Gmail's New Tabs Negatively Affect Your Email Marketing Strategy

Gmail's New Tabs Negatively Affect Your Email Marketing Strategy

In case you missed it, Google recently rolled out a pretty big change to their Gmail system: tabs. The new layout comes standard with a few, but you can also add your own. One of the standard options is the “Promotions” tab which, as you can imagine, is quite good at catching and segmenting marketing emails. This is great for users, but scary for marketers, especially given the data MailChimp just released.

Email was king of canvass-style marketing there for a while, but in recent years has played a lesser role thanks to the growth of social media. Lesser, but certainly not anywhere close to extinct. I work with a lot of advertisers and marketing professionals and I’m continually met with folks interested in either advertising via email or firms looking for those savvy with email marketing strategy. But when a massive email host changes the way we do email, sometimes there isn’t much any of us can do in this department.

Gmail’s new system is having a discernable effect on marketing email open rates. I specifically subscribe to certain emails (like from Sigma, Canon, Gilt, Amazon, etc). Before, all emails were treated equal and vied for my attention in order of receipt. However, now that they are segmented in their own box, sometimes I don’t even see them. And I have personally noticed that my inclination to open those emails has dropped off.

Apparently this isn’t just a personal symptom.

MailChimp, my personal favorite email service, recently conducted a study of pre and post Gmail change data. What MailChimp’s Matthew found was that “before the tabbed layout, open rates to Gmail had been above 13% for 15 weeks. They never dipped below that threshold unless there was a specific holiday. For instance, weekday opens for Gmail fell to 12.5% on the week of Valentine’s day. Open rates between Christmas and New Years are an abysmal 10.5%. Something about spending time with loved ones just isn’t conducive to combing through your inbox. Weird, right?

Gmail Open Rates Chart

"What bothers me in this case is that open rates stayed down for 3 consecutive weeks. From looking at a year and half’s worth of data, I can say that kind of behavior isn’t normal. I’m not willing to declare an emergency just yet. After all, I don’t even know what the adoption rate is on Gmail’s side. However, I would say this is an early indicator, and we’re definitely keeping our eye on it."

If you are running email campaigns to help your business, know that this affects your audience and therefore your bottom line. A huge number of people use Gmail, and a single digit percentage point fall in open rate can translate into dollar bills in your wallet, depending on how much you rely on email for your message.

And I’m sure you’re thinking that there is a way to get your emails out of “Promotions” and into “Primary.” Though there might be, Google is too smart for this to work in the long term. Matt says “Gmail is really good at what they do. I’ve messed around with a ton of different content and header configurations, and anything that looks like it came from an ESP (has a list-unsubscribe header, unsubscribe links in the content, etc…) goes to either the Promotions tab or the Updates tab.”

They’re still trying and working on tests, but just keep these changes in mind. This is precisely why it is good to diversify your marketing methods. You never know when a large, or even small, change will upset your apple cart.

Yesterday I posed a question... what do you think?

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[Original story via Mailchimp]

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Those emails were causing me to stop checking my email and Missing important email because of them,... This is even after filtering stuff that were spamming me with too many emails. Since the update I actually check my email more often because I know it won't be a chore looking through stuff... if i FEEL like checking out promotions, which is only about 20% of the time, then I will.

Rodolfo Arechiga's picture

I like this new inbox feature. It is sorted nicely!

eMail Marketing is horrible from a user perspective and it's good that they doesn't longer mess up our email inbox.

Mike Kelley's picture

And thank god, because I hate being marketed to. I don't send email blasts, I don't read email blasts, and I don't want to read email blasts. There are plenty of ways to grow a business that don't involve tacky email blasts. Anyone who email blasts me gets sent to spam. I'm a grumpy pedant, but I don't want anything to do with it!

Jaron Schneider's picture

What's funny to me is any good marketing professional won't call them "blasts." Who wants to be blasted at? The idea is to communicate, which entails the concept of listening, which the idea of a blast doesn't really encompass. But many treat email as a foghorn, which of course has led to the issue of over-emailing and spam.

I must be the only person who still has the old Gmail.

I have worked out how to get rid of the rotten tabs and go back to the old look. When you're in Gmail, click on Settings (the daisy symbol on far right), click on Configure Inbox. Then de-select Social and Promotions, which will leave the Primary box grey-ticked. Hey presto, everything back to normal.

"However, now that they are segmented in their own box, sometimes I don’t
even see them. And I have personally noticed that my inclination to
open those emails has dropped off."

And that's a bad thing? Maybe you just realized you didn't really need all the crap they are trying to sell you to be happy?

Jaron Schneider's picture

I don't recall saying anything about my happiness being tied to my statement of fact. It was simply that: a statement.

I agree that no one likes unwanted marketing. But even newsletters and RSS feeds that I subscribed to because I'm interested in the content get filtered into "promotions," just because they have an opt out message or have been sent via non-spammy professional email marketing servers.

Another small beef: as soon as I click on a tab, my notification number that should be showing me how many new messages I have under that tab disappears (whether I've read all of my messages or not). That's pretty lame. Plus, how am I supposed to tell how many new messages I have in total (across all tabs)? Or globally search all messages?

I'm reverting to the old format. Sorry Google. Not a good interface change. And many people I've talked to feel the same way. I appreciate you leaving us a way to revert but, while you're at it, making that simpler would be nice.

Your right Jason it is putting a dent in communication which is affecting the bottom line. Open rates have dropped off and therefore sales and anyone doing any type of email marketing will be effected :)

I love the new look. Very organized. Hate those ads. They also go to spam folders. Whats the complaint really, google is just giving users option. If you like dont do anything. If you dont like then change it back in settings. SIMPLE!