This week, Google introduced a brand new app called Inbox.
It has been billed by the tech press as the future of Gmail and has some interesting new features and workflows that have the potential to change the way people manage their email.
In this post, we’ll show you what Inbox is and the new features and workflows it brings Gmail users. We’ll also show you what these new features mean for email marketers and how you can make the most of the new application.
What is Inbox?
For those of you who haven’t seen the coverage in the tech press, Inbox is a new application with a very specific focus on helping people better manage email overload.
Rather than updating Gmail’s web and mobile interfaces, Google have opted to create an entirely new application making it more like a new email client than an actual email provider.
The features of Inbox
There are a number of new features in Inbox that are designed to help people better manage the email they receive, focused on two main areas; organizing and managing email.
Organizing your email
When using Inbox, you’ll quickly become acquainted with two methods for organizing your email, being labels and bundles.
Labels are pretty similar to labels in native Gmail. Users can add different labels to particular emails manually or can set rules to automatically apply labels based on things like sender address or email content.
As well as giving you the option of manually assigning labels, Inbox comes with a bunch of preconfigured labels, that it automatically adds to incoming email. The default labels include:
- Promos – Marketing emails such as deals and offers
- Social – Emails from social networks and other social media services.
- Updates – Notifications from online accounts, such as alerts and confirmations.
- Finance – Finance-related emails, such as bills and bank statements
- Purchases – Purchase related emails such as receipts and delivery updates.
- Travel – Travel-related emails, such as flight confirmations and hotel bookings.
- Forum – Messages from mailing lists and discussion groups.
On top of that, you can create specific rules around which labels can be applied.
Once emails are marked with various labels, people can leverage the bundles feature to group similarly-labelled emails together, not too dissimilar to how tabs in the native Gmail interface works.
Bundles can be turned off so all emails with a particular label sit in the main inbox individually, but if the user enables bundles they show up at the top of the inbox, and when clicked they expand to show all the emails in the bundle.
Inbox also comes up with a host of new features for managing email as well. The general idea appears to be that any new email sits in the main inbox (either individually or in bundles) and then you can take various actions on each email, until the inbox is cleared and the fabled Inbox Zero is reached.
There are a number of features in Inbox to help people manage their email:
- Highlights – Highlights pull out relevant information from email messages and displays them in the main inbox view, beneath standard elements like the subject line and preheader. This allows users to see images, reservation details, event information and more without having to open the email, and helps them to make quicker decisions about what actions to take.
- Done – Done appears to be a separate inbox for all emails a user has already dealt with. The idea is that users can mark any emails they don’t need to take action on as “done” and they are moved out of the main Inbox and into the Done box. This is similar to archiving emails in the native Gmail interface – They can still be searched and browsed – but they live in a separate folder that a user would need to actively seek out to find.
- Snooze – Snooze does something similar to what the Boomerang extension does, allowing users to send emails away and get them back again at a later time. The idea is that if a user needs to follow up on an email in say, one month’s time, instead of adding a calendar event or adding it to the very bottom of their to-do list, they can snooze the email and it will come back to the top of their inbox at the date and time specified.
- Reminders – Reminders bring the to-do list into the inbox. If a user needs to take a specific action on an email (for instance, locate the widget report and send it to Paul), they can create a reminder and it will actually appear in the main inbox alongside all unread email. This essentially consolidates the to-do list and the inbox into one overarching view of things a user needs to do.
- Pin – Pinning emails is kind of like telling the application those emails are important. All pinned emails appear in the main inbox until they are unpinned, and it can be used to highlight important emails that the user needs to take action on.
- Sweep – Sweep is designed to help users clear all the things they don’t need out of their inbox. When clicked, it will move all unpinned emails to the Done box. Users can sweep their whole inbox (which would remove any email that hasn’t been pinned), specific bundles (such as all emails in the Social bundle) or manually select a handful of emails and sweep them all together.
How this affects email marketers
To understand how the new Inbox app affects email marketers, we must first look at how it will change the workflow of those who receive your email campaigns.
The general idea seems to be that all new email sits in the main inbox, and users either take action on it (Pin it, Snooze it, etc) or sweep it away to the Done box. This then leaves only the items a user needs to take action on sitting in the inbox, and effectively turns the inbox into a to-do list (especially when combined with Reminders).
From what we’ve seen, there isn’t anything in there that couldn’t be achieved using current functionality like labels, folder and filters in the native version of Gmail, so the organized person who is already using those tools to manage their inbox won’t likely change their email workflow too much.
However, if a user just has all their emails sitting in the main inbox with hundreds unopened then I think the combination of the bundles, done and sweep features will help them clear out what they don’t need and focus only on the things that are important to them.
So how does all of this affect email marketers?
To be honest, it’s extremely early days and the true effect will be hard to tell until the app reaches a much larger level of adoption – and we can look at the data.
Based on what we’ve seen of the application though, we have a few predictions:
Highlights could help your email stand out in the inbox
Today, the inbox is very text-focused and only shows plain-text fields like the from name and subject line. Even the preheader is just plain text.
With Highlights however, email marketers can use the Schema.org markup to add images, offers, actions and more to emails and they are displayed in the inbox itself.
These extra visuals in the inbox draw the readers eye to your email and can help it get noticed and opened. A similar thing happened when Twitter started showing images in the Twitter feed – tweets with images saw 18% more click-throughs than those without images as they stood out above the other content being presented to the user.
Reminders and snooze can help people come back to your emails
In our recent report on email marketing trends, we found that people tend to “triage” their email on their mobile device, with 25% of emails that are opened on a mobile getting opened again on another device.
With the reminders and snooze features, I would expect to see that increase as people who want the information in your email – but can’t take action on it right now – can snooze the email and come back to it later on.
This could be a great for special promotions or sales where the recipient may not be able to take action immediately (because they are at work for instance) but they can snooze the email and check out your offer when they are at home.
Bundles & sweep make it easier to get rid of unwanted emails
The combination of the bundles & sweep features make it easier for people to move emails they aren’t interested in to the Done box, particularly those automatically categorized in the default bundles. This could potentially decrease your open rates if you aren’t sending emails chock-full of great content that people will want to read.
How email marketers can make the most of Inbox
There are more emails being sent today than ever before, and it is inevitable that companies like Google are going to continue to make products that help users better manage the email that comes their way.
However, if you are sending great content that people want to receive then these developments shouldn’t worry you in the slightest. If anything, they’ll benefit you as more users start leveraging these tools to cut the clutter and focus on what is important to them.
To help you, here are 3 fundamental ways to ensure you are sending emails people care about:
- Build your best list – Avoid purchasing lists or using spammy practices to build your email list, as you are only going to end up sending to people who will ‘sweep’ your emails away. Instead, give people a great reason to join your list – such as great content, exclusive discounts or special promotions – as people who actually want to hear from you will never ‘sweep’ you away.
- Send great content at reasonable intervals – Avoid just emailing your users for the sake of keeping in touch. By making sure every email you send has a lot of value to your readers, you’ll train them to open and engage with your campaigns – and this will teach Google’s algorithms that your emails are important to these users.
- Make your email campaigns beautiful – When we redesigned our blog subscribers email a few months ago, we got a 127% increase in click-throughs. By putting extra effort into the design of your emails, you can increase your click-through rates, which in turn increases your reputation with companies like Google and ensures your campaigns continue to be effective, regardless of the changes they make to their tools.
The new Inbox application by Google is definitely a new and exciting development in the world of email marketing.
While its effect on email marketers won’t be known until it receives more widespread adoption, the focus really seems to be on highlighting emails that are important to users and hiding those that are not.
So as long as you are creating and sending highly-valuable email marketing campaigns to people who want to receive them, then you have nothing to worry about. In fact, you’ll likely benefit from this change as the clutter drops away and users can focus on your great offers.
Your turn: Have you had a chance to play with Google’s new Inbox app? What do you think the effect will be on email marketing? We’d love for you to share your perspective in the comments below!
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