How Will Updates to the Gmail Inbox Affect Email Marketing?

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With recent updates to Google Mail’s inbox I was curious as to how email marketing campaigns would be affected so I thought I would do some digging to find out more about it and what it might mean for online marketers.

What are the changes that Google have made?

For those of you that are unfamiliar with Google Mail, aka Gmail, (or those of you that haven’t noticed the recent changes) Google have recently added a number of features to enhance the user experience and ‘improve’ the service. Some of these updates include a new way of composing an email (enabling the user to compose messages in a new window whilst keeping an eye on their inbox), new custom themes and, the feature I want to talk about today, a ‘new’ inbox with customisable tabs.

How The New Inbox Works

The concept of the new Gmail inbox is a simple one; with a multitude of different types of email messages – from personal, private messages to newsletters and receipts or invoices – Google wants to make our inboxes more organised and easier to use. All incoming mail is now automatically classified into categories which, in the words of Google, “make it easy to focus on messages that are important to you and read messages of the same type all at once.”.

By default we are presented with three different tabs:

  • Promotions
    This is where all your newsletters go.
  • Social
    Any correspondence from social media sites, such as “Joe Bloggs has a new tweet for you” is filtered here.
  • Primary
    This is where everything else goes, it’s your main inbox or most important inbox if you like.

In addition to this you can also enable two extra tabs:

  • Updates
    This tab is for updates, bills and receipts.
  • Forums
    This is where messages from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists are stored.

If a message appears in the wrong place, you can simply drag it to into the correct tab and Google will make sure that messages from the same address are always sorted correctly. In addition to this manual filters can be created to catch anything that Google has missed. Messages in all tabs can also be marked with a star to make them appear in your primary inbox.

The Benefits

At first, like with all major changes to services I use regularly, I was pessimistic. Why change something that already works well? But, after getting to know the system I can see that it does possess a number of benefits. I like that I can now keep my primary inbox organised and free of clutter, giving me the option to view newsletters and social updates at my leisure instead of interrupting my work flow and that I can now just skim over the subjects of mails from social media sites to check that none of them require action before deleting them all in one click of a button.

The Concerns

I have read many concerns, and had a few myself, about how the new updates to the Gmail inbox will affect email marketing campaigns. I recently read in an article on the Mailchimp Blog that their research shows a drop in open rates since tabs were introduced. However, this drop was minimal and amounts to a decline of less than one percent.

There are two sides to every argument and while some people feel that this new update will hurt email marketing, by making it easier to single out and delete all promotional emails or by causing emails to go unnoticed adding that extra click before they can be viewed, others feel that the updates will be of benefit.

I admit that when I first clicked into the promotions tab in my Gmail account I was shocked by how many emails were in there – emails from shops that I had bought from years ago or emails about topics that don’t interest me in the slightest but I was somehow tricked into giving out my email address and signing up to a newsletter – and that this did cause me to go on an unsubscribing spree to remove myself from any lists that I no longer wanted (or never wanted) to belong to.

However, (for the sake of my argument) these emails were emails that would have previously sat in my already overloaded inbox for a few weeks making the place look untidy before being sent to the trash unread. Now I just subscribe to the newsletters I want to receive, and while it may take me longer to notice or get round to reading them, they sit out of harms way not cluttering my inbox and ready for me to access them and read them when I have the time to do so.

I guess the simple fact of the matter is that if you are concerned about Google’s new filtering methods and that your email marketing might go unnoticed or ignored, don’t be. If your readers find the information in the emails you send them useful and informative then they will make the effort to read them. While you might see an initial drop in open rates my guess is they will pick up again once people get used to the new system. All you need to focus on is sending quality, informative newsletters and building relationships with your customers so that they want to open your emails.

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Sam manages online marketing strategies for our clients, working to identify areas for improvement and helping you to make the most of your website. His knowledge and skills can help you turn an online presence into an online success.