Gmail tabs and their email marketing impact

Inbox update

There are a lot of questions regarding the impact Gmail tabs will have on email marketing. Of concern to most marketers is whether this will lower their view rates and change the way subscribers interact with newsletters and email promotions.

What are gmail tabs?

Gmail has a video here showing how it’s supposed to work.

Gmail Tabs Email Marketing

Basically, it’s a filtering system that allows Gmail users to sort their mail into categories like Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. The goal is to give Gmail users more control over their inbox and tackle the common user complaint that their inbox is just too noisy.

The concern for email marketers is that Gmail tabs will lower view rates and engagement will drop.

Before you start worrying though, let’s explore what it might mean to you. It’s worth keeping in mind that Gmail tabs is not, at heart, a filtering system but rather a sorting system — an important distinction.

The impact of gmail tabs on email newsletters

Right now, Gmail tabs are optional and don’t yet have widespread adoption. As of today, the impact this has had on email newsletter view rates has been minimal though some have reported seeing a decrease.

Litmus reported less than a single percentage point decrease while others have reported up to 3 percent decreases per newsletter.

Average engagement rates may drop overall. It’s equally possible that Gmail tabs won’t find widespread adoption. Readers may adapt to the Promotions tab in a way that improves engagement or they may decide they like sorting by tabs so much that this becomes the new norm.

Overall, I’m doubtful Gmail tabs will have a powerful effect on your bottom line. Here’s why:

Subscribers want your emails

82% of consumers open emails from companies. (Litmus)

A recent Return Path study found that consumers receive more newsletters than person-to-person emails for a remarkably simple reason: because we want them. (Peter Gerard, Return Path)

The quotes above demonstrate that far from wanting to filter out email marketing, subscribers want to hear from the companies they like. As Gmail users get more accustomed to the tabs UI, we may actually see more focused engagement with promotional emails.

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Newsletter subscribers will be able to view their promotional emails when they’re willing to be engaged, possibly making calls-to-action more compelling. In the same way that the Primary tab allows people to focus on personal emails, the Promotions tab will encourage subscribers to browse commercial offers.

Email marketing best practices still matter

From the sender’s perspective, the basics of best practice still matter. A strong subject line will still increase your view rates and good opt-in practices will still mean better delivery.

Good content will still mean engaged users and avid readers and Gmail’s new tabs won’t lessen the value you bring to your subscribers.

Avoiding the decrease in open rates

To be blunt, there’s unlikely to be any way to bypass Gmail tab’s Promotions folder and consistently land in the Primary folder. Just like ESPs will try to improve delivery to the Primary folder, Google will aim to retain the integrity of their tabs’ sorting algorithms.

The folks at Google want their users to sort mail for themselves. This means that the most reliable method of avoiding decreases in view rates is to get your subscribers to move you to the Primary folder.

Reader engagement is going to play a role in Gmail tab’s sorting and so encouraging interaction with subscribers will be a positive. If your emails are encouraging your readers to reply and have conversations with you, you’ll likely become a candidate for the Primary tab. That means paying attention to your “from” name, your “from” email address and making sure you’re responsive.

Gmail and all ISP’s rely heavily on user feedback to define filtering so reader actions are currently, and will remain, the most important aspect of your delivery.

We all benefit from positive changes

If Google’s changes to Gmail stick and this turns out to improve the inbox experience, we all win. The inbox is a bigger part of our lives than social media, the telephone and other channels. If Gmail and other ISP’s make changes that keep users happy then it bodes well for you as an email marketer.

By keeping inboxes awesome, you’ll be able to make use of this amazing medium for years to come.


If Gmail’s users don’t adopt tabs in any meaningful way, then it’s likely the impact on you will be close to unnoticeable. If users love this enhancement, then with a little flexibility, you’ll continue to reach your subscribers and your subscribers themselves will adjust to a new style of inbox interaction.

Image by: TerryJohnston via / CC BY

Dean Levitt
Raised on a farm in South Africa, Dean moved to the United States to pursue a career in music, eventually finding his way to both Hawaii and the tech world. While growing his previous company, Mad Mimi (acquired by GoDaddy in 2014), Dean realized he had a passion for helping small businesses grow online. Dean is the CEO of Yala. Yala combines social media video ads with intelligent scheduling software making design and posting simple for small businesses.