The Gmail Promotions Tab: What Is It & How Does It Impact My Digital Marketing?

Chris Webb, QA Specialist

Chris Webb, QA Specialist About The Author

August 11, 2020

gmail blog post

It's a common story we hear in support: you craft an amazing email, proofread and tweak the design and messaging, and carefully select your audience to receive it. You've done everything right, and you send...and your email arrived in the Promotions tab in your Gmail account. Oh no!

With Gmail being the top-ranking email client share provider currently, it's critically important to any digital marketer to reach this audience effectively. But here's the thing: the Promotions tab is where that email should go, and where you want it to go. Why? Read on...

Quick History:

In 2013, Gmail introduced a tabbed interface for their inbox, categorizing incoming emails into tabs labeled Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums. This filtering logic resulted in approximately 90% of marketing/commercial emails being categorized as Promotions - and the digital marketing community (understandably) panicked. Marketers saw the Promotions tab as a sort-of spam folder, and efforts began to try to reach the "Primary tab".

A wave of "move me" campaigns ensued, aimed at upping engagement by encouraging Gmail contacts to act themselves to move these emails to the Primary tab. Ultimately, however, such campaigns were largely ineffective, with only around .1% of such emails being moved into the Primary tab by the recipient.

Another far too common approach was to alter the content of emails in an attempt to have them categorized as "Primary". Methods included reducing the number of images, simplifying headers, removing "promotional" keywords, etc. However, it's worth stressing this, it had disastrous results.

These emails lacking imagery, effective branding and promotional lingo like calls to action saw a drop in engagement, and a huge increase in users marking them as spam or unsubscribing. This makes sense: attempts to fool email clients are considered "spammy" behavior, and these emails containing mostly text don't look like they are from a reputable sender. Since Google's filter is always evolving, many of these techniques were found out and were soon flagged as spammy content, often resulting in emails going straight to "Spam".

The Good News:

While almost all marketing emails do indeed get categorized as "Promotions", this doesn't result in lower engagement. In fact, not only did recipient engagement essentially remain the same, but delivery rates to the Promotions tab increased: 93% of commercial messages to the Promotions tab avoid the spam folder, while only 77% make it through to the users' Primary tabs. Additionally, the rate at which users mark an email as Spam in the Promotions tab are just less than half of those in the Primary tab.

What gives? Research shows that it's due to a few factors, and most especially that it changed how recipients engaged with their inbox. By having these emails segmented to a different tab, it made their inbox much more manageable. Segmenting the emails by type helped users not feel as overwhelmed by the volume. The Promotions tab essentially became a second inbox that users began to check regularly (on average once per day) for the express purpose of looking for this kind of email.

What does this mean for your marketing?

Don't try to avoid the Promotions tab: embrace it. That's where your audience is going to look for your emails, and where you want to be when they do. Instead, focus on the Spam folder and on the recipient's experience when they do open your email in that awesome Promotions tab.

References and Additional Reading:

• The Tabbed Inbox: How Gmail Changed the Way Consumers Engage with Promotional Messages
• Why Gmail's Promotions Tab Is Your Friend (And Your Subscriber's Too)
• Email Client Market Share
• 50 Gmail Statistics To Show How Big It Is In 2020
• Email Marketing Stats: The Power of Email in 2020
• 70 Email Marketing Stats Every Marketer Should Know
• The New Rules of Email Marketing

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