Why the Gmail Promotions Tab is Good for Your Email Engagement

Why the Gmail Promotions Tab is Good for E-Commerce Email Engagement

A few years back, Gmail introduced their tab system. These tabs were introduced to help users sort their inboxes into different categories – Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. Marketing emails are usually sent to the Promotions tab, rather than the Primary tab.

gmail tabs tabbed inbox primary social promotions updates forums tabs marketing promotional emails

Many marketers panicked and were prophesying that this would mean the end of email marketing. And rightfully so; there are over 1.2 billion Gmail users worldwide, and Gmail holds over 20% of the market share of email users. With the creation of a separate tab for promotional emails, this would require more effort from Gmail users to actively seek out the email newsletters sent to them. Many assumed that this would result in a steep decline in engagement with marketing emails.

It only takes a quick Google search to find dozens of blog posts offering tips that will supposedly help you land in the Primary tab to maintain your email engagement rates. But is attempting to circumvent the Google algorithms with the hope of making it into your customers’ Primary tabs worth it?


Why you should NOT attempt to get your emails in the Primary tab

‘Move me’ campaigns don’t work

Many other marketing companies, such as Email Experts, suggest that you should explicitly ask Gmail users in your email list to move your marketing emails into their Primary tabs. By doing so, Google’s algorithms will recognize that your subscribers WANT your subsequent emails delivered to their Primary tabs.

However, research conducted by Return Path found this strategy to be hugely ineffective; less than 0.1% of marketing emails made it into users’ Primary tabs following a ‘move me’ campaign.

move tabs whitelist marketing promotional emails promotions gmail

While this strategy is ineffective and a waste of time, others are offering advice that could actually be detrimental to your email marketing efforts.

Taking away the promotion out of your promotional emails is worse

Knowledge Center and Smart Passive Income, among a number of other sites, both advise to essentially remove all the promotional aspects from your emails that would get picked up by the Google algorithms. This means cutting back on images, branding, mastheads, links, social media icons, HTML code and branding. Which leaves, well, nothing. Essentially, you’re left with a plain text email.

plain text promotional marketing email gmail

Sure, you might be able to get into Gmail users’ Primary tabs by stripping away the components that may send your emails to the Promotions tab. But what’s the point if your marketing emails don’t do a good job at actually marketing anything?

Without any product images, your customers won’t have any idea if they want to purchase your products. With little branding from your company, such as including your logo or company name, in your newsletters, it would be nearly impossible to establish your brand. And your plain text email would have to be EXTREMELY convincing to get customers to somehow navigate to your store without a good masthead, any links or social media icons. Taking on this advice would definitely result in decreased engagement, impacting on your revenue.

Don’t be sneaky

If you do manage to land your emails in your subscribers’ Primary tabs by tricking Google’s algorithms, you will appear really shifty. Not a good look. Not only this, but your plain text emails will look really sketchy, and your subscribers are likely to start marking your emails as spam, meaning your emails will starting ending up in the dreaded spam folder. THAT is something you should worry about, and should be avoided at all costs if you don’t want your deliverability rate to drop.

Promotional emails might get lost in the Primary tab

On top of this, your marketing emails will be probably get lost in the shuffle if they do happen to be in the Primary tab. They will have to compete with more important personal emails your Gmail-using subscribers will be receiving. And if they want to specifically look through their inbox for great deals to make use of, they’ll probably go to their Promotions tab. As a result, the email you sent to them in their Primary tab will be forgotten about or overlooked.

It might not even work

Google’s algorithms are clever. Following all the aforementioned tips to land in your subscribers’ Primary tab does not guarantee that your emails will end up there.

blumaan mens hair fashion marketing email plain text promotions gmail joe proposal announcement

This email from Blumaan adheres to most of the algorithm-avoiding tips I spoke about before, although probably not intentionally. They have created an email that’s mostly comprised of text, included only one link and image, have kept the masthead simple, and the email copy keeps promotion to a minimum. In fact, Blumaan’s co-founder Joe spends most of the email talking about proposing to his girlfriend, and signs off the email with a personal address.

All in all, the email feels really personal, and unlike a traditional marketing email. Yet, Google has still sorted it into my Promotions tab.

In short, attempting to get your marketing emails in your subscribers’ Primary tabs is a big waste of time if Google sorts them into the Promotions tab anyway.

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Why the Promotions tab is the best place for your marketing emails

Tabs haven’t really affected email engagement

Research from Return Path found that the read rates of marketing emails for most industries before and after the introduction of Gmail tabs did not dramatically change; in fact, some industries like entertainment, home improvement and kids and babies, saw an increase in read rate. Likewise, many industries saw an increase in deliverability rates, with less emails sent to spam, as well as fewer spam complaints.

Additionally, the majority of Gmail users access their accounts on mobile – 75% of them, in fact. And guess what the Mail app doesn’t have… Tabs!

apple mobile mail app no promotions primary tabs gmail

The untabbed mobile inbox will show your promotional emails among the rest of the emails your Gmail-using subscribers receive. This means that you have little to worry about!

An organized inbox is your best friend

Nothing stresses me out more than a messy inbox.

Outlook recently introduced a more organized inbox system as well, dividing emails into Focused and Other (where promotional emails often end up) categories. However, I made the transition to Gmail before the introduction of this system, because I just couldn’t handle the thousands of emails that had piled up in my inbox. Even seeing other people with hundreds of email notifications on their phones makes me extremely anxious.

Before I organized it into tabs, my Gmail inbox was a hot mess as well; every time I opened my account, I would see hundreds of unopened emails. I did not have the patience to open and read every single one, so I would only click on the most important emails and read those. As for the rest, including marketing emails, I would just select them all and mark them as read.

With tabs, I can now easily access important emails first, and then peruse through promotional emails when I’m free. It also makes it easy to quickly see what sales and offers are happening at the moment, making it more likely that I will click through on newsletters and purchase products.

Create great content and loyal subscribers will seek it out

Instead of focusing on getting into your subscribers’ Primary tabs, you should instead continue to just create quality email content. Perfect your subject lines, offer great deals, make use of segmentation, and include plenty of personalization, and your subscribers will be sure to engage with your emails.

Engaging email content might also encourage users to move your emails from the Promotions tab to their Primary tabs of their own accord. Google will recognize this, and start sending your emails to their Primary tabs. Just don’t ask them to do this; as discussed before, ‘move me’ messages just don’t work.

Regardless of whether your customers use Gmail tabs or not, you should also be aiming to build a strong relationship with your customers by nurturing them and fostering brand loyalty. If your customers are loyal, they will be more inclined to actively seek out your emails and engage with them. Building a loyal email list will result in greater engagement with your marketing emails.


There really is no reason you should be panicking about Gmail tabs, because they haven’t really affected email engagement. Instead, you should continue to focus on creating effective marketing emails for subscribers to read in their Promotions tab, rather than attempting to land in the Primary tab, which might actually affect your email engagement negatively.

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