Gmail’s Promotions tab: why we should embrace it

It’s been a few years since Gmail’s Promotions tab was implemented. Its effect on marketing metrics so far has been surprising.

I have a particular client who is constantly worried about their emails landing in Gmail’s Promotions tab (looking at you, Sofia).

There are three default tabs. Primary being reserved for emails from people you know or important alerts. Under Social you’ll find transactional messages—like your uncle sending you FarmVille requests on Facebook . And last but most least, the Promotions tab, aka. the abyss of marketing and bulk emails we marketers send.

At first marketers were worrying that their marketing messages were being overlooked by being placed in this “different” inbox. And their worries made sense. The change gave rise to a wave of campaigns asking users to manually “move” their marketing emails from Gmail’s Promotions tab to the Primary Inbox. Whitelist them, in some way. Data and studies, however, show a different story.

I’m going to extensively quote a study from the guys over Return Path.

You should definitely take a look at their findings yourself if you’re interested.

Those “Move Me” campaigns failed to stir people to actually “move”, or whitelist marketing emails. Less than 0.1% of those who had received the “Move Me” campaigns had subsequent messages sent to them land in the Primary inbox.

Emails in the Promotions tab are less likely to be reported as Spam
Messages in Gmail's Promotions tab has the lowest "This is Spam" report rate.

Having marketing emails in their own inbox changed the way users think about Spam. Gmail developed a new type of user behaviour where people would actively search their Promotions inbox for new offers and shopping ideas.

But most surprising of all, open rates remained roughly the same.
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OK, but still — how do I avoid Gmail’s Promotions tab completely?

There’ll always be times when important messages need to land in the Primary inbox and not in Gmail’s promotions tab. If you still want to avoid the categorization filter there are a few tricks you should try.

Configure DMARC, SPF and DKIM properly

These authentications mechanisms are used by most email providers to prevent SPAM and spoofing.

If you’re sending emails using Amazon SES, I’ve written a detailed guide on how to set them up.

Mailchimp and other newsletter services have their own configurations and you should refer to their documentation.

Gmail takes engagement into consideration

Don’t send emails from noreply or unmonitored addresses. Instead, ask users to write back and engage with you. This will automatically add you in their contact list and whitelist you. Being in the whitelist automatically moves your messages from Gmail’s Promotions tab to their primary inbox. Which brings me to the next point.

“No-design” design. Conversational content.

If you absolutely want to land in people’s primary inbox, write your message the same way you’d write it to any other real person (colleague, family member, customer).

  • Write in full, properly formed paragraphs. Start with a greeting and end with your name. Conversational style, not promotional. Including the recipients full name somewhere in the message sometimes helps.
  • Don’t have more than 1 link. If you really want to use one, make it count and use it for your click-to-action.
  • Skip full-blown HTML with backgrounds and images. Use plain-text if possible, otherwise try a simple format. Little to no images.
  • Keep it short. (Interesting note: Some clients think of this badly, as if we’re lacking out of things to say. In actuality, it’s really hard to decide what’s most important and concentrate it in a few paragraphs. You can’t kill all birds with one stone.)
  • Avoid clickbait headlines.

In the end, good content will always get attention. Don’t waste time circumventing Gmail’s filters. Instead, use that time to step up your game.

If you know any other tricks to avoid landing in Gmail’s Promotions tab, please let me know at me@dimis.me. Thanks!