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Summary:

The new Gmail may be causing more email newsletters to languish in inboxes unopened, which would be problematic for companies that rely on it for lead generation.

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photo: Thinkstock

This article has been updated to reflect Google’s comment.

While Gmail’s new tabbed inbox system has been around since May, Google has been rolling out the program  to users in stages this month. And as people get used to the new inbox, which sorts their mail by type, there may already be a casualty of the system.

Matthew Grove of email and newsletter distribution platform MailChimp wrote a blog post suggesting that the new Gmail may be reducing the effectiveness of its email newsletters. It came to that conclusion after looking at the “open rate” of billions of its emails sent to Gmail. In the new Gmail, newsletters are filtered out of the “Primary” tab — where essential emails are sent — and put in the “Promotional” tab, along with spam, flash deal offers and even Google’s own ads. As a result, their contents may be more apt to languish in the inbox unseen.

Grove writes:

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.

Grove says that while the company has tinkered with the content and style of the emails to try to get them to land in the Primary stream, it hasn’t been able to crack that code. It’s likely that no matter what MailChimp and other newsletter developers devise to get out of Promotions, Google and its Gmail team will be there to counteract the techniques. After all, users have opted in to have the Promotions tab — if they wanted to see promotions in their primary feed, they would configure accordingly.

When asked for comment, Google reiterated the user’s choice in to include the promotions tab, or avoid it entirely:

“If you prefer another inbox style, you can choose from any of the four inbox options or even customize the new inbox by dragging and dropping messages to different tabs or electing to have certain senders always get sorted into a particular tab.”

It’s, of course, too early to reach any deeper conclusions about the lasting impact on email marketers from the new Gmail inbox– and we have reached out to other email providers to see if they’ve had similar experiences, as well as to Google to get their reaction. But if this pattern holds, it could be problematic for companies that rely on newsletter communications to survive and thrive online.

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  1. lol
    Tabs are just the same as folders (or labels as google calls them), There is nothing new really, just hard to see the point in having both.

    1. haha yea, I just disabled the tabs because I like to sort them manually. There’s something satisfying about that.

      Come see my blog here: http://thetechstylemuseum.wordpress.com/

  2. I love it! I rarely like changes that are introduced, but this one works for me.

  3. Email analytics service Litmus also analyzed similar data. Their data provides similar conclusions – less than a 1 percent drop. They, however, seem to think it’s not as impactful to marketers: https://litmus.com/blog/mobile-opens-hit-44-and-outlook-com-takes-a-dive

  4. I think these changes are fine, and as email marketers we should not be probing to get into peoples ‘Primary’ tab. When people subscribe to our emails they are expecting marketing materials, so why not house that in different area where people can come back and peruse at their leisure?

    Your email might sit in the top few of the promotions tab rather than get pushed below the bottom of screen by ‘real’ email and social media garbage. Then, when they have a moment or are in the mood, our subscribers can sort through their ‘junk mail’ and decide what to open.

    Works for me. Stop trying to ‘crack the code’ and bother people with false intentions I say.

    Dubious article at best.

    J

  5. People are putting their heads in the sand and the 1 percent difference number is from email list providers so it is in their interest to understate.

    Most people I know are just learning to delete the promotions tab in mass. Especially sad for those organizing events that people have opted to join, like meetup.com as a lot of those come out as promos or social. Imagine if you need to announce a last minute venue change or speaker cancellation – good luck getting peoples attention in the ghetto tabs of social or “mass delete” promotion.

  6. Diana Daffner, Intimacy Retreats Sunday, July 28, 2013

    As a business owner with a newsletter subscription list, this is a serious problem – it seems to be separating out even NON-newsletter emails, that contain specific information about a specific event someone is attending . As a user, I am actually appreciating the tabs, although in theory it is creepy to have the system make those choices for me. Feels like intrusive “surveillance.”

  7. Christian Fadgen Tuesday, August 6, 2013

    I have experienced “transactional” emails being labeled as “Promotion”. As an email strategist and technician, this introduces some questions about why Google would choose to disregard that CAN-SPAM designation (and perhaps introduce their own… introducing an additional deviation into the world of email design is not really the direction I would like to see.)
    I am OK with it as a user only if the Gmail system is “smart” and recognizes that I placed it into my Primary folder and directs future ones to that location. We will see.

  8. Yeah.. this seriously concerns me. We operate an education business that uses MC for our promotional newsletters, but we also use MC to send event attendees specific information about their events pre and post event. We have had a significant number of complaints from our customers that they have not received these important emails of late (meaning they may have missed them in the promotions tab)

    This is information our customers have paid to receive… things like papers from speakers, directions on how to get to events, information about professional organisations they might want to join etc.

    Not sure what we can do about it.

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