typically occurs within a few hours of receiving an email, we may see this window of time expand. Consumers may not check their Promotions box as often—or they may only check it when they’re looking to buy a specific product. Think longer shelf life. This may mean longer lead times on sales and promotions are needed.
  • As a brand, it’s more important than ever to stand out from the crowd now that all promotions are grouped together. Personalization and customization are a must. Data and customer insights will enable this level of relevance.

The good news is that we’re also seeing many triggered emails, such as confirmation, shipping and welcome messages, being placed in the Primary tab.  These email streams have always been valuable means of engagement. Marketers should think of new ways to leverage triggers knowing that they secure a prime spot in the inbox.

Smart marketers need to view the Gmail updates as an opportunity. We now have the ability to take advantage of an uncluttered Primary tab, as well as the Promotions tab which, with all of the marketing emails will essentially become a brick-and-mortar shopping mall.

What do you think of the tabbed inbox? What has your brand discovered thus far? Tell us in the comments below.