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Gmail Inbox Tabs: How They Work & Why Email Marketers Benefit From Them

by on ‎09-19-2013 09:00 AM (3,013 Views)

It’s been nearly four months since Google started rolling out the new Gmail inbox tabs, and a majority of Gmail’s 0.5 billion users, including myself, have already converted to the new interface.


As an email marketing, my initial thought was that these tabs are going to significantly decrease the value of email marketing.  Since then I’ve read countless blog posts and various reports that focus on the potential effects – positive and negative – and recently came to the conclusion that the new Gmail Inbox Tabs have a positive effect on email marketing efforts. I’ll explain why I came to that conclusion after a brief overview of Gmail Inbox Tabs.





The Gmail Inbox Tabs serve two purposes: to help Gmail users prioritize messages and to create a new advertising revenue opportunity for Google. This new Gmail interface automatically categorizes the user’s email messages into the following tabs:


  • Primary – Messages from friends and family, as well as any messages that don’t appear in other tabs
  • Social – Messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, dating services, gaming platforms and other social websites
  • Promotions – All opt-in email marketing offers and promotional display ads that resemble emails from Google itself.

The Inbox Tabs have been widely accepted and are functioning properly, according to a MarketingProfs article posted on September 16th, 2013:


  • 73% of those who have been transitioned to the Tabs feature have not changed any of the default settings (turned off/on, removed/added tabs, etc.).
  • 75% say the feature is accurately sorting messages to the correct tabs.
  • 88% of the general population say Gmail Tabs has not caused them to lose any email from their favorite brands; 100% of respondents age 18-34 say so.

Why are Gmail Inbox Tabs GOOD for Email Marketers?


I’ve broken my ‘argument’ into three concise sections, one focusing on statistical findings and the other two focusing on (email) marketing concepts, in an effort to more clearly explain my opinions on this complicated topic.


1) Gmail Inbox Tabs BOOST Read Rates and Inbox Placement Rates


  • Inbox Placement Rates Increased / Less Emails Sent to Spam Folder
  • Engaged subscribers report reading more commercial emails
  • Most industries report an increase in Read Rates

Source: Return Path’s “Gmail Tabs Analysis. Gmail Tabs Don’t Stop Shoppers: So Far So Good for Email Marketers” 8/13/2013


But haven’t open rates decreased?


Yes. Some early data does suggest that open rates may have decreased slightly. An email’s open rate however, as most email marketers know, is not the sole determining factor of success. It’s actually the least important factor when compared to clicks and conversions, both of which appear to have increased since the launch of the inbox tabs.


2) Gmail Inbox Tabs REDUCE Competition


Landing in your subscribers’ promotional tab eliminates the challenge of competing for attention with personal emails from friends and family and an endless barrage of social media notifications from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and countless other social websites.


3) Gmail Inbox Tabs create a BETTER e-commerce environment


When subscribers open marketing emails, they do it on purpose and with a higher intent to make a purchase (convert). Putting all of their marketing messages in one place optimizes the online shopping experience and further enables them to do what they like/intend to do…shop.

Eventually, most of your engaged Gmail subscribers will go straight to the promotional tab when they have the urge to go on an email marketing shopping spree.


My Suggestion: Stay in the Promotional Tab & Continue to Follow Best Practices


If you follow the fundamental guidelines and best practices of email marketing, then you have nothing to worry about. You will continue to reap the unbeatable ROI of email marketing as long as your messages are relevant, timely and high-personalized.

Our blogs offer a variety of resources on best practices in marketing, including the following that relate specifically to email marketing:


What experiences have you had with the new Gmail Inbox Tabs?


Has your Gmail account defaulted to the new inbox tabs yet? Do you think the new inbox tabs improve your Gmail experience? How often do you check the promotions tab? What long-term effect do you think they’ll have on email marketing?


This is pretty subjective topic and I would love to hear your thoughts, concerns and/or opinions. Share them below!