Will Gmail Tabs Affect Your Email Marketing Strategy?

On May 29, 2013, Google updated its email service to include a new inbox organizer that categorizes emails on Gmail for desktops and mobile devices. These categories include the primary inbox, social sites, promotions, updates, and forums. Google suggests that the new categories will allow users to “see what’s new at a glance and decide which emails they want to read and when.”

With this new change in delivery, email marketers question how Gmail’s new tabbed delivery will affect consumer behavior and campaign reporting. Industry leaders have been monitoring the new browsing format and while some suggest that comparative data will not be available for 12 to 18 months, others suggest that Gmail’s new tabs are negatively affect open rates already.

What Email Marketing Experts Are Saying

On June 6, Loren McDonald, Vice President of Industry Relations at Silverpop, published an article discussing Gmail tabs on the official Silverpop blog. Published while the software update was still rolling out on desktops, Android, and iOS devices, McDonald’s article was more of an overview to inform Silverpop clients of the change and to reassure them that email marketing would not experience too much change.  McDonald suggests that marketers may have cause for concern down the road, but it will likely take 12 to 18 months to collect enough data to understand the impact of Gmail’s new tabbed inbox.

According to McDonald, marketers concerned that Gmail will segregate commercial messages under the Promotions tab instead of delivering them directly to the Primary tab should monitor the following three areas of their email marketing strategy:

  1. Email “From” Name, Subject Line and Preheader Text: Tabs will list senders by name, so a clear “from” name and preheader is important for success.
  2. ISP Response Rates: Email marketers should monitor their Gmail figures as of May 29, 2013 to identify a before and after comparison of downward trends with other domains such as Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc.
  3. Deployment Time: Since the emails will no longer appear in the regular inbox, deadline-driven emails (such as flash sales and deals that offer a small sales window) could experience a decrease in opens over time

On July 23, MailChimp, an email marketing software that was recently featured in Wired magazine for its innovative services and products, published a report highlighting the impact of Gmail’s new tabbed inbox.

MailChimp’s analysis featured data from 1.5 billion emails delivered to Gmail during the six weeks prior to and following the introduction of tabbed inboxes. The report suggests that Gmail’s new tabbed inbox has negatively affected weekday and weekend open rates.

On August 1, Vocus Senior Product Manager Eddie Howard published an article that suggests “a majority of email service providers have seen open rates dip slightly because of the tabbed inbox.” Although the initial decrease in opens may cause alarm, the fact that email service providers have also reported an increase in click rates is positive.

Some marketing professionals predict that “click to open rates will increase because loyal subscribers will either take the time to find your email in the Promotions tab or will move it to the Primary tab.”

gmail tabbed inbox

It’s Too Early to Tell

While the overall success of email campaigns is still important, Silverpop’s Loren McDonald suggests that there are too many variables and uncertainties about Gmail tabs to make effective changes to an existing email marketing strategy.

Email marketing automation services are hesitant to make a definite claim regarding the effects Gmail tabbed browsing will have on email marketing since it is still in its infancy stages of adoption and tracking. It is safe to surmise that this will remain an industry focus until May 2014 when historical data will be available for a thorough domain comparison.

Suggested Reading

  • Mashable | Everything You Need to Know About Gmail’s Latest Update
  • AWeber | Optimizing Your Campaign for Gmail

Image via Gawker

Yasheaka Oakley Owens

Yasheaka Oakley Owens is the owner of YOakleyPR, a woman-owned small business that provides public relations, social media, and online marketing support services to small businesses and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware.

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