In 2013, Google rolled out an update for Gmail which completely changed email marketing forever – Tabbed Inbox.

With Tabbed Inbox, Google made it easier for the users to organize their emails by dividing them into five tabs based on the email content:

  1. Primary Tab: People consider this tab as their main inbox. All emails from your contacts and other non-classified email goes here.
  2. Social Tab: This tab houses all the emails and notifications from social media websites.
  3. Promotions Tab: All the automated marketing emails and newsletters with heavy HTML land in this tab.
  4. Updates Tab: All notifications related to confirmations, bills, bank statements etc. make their way to this tab.
  5. Forums Tab: Includes emails from online discussion boards and communities.

While the Tabbed Inbox update was well received by Gmail users, email marketers had a different story to tell.

Most of the email marketers were in a frenzy as they saw a decline in their campaign performance due to emails landing in Gmail’s Promotions tab instead of the Primary tab.

Using the Promotion Tab in Gmail’s Inbox

Six years later, the scenario is a little different. The study by Return Path on Gmail tabs answers some of the most frequently asked questions by marketers:

1. How many Gmail users have enabled the Tabbed Inbox?

Compared to almost 100% adoption after its launch, the Tabbed Inbox is now used by only 1 in 3 Gmail users (33%).

Gmail-primary-inbox-promotion-tab
Gmail Tabs Users

2. How many Gmail users have their Promotions Tab enabled?

60% of the users have their Promotions tab enabled, which is right behind the Social tab which has an adoption rate of 68.1%.

Gmail tabs
Gmail Promotion Tab

3. How often do Gmail users check their Promotions Tab?

Contrary to popular belief, 45.1% of Gmail users check their Promotions tab at least once a day.

While the above data confirms the change in user perception towards Gmail’s Promotions tab, there are still many marketers who would want to avoid it, particularly while sending transactional emails.

Are you one of them? Don’t worry we’re here to help you out.

Actionable Tips to Land Your Email in Gmail’s Primary Tab

Keynote: Make sure you have the Gmail primary tab sync off turned on so that you get notified about new emails in your primary inbox. 

1. Avoid Email Blasts

As marketers, most of us are used to maintaining subscriber lists and blasting emails to the entire list. Gmail is extremely sensitive to email blasts. It quickly tags them as promotional email or spam.

Some email marketing apps have features that allow for the sending of emails in smaller bursts rather than all at once, but this is still not good enough.

Related post: 10 Best Email Marketing Apps of 2019

The alternative is to trigger individual emails to each member of your audience separately.

For e.g. when they perform an action like subscribing to a newsletter, login to your app, or make a purchase.

I know what you’re thinking — this is a transactional email – and not a marketing email.

Right – that’s precisely the point.

“Try to make your marketing emails as transactional as possible.”

Action tip: How to send transactional marketing emails with Automate.io.

You can setup trigger-action-based automated emails for all possible customer events that happen in your marketing, sales, or other apps.

Facebook Lead Ads are a great way to increase marketing leads cost-effectively.

So if you have an ebook campaign, you can send a personalized email to every Facebook lead from Gmail by connecting it with Automate.io and the ebook will reach the user’s Gmail primary tab.

    • facebook
      gmail

    Send Personalized Email from Gmail to New Facebook Leads

2. Send Plain Text or Light HTML Emails

If you are unable to detect why your emails are landing in the promotional tab, probably it is because you are sending out HTML emails. 

A beautifully designed HTML email will never make it to the primary tab because Gmail identifies these emails as automated, i.e. sent out by bots. Gmail’s algorithms try to determine whether an email is sent by a human or by a bot. A heavy HTML email is always identified as automated. This error happens when you are using email marketing tools to design your emails rather than manually typing them in the email client. 

Emails sent through email service providers like AWeber or specifically Mailchimp go to the promotional tab because most people use them to send out marketing emails. 

The best way to avoid this is by sending plain text emails or at least, ‘light HTML emails’. Light HTML is technically HTML (mime type) but the content is primarily a text without any images, CSS, and with minimal links. It is important to keep the links to a bare minimum, ideally not more than one or two.

Below is an example of a Light HTML email, however, it did not make it to the Primary Tab

Email in primary tab of gmail
An example ‘light HTML’ email. This didn’t make it to the Primary tab though.

Why? Because of a few Spam Trigger Keywords. There are certain keywords that are tagged as Spam. Gmail automatically detects these keywords and blocks the email from landing into the primary inbox. For instance, keywords like Free money, Free offer, Get Paid, etc. are tagged as Spam. You can refer to this list for more such keywords that you must avoid to ensure your email lands in the primary inbox. 

3. Personalize Your Emails

We all know how important it is to send our prospects a personalized email, but there’s more to it.

A study mentions, “deep personalization” can drive as much as 17% more revenue from email campaigns.

Go beyond “Hi {{name}}”.

Personalize your email content for the users. This will not only help you in your pursuit to avoid Gmail Promotions tab but will also result in improved open and click rates.

Some tips for more personalization:

  • Add the recipient name and any contextual data to the subject line.
  • Add content to the email body that is unique to the recipient. If you are sending a “transactional marketing” email, try adding information relevant to the transaction in the email.

This way, each email that Gmail sees will have a fair amount of difference in content and hence it is less likely to be classified as a promotional email.

For instance, check this email from LinkedIn below. It is a marketing email that is designed to make users the ‘assessment’ that LinkedIn offers. This email, however, appeared in the primary inbox.

gmail primary tab

Reasons: 

  1. The subject line has the name of the recipient, making it extremely personalized. 
  2. It avoids all kinds of spam words like ‘free’ despite the assessment being absolutely free. 
  3. The content of the email is personalized, has a minimal link, low on HTML, and is relevant based on the email engagement activity of the user. 

 

Action tip: How to send personalized transactional emails using Automate.io.

  • Usecase: Let’s say when someone fills in a SurveyMonkey or a Typeform form on your website and you want to send an automated email via MailChimp or Gmail after 5 mins.
  • Automate.io allows you to use the data filled in the form as drag-drop merge fields to personalize the email content.

    • surveymonkey
      gmail

    Send a Personalized email in Gmail on a New Response in SurveyMonkey

    • typeform
      gmail

    Send a Personalized email in Gmail on a New Typeform Submission

4. Ask Subscribers to ‘Add new Contacts’

Most subscribers may not do this, but it’s worth adding a message to your email footer asking them to do either of the two things:

  • Add your email to their contacts list from the email menu option in Gmail – this will automatically put all your subsequent emails in Gmail’s Primary tab.

Add-Google-Contacts-List

  • Move the email manually from Gmail’s Promotions tab to the Primary tab – when they do this, Gmail prompts them if all subsequent emails from the sender should be automatically moved to the Primary tab.

Manually-move-email-from-gmail-promotions-tab-to-primary-tab

5. Improve Your Email Deliverability

There are tons of security checks done by Gmail before your email reaches your subscribers.

Based on these checks it decides whether to send your email to the Primary tab, Promotions Tab, Updates Tab, in the spam folder or not deliver your email at all.

One of the important factors that affect email deliverability is email authentication.

Email authentication helps mail servers like Gmail verify that the email is being sent from the users at your company and that it hasn’t been changed along the way, thereby preventing email spoofing.

Google highly recommends that you set up the following to enhance email security and deliverability:

  1. DKIM: DomainKeys Identified Mail signature helps in verifying the ownership of an email message.
  2. SPF: Sender Policy Framework record specifies the domains that you can send emails from by verifying the sender’s IP address.
  3. DMARC: A DMARC record defines how your domain handles suspicious emails. It uses information from DKIM and SPF to verify the authenticity of emails.

Here’s how you can set up email authentication if you’re a G Suite or a MailChimp user.

Other factors that contribute to email deliverability are Email content, list hygiene, spam complaints, previous engagement rates.

Therefore, work on improving your email deliverability if you want your emails to land in Gmail Primary tab.

6. Send Emails via Your Gmail Account

This might seem like the hardest thing to do but it works like a charm.

To make it easier, you can use the Mail Merge Google Sheets Add on or the GMass Chrome extension to send bulk emails from Gmail.

The only thing to keep in mind here is Gmail’s Email Sending Limits, which is 500 emails/day for free accounts and 2000 emails/day for G Suite users.

Sending via Gmail will also help in making the email appear non-robotic.

Typically when you send emails from an email marketing software, with your email address as the From address, Gmail shows a ‘via’ source besides the sender’s email.

Gmail primary tab - sender via

This doesn’t happen when emails are sent directly from Gmail and hence, it appears more personalized.

Action tip: How to send automated emails via Gmail using Automate.io.

It’s straightforward. Add your Gmail account as an Action App and you can use it in an automation Bot with any Trigger App to send an email.

  • Trigger App: The trigger app is used to define when your automation should start. E.g. On a new row in Google Sheets.
  • Action App: The action app is used to define what happens in your automation. E.g. Email is sent via Gmail.

    • googlesheets
      gmail

    Send a Personalized Email in Gmail on a New Row in Google Sheets

    • salesforce
      gmail

    Send a Personalized Email in Gmail on a New Lead in Salesforce

    • shopify
      gmail

    Send a Personalized Email in Gmail on a New Order in Shopify

7. Most Important – Send Valuable Content to Your Subscribers

Believe it or not but sometimes it is that simple.

Your subscribers have opted-in to receive emails from you because they are interested in what you have to offer.

If you just focus on creating high-quality relevant content that will delight your subscribers, it will hardly matter if your email lands in Gmail’s Promotions tab or Primary. Infact, it can ensure that such emails in Gmail move from promotions to primary tab ultimately

Why do you ask?

Because your subscribers will be actively on the lookout for your next email and uncover it even from the depths of Gmail’s Promotions tab.

“No one likes being sold to, but everyone wants a solution to their problem.”

Live by these words and work towards delighting your customers every single day (or in this case your subscribers) and sales will follow, trust me.

For instance, here’s one amazing email from a food delivery app in India, Swiggy –

Gmail primary tab-email
Email Sample – Swiggy

This email is a delight in itself. All these analytics are definitely based on the user’s usage of the app, and it serves the purpose of making the user keep using the app. As you scroll down, you see a contest invitation as well. From the choice of words like “promoted to” to signing off as “hunger resolution” team – Swiggy’s marketing email was on-point. Plus, this email got delivered to the primary inbox. 

Lesson learned: The more relevant is your content, the better are your chances of getting placed in the primary tab and also trigger email engagement. 

8. Bonus Tip

Use separate authenticated sender addresses for sending promotional and transactional emails.

This way you’re guiding Gmail to land emails from specific addresses to the appropriate tab.

If you want to test which Gmail tab your email will go to, use this tool by Litmus.

You can A/B test to understand which elements are truly affecting where your email will land in Gmail, fix it, and then send an email to your subscribers.

Conclusion

Email marketing is becoming more and more competitive by the day.

The key to getting results is to keep your subscribers engaged by sending them high-value relevant content, being timely and personal in your communication.

I hope the above tips will be helpful in improving your ROI from email marketing and most importantly building deeper relationships with your customers.

P.S. With Gmail now launching annotations in Promotions tab, do you as a marketer still want your emails to appear in the Primary tab instead of the Promotions tab? Let us know in the comments below.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on 19th March, 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and relevancy.