Over the last few days you’ve likely received urgent messages from email marketers warning of the recent GMail addition of tabs. The idea is that Google wants to help sort your email for you into what they deem Primary, Social and Promotions.

Gmail tabs

Many, if not all by now, GMail users logged in to find their email neatly sorted into these buckets. No surprise, but all of those email newsletters and other offers are going straight to the promotions tab making them a lot easier to ignore. Also no surprise all the alerts and updates I get from Google show up in the Primary tab.

Here’s the deal – marketers hate the idea, but users kind of really like it. So, guess what marketers. It just got harder to get your email read – even by those that really want it. As I saw in a note from my friend Michael Port, triple opt-in is the new double opt-in.

While some have objected over the idea that Google gets to sort their mail the typical GMail user will likely go along for the ride.

Marketers must teach their GMail subscribers to invite them into the primary box.

I’m writing this point in an effort to start that process but I also plan to email my subscribers to ask to be included.

Primary tab

Here’s how I plan to do it (feel free to copy this plan)

  • Sort my list to only mail GMail users – seems obvious but why bother everyone else.
  • Send them an email that shows them that they can simply drag any email from me that they find in the Promotions tab into the Primary tab and then all will show up there.
  • Show them how to change their settings if they like so that they can pick and choose what goes where.

tab settings

Don’t be surprised if you get a number of emails asking to be invited into your Primary tab. Of course, this simply means email or at least GMail marketers have one more reason to make the quality of their content so high that people will want to move it to a higher place.

Here’s the Google Help page on tabs

Join Our Content Community
Please leave this field empty.

First Name

Last Name

Your Email (this will be your username)

Password (at least 8 characters, 1 number, 1 upper and lowercase letter)

Already a member? Log In

John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Would it be logical to expect other email providers to quickly follow suit?

  • Good thinking. I have been advising marketers to encourage their recipients to ‘star’ their email for several months now, you may find some ideas for your upcoming campaign here: http://www.slideshare.net/mrbonar/gmail-inbox-placement-seminar

  • Paul McGuire

    I see this as similar to when Facebook started hiding business posts for the majority of people who like a page. In order to see them in your feed you had to take the extra step of saying “show in news feed.” Except the e-mails are still there for when you want to read them. I’ve already filtered out all subscriptions from my main inbox because the inbox is meant to be for actual new e-mails that I am not expecting.

    I don’t really think that it is that important to be in the primary tab. I still check the other tabs (if they actually contain anything I haven’t already filtered out) and Gmail still tells me when there are new e-mails in those tabs. I’m also not sure why anyone would actually want to follow these instructions and set a subscription to go to the primary tab. You’d have to have some really compelling content in your newsletter for that to make sense.

    • Hey Paul – I agree completely but the challenge most GMail users don’t know how to or don’t bother to use filters at all let alone as you describe – that’s the perfect world for sure, but it takes ongoing education and in my small sample of research I’m finding people treating the Promotions bucket like spam.

      • Paul McGuire

        Well I don’t know what the promotions tab looks like for someone without any filters but it is certainly all stuff I don’t need to give immediate attention to. I looked at what has been going in there since I started using the new inbox and most of it has been stuff I don’t really need in the primary tab. Though I did just tell Gmail to filter e-mails from a company I buy limited edition CDs from into the primary tab. This is really the exception rather than the rule though, in that I am always interested in at least checking out what they release every two weeks.

  • John, great strategy you’ve got there. Only one issue I see.

    You can’t always tell who uses Gmail for their email.

    Sure, you can see those who have a Gmail address but there are users out there who have a domain address that view their emails through the Gmail client. Do you have any plan to discover who those users are and email them?

    • Agree Joe and they haven’t even added Google Apps users, which might be impossible to track down – I think continued ongoing education – changing signup forms, thank pages and followup has to be part of the strategy too.

      • You’re right John. There has to be a strategy in getting the knowledge out there. It’s just difficult trying to get it to the people who need it without annoying the others.

      • Whenever you send an e-mail, your mail server needs to figure out where—which server—to send that mail. Google App users on domains should be pretty easy to track down based on MX (mail exchanger) records in DNS.

        It’ll be interesting to see if services like Constant Contact or MailChimp step up and develop tools to help deal with issues like these or if marketers will need to export their lists and run each domain through an mx check with a script.

        What won’t be easy to track is if users simply have their mail forwarded to their gmail inbox. That’s a big problem.

  • soniathomas

    Great practical advice, John. I do agree, most people don’t know enough about gmail to check out all their tabs and promotions do sound like spam – so a explanation would really help people decide if they value your messages enough to take that one action. If they don’t, they don’t actually really value your messages.- which is good for you to know.

  • I like this advice, very useful. Different move from Google…

  • Elizabeth Ball

    I sent my Gmail subscribers a how-to email on how to revert to their previous inbox style (click on Settings, Configure Inbox and de-select Social and Promotions) and have had a 22% open rate. Which might be even higher once they check their Promotions tab.

  • Thank you for the advice John!!! As you
    suggest, Email Marketing Managers’ jobs will now have to pay particular
    attention on great content if their emails are going to make their way to the
    primary section.