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About Gmail’s new tabbed layout

As you probably know by now, Gmail recently introduced a new tabbed layout. Three tabs are enabled by default if the tabbed layout is active : Primary, Social, and Promotions. There are two additional tabs that can be enabled manually (Updates and Forums). When the tabbed layout is active, messages are automatically sorted into the different tabs.

New Gmail Inbox

This, of course, only affects Gmail users (both on desktop and mobile Gmail clients): those that check their @gmail account using another email client are not affected (so it’s hard to say how significant the effect of this new feature will be on open and click rates).

There are both positive and negative implications for email marketers, well summarized in a brief, good article on PracticalEcommerce. In a nutshell, although the first reaction might be “Oh my, no one’s going to see our promotions!!’, the reality might be that when recipients do visit the Promotions tab, they will be in “show me some good promotions” mode, and therefore more willing to open and click.

It will take a while to figure out exactly what the net effect is, but since the Gmail Primary Tab becomes less cluttered, it is highly likely that open and click rates will go up for messages that end up in that tab. So we did a bit of research and put together some tips for email marketers.

Getting recipients to move you to the Gmail Primary Tab

One way for your messages to always end up in the Primary tab is to have recipients move one of your messages to that tab. They can do so by either dragging and dropping the message into the Primary tab, or by moving it using the Move to tab feature, as we see below:

Move message to Gmail primary tab

Once the message has been moved, Gmail gives them the option to always have such messages delivered to that tab.

Move future messages in Gmail primary tab

TIP: add some information in your emails to instruct recipients on how to do so. For example, an ecommerce store that sends weekly specials could have some text that says “Don’t miss out on next week’s specials”, which would link to a Web page that includes detailed instructions and screen shots (like the above) on how to flag the sender to always appear in the Primary tab.

You should also add this kind of information to your initial, welcome email, and everywhere else you tell recipients how to “whitelist” you (e.g. telling them to add you to the Safe Sender list in Outlook).

Starring doesn’t do it

Note that starring a message simply moves that message to the Primary tab, but not future ones from the same sender. In Google’s words, starring is a temporary way to give a thread additional visibility. Since it does not provide a permanent solution, it doesn’t make sense to ask recipients to star your messages. Here is what Google says about starring a message.


Content matters

How does Google decide what automatically goes in the Gmail Primary tab? There are definitely many variables that are kept into account and the sauce is always a secret one 🙂

That said, in our tests we found that content does matter. For example, simply using vs. not using the word “Newsletter” in the subject (with all other content remaining equal) made the difference between having a newsletter go into the Primary (when “newsletter” was not included in the subject) vs. the Promotion tab (when “newsletter” was included in the subject).

TIP: run some tests before sending out a mailing and see if changes to the subject line will affect which tab the message is delivered to.

It’s all good

In the end, smarter email clients are good for email. As an email marketer, don’t worry too much about this type of change. If you send good quality messages that your recipients are happy to receive, the ultimate result will be a positive one: a smarter email client gives recipients new ways to filter SPAM away from the emails they want to read.

Engagement metrics are likely to improve for those that send emails that matter to their recipients.

Let us know in the comments if you are experiencing any issues with the Gmail Primary tab and your email campaigns!

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  • Ellen Finkelstein

    I don’t get that message offering to do the same for future emails from the same sender. Do you have any idea why? I can’t get my choices to stick at all.

    • mailupinc

      Hi Ellen, sorry for the delayed reply to your comment. It had gotten “lost” in Disqus 🙂

      Did you try drag-and-dropping the message onto the Primary tab? You should get that small modal window that asks you if you want future messages from the same sender to go into the Primary tab. If you don’t see the modal window, it could possibly be a browser issue: try accessing Gmail with a different browser.

      Other than that, I’m not sure why that message would not be shown. I checked again Google’s official help on the topic ( and they don’t say anything else.

      Hope this helps 🙂

  • mailupinc

    BTW: we just published a new blog post on this topic, with a couple of updates:

  • BalintFarago

    My experience: I only had one image in my newsletter and it still ended up in the Promotions tab. I removed it and the mail got into the Primary tab. Problem solved. However, the image made the newsletter more professional, and without it I thought it was missing something, it still got opened&clicked by more people and that’s what matters.

  • Is there a way to star a promotional or social email without sending it to the primary inbox?

    • Yes, in Gmail you have to uncheck the “Include starred in Primary” box from the tab settings. Here’s this help article from Gmail: