What does Gmail's new inbox mean for email marketing?
By Liz Murphy

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I use Gmail as my personal email platform, and I'm not alone. In 2012, there were 425 million active Gmail users worldwide, making it the biggest email provider on the planet. Now here's another number to consider: The Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, calculated last year's email traffic at 144 billion.


Have you seen a decline in your organization's email open rates?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

That's a lot of email.

Last month alone, I received in excess of 4,300 emails to my personal account — that's an average of approximately 143 emails per day. Like many others, my inbox can often feel overwhelming — to the point where the idea of reaching "inbox zero" seems completely unattainable.

So when Google Product Manager Itamar Gilad posted about Gmail's new tabbed inbox on May 29, I was ecstatic.

Here's how it works: The new Gmail inbox lends a hand in making sense of the email a user receives by sorting all inbound messages into primary, social and promotions tabs. Users can also personalize their inbox by categorizing senders into specific tabs.

Given the sheer number of people who use the Gmail service, however, this change has left many asking one question: What does this new innovation mean for the email marketing campaigns and organizational newsletters of a business?

Matthew Grove of MailChimp, a third-party email and newsletter service, found there was a decrease in his open rates, but not the drastic decline that some marketers had feared. Grove also noted that MailChimp has not found a way to route an email campaign to the primary tab instead of promotions. This means email marketers and communications professionals are now being challenged in a way that goes beyond avoiding spam-like keywords and developing better subject lines.

When asked for comment, Google highlighted that Gmail users have a choice:
"If you prefer another inbox style, you can choose from any of the four inbox options or even customize the new inbox by dragging and dropping messages to different tabs or electing to have certain senders always get sorted into a particular tab."
But the concerns regarding Gmail's new tabbed inbox do not end there.

It was recently reported that Gmail users are receiving "unsolicited promotional" email in the promotions tab of their inbox. This is not a terribly surprising move, as Google generates the bulk of its revenue through advertisers. That said, not only does this upset Gmail users, it further dilutes the messages of brands to which a user may be legitimately subscribed, whose communications now live in that promotions tab.

Gmail's newest email innovation is just shy of two months old, so it is impossible to tell the long-term effects of this change, or whether this iteration of Gmail will look the way it does down the road. This is especially true since Google's product line is constantly evolving, as the company is always looking for ways to create a better product.

But in the interim, organizations can and should expect some deflation of their open rates, especially if the distribution list is made up of primarily personal email addresses. And while email marketers have not been able to get around the rules governing Gmail's tabbed structure, professionals should remember what is most important when it comes to getting through to their desired audience: Provide a great product or service and communicate ideas and messages that are valuable.

By keeping those two simple things in mind, you may end up as a prioritized sender in a Gmail user's new inbox.

Liz Murphy is a content editor at MultiBriefs specializing in the law enforcement and security industries.