Is Gmail’s New Tab System Doomsday for Email Marketers?


Gmail is the email client of choice for a good chunk of users, and the changes they make affect marketers everywhere.

It’s important that you stay abreast of these changes as they occur, as they can have a direct impact on your open rates. Gmail Tabs is a feature that Gmail is still adjusting, and the latest tweak could offer you an advantage over other marketers if you prepare for it now.


Gmail’s claim to fame is its simple user interface, its impressive search feature, its aggressive spam filtering, and the ease at which users can create automatic mail filters.

Gmail’s creator, Paul Buchheit, however, states that they were by no means certain that Gmail would ever find popularity. Buchheit recounts the dogged determination that was required to take Gmail from a niche product used mainly by Silicon Valley insiders to an email service for the masses. In fact, according to Buchheit, the first time the product received more positive feedback than negative was in its semi-private beta in 2004.

Today, however, Gmail is gobbling up market share at an alarming rate. Exact market share estimates vary, but most have Outlook and Gmail neck and neck, with an ever so slight advantage for Outlook.

If the trend continues, however, Gmail will overtake Outlook in 2015 or 2016. If this doesn’t set off alarm bells for you, it should: Gmail will be the main way people receive email, and they have recently demonstrated what may be construed as an anti-marketer stance.

The Tab System

In late 2013, Gmail rolled out a new feature to all users, Gmail Tabs. This system is Gmail’s first major interface overhaul and consists of four default tabs: Primary, Promotional, Social, and Updates.

The tabs more or less do what their names imply, and users can tell Gmail to put mail into specific tabs by simply dragging and dropping. By placing commercial tabs in the Promotional tab, Gmail is helping their users focus on the mail that matters most to them.

On the other hand, this means that your commercial emails will now be dumped in a big heap with that of all other marketers. Since the feature’s launch, Gmail users have reported that they can simply tab over and delete these message en masse without fear of deleting any personal correspondence.

There’s little you can do to avoid landing in the promotions tab-Gmail’s filters are just too sophisticated. What you can do, however, is place an emphasis on providing value in your emails and building a relationship with your prospect.

Then perhaps your subscribers will move your mail from the Promotions tab to the Updates tab, or maybe even the Primary tab. Gmail will remember the move and will place your correspondence in those tabs going forward.

Image-Based Emails

Perhaps in a nod to marketers-or perhaps just to make more money for themselves-Google is testing a change to the Promotions tab for some users.

In the new system, promotional emails are represented by a large square icon that features the sender’s name, their subject line, and the first image that they used in the body of the email. The image is featured prominently, taking up half of the icon’s space.

Marketers take note: If this system rolls out to all users, image selection will become critical.

Your emails will be competing for your prospect’s attention more than ever; but if you use your images wisely, you’ll have a fighting chance.

Avoid filling this space with your logo at all costs. Stylized text may work to grab your subscriber’s attention, but your best bet is to view this space as a slot to display your product in the best possible light. If you sell a service, you can’t go too far wrong with images of small animals and human faces.

The bottom line is this: Gmail isn’t anti-marketer, but they do have to keep their users in mind. Provide value in your correspondence, and use images to your advantage, and you will stand out from the crowd.

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