Following Up on Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox

It has been nearly two months since our first post discussing Gmail’s tabbed inbox, and in that time a lot of new details have emerged regarding this major shift in the Gmail interface. In this post, we’ll answer some questions previously posed and address some new developments we think you should know about.

Almost everyone will use it

While the initial announcement was met with uncertainty around scope, Google has since made it clear that Tabs will reach the vast majority of users. Around July 22nd, the tabbed inbox began rolling out to Gmail users who had not chosen to enable it earlier. Google has not confirmed a rollout schedule, but it is likely that most users who access the Gmail web interface have seen Tabs enabled automatically at this time. In addition, many mobile users have received a new version of the Gmail application that also contains Tabs.

Engagement will likely be affected

In our previous post, we noted that it was far too early to tell just how much this change would impact marketers. Even now, it’s still too early to predict with any level of certainty. However, data is starting to roll in from various industry sources regarding the effect of these changes.

Many industry sources cite a decrease in overall Gmail open rates, ranging from a negligible blip of under a half-percent to a noticeable gap of five or more percent. While this isn’t the whole story, it’s very likely that the end result will be lower average Gmail open rates for marketers. Smartmarketers will know that fostering engagement and brand loyalty will help many senders overcome these deficits.

In addition, industry blog Word to the Wise reports that some marketers have seen increases in revenue since the rollout began. Return Path also reports that engaged Gmail users actually opened more marketing email during the first days of the rollout. Open rates are certainly important, but the goal of every email marketing venture is to drive revenue. Some positive reports early on are good to see, but the full picture will take some time to develop.

Gmail users have some control

As an email marketer, there are some things you can do to help your most loyal readers receive their emails in the Primary tab. The most effective involves the user actually moving your email into their Primary tab, either by dragging or via a right-click action.

Gmail users have some control over the tabbed inbox.

Once a user takes this action, they’ll be given the option to have all messages from that sender routed to the Primary (or chosen) folder permanently:

Gmail adds promotions to its email inbox.

While this option applies only for this user, Gmail relies heavily on user input when determining how an email should be routed. With that knowledge, it seems likely that if enough users move your messages to the Primary tab, it could impact delivery for other users as well.

Many marketers are taking advantage of this option to try and get out ahead of Gmail’s changes. They are sending dedicated email campaigns to Gmail users, encouraging the users to move their emails to the Primary tab. Many even include a brief tutorial on how to make the move. For senders with a large Gmail user base, this could be essential to establishing or maintaining good Gmail engagement rates.

More competition in the Promotions tab

In addition to the changes affecting how inbox emails are displayed, Gmail has made another change that is getting a lot of attention – adding their own email-like ads to the Promotions tab.

Think Geek's back-to-school campaign.

These ads look and behave very much like emails: clicking on one “opens” its content and it can be forwarded to a friend. However, it’s not possible to opt-out of these ads, so users will see Gmail-chosen offers at the top of their Promotions tab along with legitimate emails.

Many marketers are concerned about these ads, as they function much like email but aren’t subject to CAN-SPAM requirements (at least not according to Gmail). Time will tell if this type of ad is a good or bad decision for Gmail, but as a marketer you should at least be aware of their presence.

New details will continue to emerge as time passes, along with data quantifying the effect of the tabbed inbox on email marketers. Even with this new information, the most effective long-term solution is still to foster engagement, build brand loyalty, and provide value to your readers. Email interfaces may change, but one thing remains: emails that provide value get read, encourage action, and drive revenue.

Brad Gurley Director of Deliverability, WhatCounts


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