The New Gmail Inbox Tabs: It’s Too Soon to Worry (But Do Watch)

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Keep Calm and Carry ON poster imageLast May I wrote a blog post on the new tabbed Gmail inbox about how email recipients might use it. Since that time, it seems there’s a lot of fear that this new inbox structure could impact senders’ open rates and return on investment, since the email might be directed to the Promotions tab instead of the Primary Inbox, perhaps to languish there, unopened, forever.

While some research shows a decline in open rates for Gmail users, so far it isn’t amounting to much. Matt Grove (of email service provider MailChimp) did an analysis of six weeks’ worth of email data (1.6 billion emails) and saw a drop that equaled only a little less than 1 percent. In a TIME.com story, Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru commented, “The segregation could actually be helpful because people can quickly scan in one place things that may/may not be relevant without having to hunt for personal emails in a sea of mixed clutter.”

Even with the open rates slightly dropping we feel it is still too early to tell if this is going to be an ongoing trend or just the result of the early changes at Gmail. Once more people start using the tabbed inbox we should be able to see some concrete metrics and make better determination of what comes next. At this point, in order for the average user to use the tabs, they must go to Gmail settings and enable the tabs. The fact that the user has to initiate the change could make for slow adoption.

For B2B marketers, some of the people they need to reach have Gmail addresses that get delivered to an alias (john.doe@company.com) in another email client, such as Outlook. All mail received at the Gmail address, regardless of tab, will move from Gmail to the alias, so the effect here is nil.

For marketers who are affected, there are a couple of things to do to increase the odds that your email be directed to the Primary Inbox instead of the Promotions tab:

  • Request that your recipients “star” the marketing emails they get from you. The star will ensure the email bypasses the Promotions tab.
  • Request your recipients to move your email from the Promotions tab to the Primary Inbox. This  will result in future email being directed to the Primary Inbox.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and I believe that’s the case when dealing with the new Gmail tabbed inbox. As long as marketers keep sending engaging content and ask their recipients to star their email, they should continue to hit the inbox as much as they previously did.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” image by Vince­_Lamb, used under a Creative commons 2.0 license.

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