The New Gmail Inbox(es)

Dutch HollisIf you’re a Gmail user you may have noticed a sea change in your inbox of late. Gmail now has a tabbed inbox. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t worry – you will soon. Let’s set aside for the moment whether or not this is good for the users – I suspect it will be a matter of preference. Let’s delve in to what it means for you the marketer.
The default tabs, in addition to the Primary tab, are Social, Promotions, and Updates. You can also add others, like Forums. The Primary tab will contain email conversations with people you know and items Gmail believes are important to you, including transactional messages from businesses. Social, as the name implies, contains updates from social networks, and the Updates tab is mainly newsletter-type content, but keep in mind some of your regular recurring marketing messages may end up there. The Promotions tab is what Gmail deems to be promotional information and you can expect a lot of your marketing emails to end up there.

Also note the colored indicator for a new message that appears in each tab, as seen below:

Simply clicking into a tab with a new message will automatically remove the corresponding indicator for that tab.

Why it’s Noteworthy

Considering the amount of marketing email that will be landing in the “Promotions” tab going forward, it may obscure messages that are unread, but not “new” by Gmail’s definition. Let’s say that a user on your mailing list logs into Gmail and checks the tab to see what the new message is. If for some reason the user chooses not to open the message at that time – whether the subject line did not ‘grab’ the reader, or if there was some other distraction – then the new message indicator will vanish. In short, unread mail isn’t front and center anymore, only “new” mail. Obviously this has implications for all open rates, but of greater concern are time-sensitive offers.

The behavior works the same on mobile, too. The scenario here could be that a user logs into the Gmail mobile interface and receives a notification that there is new mail in a tab, as seen here:


If the user clicks into the link to see what the new categorized mail is, this will remove the new mail indicator, regardless of platform. From a marketer’s perspective, this is particularly troublesome for those users who scan the “Promotions” tab from a mobile device throughout the day but may not open at that time. (More on the mobile impact in the next post.)

There may be some upside in terms of deliverability/placement. These tabs give the Gmail algorithms more choices than just Inbox vs. Junk. It may be that more email considered Promotional goes to that tab than to junk and that would have a positive effect on open rates. It is far too early to tell if that will be the case or not but it will be interesting and important to watch.

If you send time sensitive offers, the new Gmail potentially creates some significant challenges. Regardless of what type of promotional mail you’re sending, crafting an email message that stands out- particularly those fields that are visible when the message appears in the user’s mailbox (the subject line and the friendly from name)- is more important now than ever.

Special thanks to our delivery assurance team for contributing to this post.

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