In May of this year Gmail made another change to their inbox by adding the tab feature. The tabs are a means of grouping messages in three categories (Promotions, Social, and Primary). The philosophy behind this modification is to clean the inbox (Primary tab) of promotional messages and social media notifications. It allows Gmail users to maintain a cleaner, leaner inbox of mail from personal contacts, rather than an inbox cluttered with email offers.
While the tab feature is great for Gmail users, it presents a unique set of challenges for email marketers. Legitimate senders are concerned that their messages that are now landing in the Promotions folder may not get read by the Gmail recipients. There is a direct correlation between opens, clicks and revenue for marketers. Fewer opens means fewer clicks (visits to the website) which leads to a reduction in online purchases (revenue) for the sender.
Return Path conducted a study and found that the tab feature has had a limited effect on senders with high engagement. In one study a sender crafted a message specifically for Gmail customers entitled “Don’t Let Great Deals Get Lost in your Inbox.” Interestingly this campaign saw a 2% increase read rate after the tab feature was activated. This result is not the norm. Other tests conducted by Return Path indicated a modest decline in opens for senders with high engagement. Gmail Tab placement has a limited affect on email recipients that are actively opening your messages.
Recipients Have Some Control over Inbox Placement
Gmail allows users to move messages to different folders. It gives them the option to alter a setting so that all future email goes into a different folder. If your message goes into the Promotions tab, your contact can move the message into the Primary tab and tell Gmail to send all future email from you into the Primary tab (the Inbox). Some senders have had some success in sending a special instructional message to their Gmail recipients to guide them through this process.
It All Comes Down to Engagement
Gmail has forced the hand of email marketers to craft better content. There is no shortage of promotional email and now the Promotional tab is saturated with offerings. If your seventh message is no different than your first message, recipients will not stay engaged long and inbox fatigue begins to set in. It is imperative that senders put time into crafting their email newsletters and promotional offers.
A proper assessment of the interest of your email recipients is a prerequisite to your marketing campaign. When contacts fill out a form to receive email, give them options to select based on various areas of interest and only send content that matches their interests.
It also helps to identify return customers from those that are merely casually reading your email. Most email service providers offer click tracking data. This enables senders to track the number of contacts that click on links within their message and visit their web site. Click tracking is a valuable asset to marketers, as it enables them to assess the level of interest of their email recipients and ultimately lead to ROI.
Do not hesitate to remove unengaged contacts. Ask your email service provider for reporting on contacts that have not opened or clicked any links within the last 4 to 6 months. I recommend sending a confirmation email to this group and removing the contacts that do not opt-in. Removal of these contacts should not be considered a loss. If contacts are not opening messages or clicking on links within your message, you’re not likely making any money from them.
Consider crafting different messages for promotional offerings and transactional or informational content. Studies have shown transactional message like purchase receipts and informational messages have a better chance of landing in the Primary tab, while content that contains mention of discounts and new products are most certainly to land in the Promotions tab.
As a Gmail user and Anti-Spam Advocate, I love the changes that Gmail has made. With one simple feature Gmail has successfully made it a less profitable to send spam email while simultaneously improving the user experience for Gmail users.
As a Deliverability Manager, I recognize the challenges that the tab feature presents to legitimate senders. These senders are competing for inbox real estate in a place that is saturated with promotional messages. Senders have the burden of improving their content. Markers must now brainstorm on ways to achieve a strategic advantage over other marketers with poor content and those with even worse intentions.
The savvy marketers will make content modifications now. Google has been an innovative industry leader over the last few years. If other mailbox providers (AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft) begin to follow suit, getting to the inbox will become a lot more difficult over the coming years.
Chris Truitt is a seasoned Email Deliverability Manager. He has spent the last six and one half years honing his craft with iContact and stepped into a leadership role shortly after iContact’s acquisition by Vocus. As Manager of Deliverability, Chris has tripled the size of his team, written policies and processes to improve inbox delivery to enhance the customer experience.
As a pragmatist, Chris has a result oriented approach to business. If a process does not render desired results, he will not hesitate to alter course or tweak his procedure. He is a proponent of interdepartmental cooperation and sharing resources. His community philosophy is appreciated by his colleagues, as he looks to assess how the change he implements affects others. In cooperation with several department leaders, Chris helped increase inbox delivery for iContact and Vocus senders. Chris knows that strong decisive leadership is the cornerstone of a thriving organization.