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Now that Gmail’s new inbox has gone mainstream, the reactions from email marketers have been fascinating. From a distinctly “no worries” approach, to “open rates are dropping, head for the hills!”, it seems that everyone has an opinion on how the switch to a tabbed, pre-sorted inbox has impacted their campaigns.

As we’ve started to regularly receive questions about Gmail, we thought we’d pull together a few opinions and examples of what senders are doing, as to provide you with a balanced outlook on what you have to (or not do) to accommodate these changes. But before we start, here’s a tip – don’t panic. Your campaigns aren’t going to have their open rates slashed overnight. Stay focused on creating great content and you’ll be sure to survive any emailpocalypse.

What does a “18% drop” really mean?

Following Litmus’ excellent post that demonstrated an 18% dip in Gmail rates in the last 3 months alone, there’s been understandably lively buzz, especially as senders have sought to find evidence of this downward trend in their sends. However, to attribute any dip in opens or clicks to Gmail alone is precarious – things like season, subject lines and a squillion other variables can result in campaign metric fluctuations.

While Gmail is undoubtedly popular, the reality is that it has just shy of 8.5% overall market share. Assuming that Gmail subscriber open rates fall in the 20-30% range (as is common for everyone), an 18% drop in opens will likely equal a few insignificant percentage points for most senders. To put this into perspective, the other week we reported that having the words “free delivery” in a subject line can result in a 50% lift in opens… However, on average, this 50% lift is equivalent to a 2-3% higher open rate, in comparison to campaigns that don’t include this phrase.

That said, “your mileage may vary”, as the car commercials say. Your product or service may have strong ties to Google’s community and therefore, you may have a lot of subscribers opening their email in Gmail. As the tabbed inbox extends to both their webmail and mobile clients for iOS and Android, the changes we’ve reported on may seem very real indeed. But by and large, it will be business as usual for most senders.

How about moving emails out of the Promotions tab?

While we haven’t seen many folks proactively request that their emails be moved from the “Promotions” tab and into “Primary”, there have been notable exceptions. For example, Groupon recently featured step-by-step instructions in a recent send:

Groupon's Gmail instructions

There’s nothing wrong with sending a campaign like this, especially when it’s targeted at subscribers with @gmail.com addresses… Although, this wouldn’t be ideal, given how many people use desktop email clients to access their mail. So, despite even our whitelisting instructions featuring a similar walkthrough, there is a strong argument for not encouraging this behaviour at all. As Chad White wrote for Email Insider:

When subscribers go to their Promotions tab, they’re in a buying mood – or at least in more of a buying mood than when they’re interacting with emails from their friends and family in their Primary tab… So by asking subscribers to move your email from the Promotional to the Primary tab, you’re essentially closing your store at the mall and deploying door-to-door salesmen that interrupt your subscribers’ conversations with their friends and loved ones. You’ll surely be more visible, but also probably more intrusive and ultimately less welcome.Chad White, “Why You Shouldn’t Ask Your Gmail Subscribers To Re-Tab Your Emails” Email Insider

Chad touches on something that quite a few voices have expressed as of late, being that the changes made to Gmail’s inbox are for the benefit of email recipients, not email senders. At the end of the day, an inbox that allows subscribers to efficiently parse their email may well have an upside. If your content is excellent, you’re likely to stand out – so it’s best to focus your energies on sending emails that people keenly anticipate.

While the message isn’t new, it’s worth reiterating that the changes to Gmail’s inbox are not the be- and end-all of email marketing. However, we’re keen to hear your experiences – have you seen a noticeable difference in response rates since the introduction of the tabbed inbox? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Karl

    Interesting post – love the Chad White quote. Ss there any way in CM to quickly compare open rates by client across multiple campaigns? Currently I go to ‘Reports — Email Client Usage’ then rinse and repeat at the individual report level (lots of opening new tabs!). If there’s a way to do this I’d love to know! Thanks :)

  • Ros Hodgekiss

    Hi Karl, I love the Chad White quote too – he’s a smart one! At present, we don’t have a quick way to compare email client usage across campaigns in the app, however if you’re a confident coder, it is possible to do this using our API. In theory, if there’s not too much fluctuation in your lists, the change from one campaign to the next should be fairly steady, so I’d generally recommend just checking in from time to time :)

  • Mark

    I’d be interested to see if there is a delayed response from gmail users. Checking the personal and social folders daily and promotional weekly, this could obviously affect limited offers. A subject line of “50% off until Friday” may be seen and skipped over on the following Monday.

    I think Chad White has a very good point. It could mean different tactics to stand out in a folder solely occupied by marketing mailers. When the competition is so close I think it’s time to tighten up on your design and code, and with this moving over to iOS and Android, mobile optimisation is a must.

    Just some thoughts there, we’ve not really seen much of an impact yet.

  • Emma Siemasko

    I didn’t like getting those “move us over to the promotions tab” emails from retailers and others. They assumed I didn’t know how to operate my own gmail account, which I just found condescending and irritating.

    Our marketing emails are being moved in to “promotions” for a reason…because they’re not as important to people as emails from their friends and family. If our readers want their emails in their main inbox, they’ll find a way!

  • Ingrid

    I agree with Emma about the “please movd me” emails. The first one I received I thought made the sender sound a bit desperate!

    Personally I love the tabs when I’m using desk top. As this article says I’m in the mindset for all my promotional emails & it is more efficient for me.

    Using iPad or phone there are no tabs so not a big deal. In fact I miss the tabs as everything is all just a long list …

    Thank goodness we are all different!

  • Raffaele Conte

    Good article, but I don’t agree.
    New Gmail option is a problem, modt people don’t open “promotion Tab” –
    People read first Primary Tab, than maybe the other ones.
    I think it is a big problem

  • amanda

    i just sent a newsletter out and anyone that is using the new gmail is getting scrambled code instead of the beautiful image.. does anyone know how to rectify this?

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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