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Email deliverability: Navigating Gmail's inbox changes

Thomas Senne
Senior Director of Global Deliverability

For many email marketers, the initial reaction to Gmail’s user interface changes this past year was one of panic. Gmail rolled out a new sorting system, divvying up email among Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums tabs — when a user receives personal messages, they are populated under the Primary tab, social invites and notifications go to Social, marketing messages arrive in Promotions, transactional messages go to Updates, and list email lands in Forums.

The thought of not being in the Primary inbox runs contrary to everything we’ve been taught about deliverability. However, the consequences of this change have started to take shape, and in fact, the tabs have proved to be a positive change for marketers.

Why the Primary Inbox is no longer primary

By grouping the promotional messages together in one tab, Gmail has now given marketers an audience with a propensity to buy. When users click on the Promotions tab they are looking for marketing messages. This is a nice departure from the past strategy of hitting the inbox and trying to stand out.

The Updates tab is also an important place for marketers. This tab contains important messaging normally classified as transactional. Purchase confirmations, shipping notifications, and e-receipts are the types of messages one can expect to find in the Updates tab. These types of messages continue to perform very well because they contain content that people want to see. This also translates to further success for other tabs, as consumers are conditioned to explore to see important messaging.

Since the rollout of tabs as a default for the entire Gmail user population, no group of commercial mailers appears to be particularly disadvantaged. Given the freedom to ignore classes of email, most Gmail users are choosing to seek out and read the marketing messages that interest them.

3 key tips for winning at Gmail’s tabbed inbox

In terms of a strategy when it comes to dealing with Gmail’s changes, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Focus on strategy, not classification: Don’t spend time trying to change how Gmail classifies messages. You are most likely in the correct place – concentrate on the marketing.
  2. Pay attention to subject lines: Consumers are seeing all marketing messages in one place so the need to stand out is even more paramount.
  3. Track open rates closely: Different senders have different experiences, but in all cases traditional deliverability troubleshooting is the way to improve open and inbox placement rates.

For more tips on successful email deliverability, download the eBook, The New School Marketer's Guide to Email Deliverability.

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