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Gmail Changes Impact Email Marketers

In September, Google made changes to their very popular Gmail service so that messages now appear in three distinct categories within their inbox—primary, social, and promotions. Users can also add two additional categories, updates and forums from a provided menu.

The rollout began in May 2013. Currently, more than half of their 425 million active users worldwide has the new format. Users can select what tabs to show or hide or simply keep all three on the top of their inbox for their viewing pleasure.

While many users like this new feature (think less email overload), it should concern many that use email marketing as a way to build, engage, and monetize audiences. 

If you use an email provider, for e.g., like Constant Contact, Topica, or MailChimp, or if you simply send messages that can be classed as commercial by the Google algorithm, all these emails now go directly into “promotions” unless moved directly by the user into their “primary” folder.

So far, giant retailers that use email marketing promotions to drive foot traffic through coupons and other promotions, flash sale sites, and airlines have been vocal in their displeasure of the new offering. Many have appealed to their customer base to move its messages from "promotions" to "primary." These requests are hard to measure as Google does not disclose how customers move their e-mail around.

MailChimp last month found the percentage of emails that were opened by its 3 million Gmail customers fell by about 1 percentage point. Of course, once the rollout is complete this may rise.

Things to Consider:

  1. Encourage your email file to add you to their primary folder. Once they do this your future messages will appear here.

  2. Reconsider flash sales, your audience may not see the offer in time to participate or take action.

  3. Your subject header is now more important than ever. Users may not view their promotions folder daily so your marketing messages will need to shine in a sea of other marketing messages.

  4. Promote through other channels, for example, social media.

  5. Create a relationship based on trust and engagement. If people love your brand and receive value the relationship will overcome obstacles.