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Gmail’s inbox changes – will it impact my open rate?

We’ve all heard of the improvements being made by Google to their Gmail service, changing how we will interact with our emails. I’ve seen a lot of wildly varying opinions on the new “˜tabbed’ inbox whereby emails are automatically categorised into one of five possible tabs:

  • Primary – contains messages that the service thinks are most important, such as personal, 1-to-1 emails
  • Social – contains messages from various social networks, like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Promotions – contains messages such as newsletters, competitions and concert/theatre emails
  • Updates – contains important messages for things such as bank /card statements and registration / transactional type emails
  • Forums – contains messages from forums and messageboards

Gmail tabbed inbox screenshot

Google’s previous introduction of their Priority Inbox to Gmail wasn’t adopted as quickly as first thought by email marketers. However, the new tabs will have a much more significant impact with many email marketers either proclaiming it will be the death of the email newsletter as we know it, and others suggesting it’s simply hype and nothing will come of it.

Having personally used the tabbed inbox for the past month, I honestly believe that email marketers simply need to be approaching the situation down the middle. You’d be a fool to ignore the changes Google are making as they endeavour to give the user more control of over their email, but it certainly isn’t going to kill your newsletter.

Will the tabbed inbox have more of an impact than Priority Inbox did?

Although the roll-out of this new inbox design will be gradual, it will be given to some users by default and both the mobile and tablet apps automatically include the tabs as standard. I’ve already been using the tabs in my personal inbox and I’ve been impressed enough to keep them despite the lack of customisation, which I suspect Gmail will eventually introduce over time. This positive reaction and feedback by the majority of Gmail users can only mean that we see the tabbed inbox becoming the ‘norm’ for most Gmail users sooner, rather than later.

How well does Gmail categorise the emails? Can’t I get around it and get into the Primary inbox?

The answer here is very well. Google have undoubtedly done a very good job in being able to correctly categorise the emails based on their content and data. The tabs are there to help make the life of the user easier and emails can be moved between tabs, or starred to make them a ‘Priority’ so they always appear in the ‘Primary’ tab upon login. Gmail learns when you move messages to ensure that they’re delivered consistently into the correct area.

Trying to get around the tabs shouldn’t be a concern when approaching your emails. Remember, Gmail users are just a part of your mailing list and of those users, not all will be using the new design yet.  You must concentrate on the aspects of your email campaigns you CAN control.

Will the changes impact my open rate?

You are the only person that can answer this question.  Have a look at the reports for open rate, filter for Gmail addresses and see what the trend has been over the past month and keep on top of this into the future.  The fact that Gmail is very good at categorising the emails means that people are probably more likely to open the mail they care about when they’re in the right frame of mind – i.e. looking in their Promotions tab when they’re in a buying mind and want to see what offers they’ve been sent.  It’s certainly a better approach than clogging up one view in an inbox, making the user delete emails immediately in frustration of the sheer volume that is visible to them.

What should I focus on when it comes to my email campaigns and the Gmail changes?

Your focus must always be on writing engaging email content, testing new, interesting and varied subject lines and finally, ensuring that you’re on top of your data and reporting to feed those changes back into each subsequent campaign.  Remember, if you’re resting, you’re not testing!  Test, test and test again – it’s the only way to drive forward successful email campaigns that grow an engaged list of recipients.

The tabs may be a significant change to the way in which a Gmail user interacts with their emails, but if they want to hear from you then they’ll still make the effort to read your emails!

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  • Hi Matt,

    I just wanted to say a big “Thank You!” for your article about the new Gmail inbox changes. Yours is the only article I’ve read today about this that actually lowered my blood pressure, instead of raising it! 🙂

    I publish a weekly ezine and Gmail subscribers make up about 30% of my list. And in the past 2 weeks in particular, I’ve definitely seen a negative impact on my open rate.

    I’ve spoken to a number of people on my list (that I know personally) who have Gmail and they all confirmed my newsletter today ended up in their “Promotions” folder. A folder they said they wouldn’t have thought to look in…

    After spending years cultivating relationships and creating great content for my subscribers, it’s somewhat disheartening to know that it’s going to be even harder to reach them.

    Time will tell of course, but I’m not crazy about the idea of Google taking control of people’s inboxes and routing their emails for them. Seems to me that people should be able to create their own folders themselves.

    Thanks again for superbly written article! Very glad I found your site.

    – Maxine

  • Hi Maxine,

    Thanks indeed for your kind words and your input.

    I think it’s important that people are aware of the potential changes, but that all Gmail users also have a choice to switch back to a ‘Classic’ view should they really wish to do so.

    I fully agree that the route forward is offering you more personal customisation of where you mail goes (into folders), rather than filters defined and set by Google. If anything Google are telling users what will happen with their mail and not allowing them to choose for themselves.

    If you have a high proportion of Gmail subscribers and the rates are really low, it may be worthwhile sending a slightly customised campaign to these contacts, explaining how they can ensure they keep getting your emails full of great and engaging content.

    This could include:

    – Telling them to ‘star’ your emails so they are put in the Primary inbox

    – Telling them to move one of your emails into the Primary tab which will offer the user the option to deliver all emails from you into the Primary inbox

    – If they don’t like the changes, reverting to their classic inbox view:

    It’s not to say you need to send a campaign just about inbox changes, but perhaps a module or section at the top of you next mailing (that you send specifically to Gmail subscribers) that asks:

    ‘Struggling to receive these emails in the new Gmail inbox layout? Here’s how to ensure you keep receiving this great content…’

    It’s good to hear you’re measuring the response rates though and keep up the great work! Knowledge is power and by feeding back what you’ve learnt into your future emails, means you can only keep moving forwards and improving.

    All the best,

    – Matt.