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Conrado Lamas

Email Marketing: 40% of Our Gmail Users Don’t Have the Promotions Tab On

Conrado Lamas
Email Marketing: 40% of Our Gmail Users Don’t Have the Promotions Tab On

If you work in email marketing too, you’ll understand me.

Google has given me a very tough time since they launched their new version of Gmail with different tabs for social media, updates and — the most-debated among email marketers — the promotions tab. That was back in May 2013, and we all had some level of hope that the new feature wouldn’t be that catchy.

Then came October 2014, and our second blow in a little more than a year: Google Inbox.

Google didn’t seem to be backing off from its plans of classifying emails through tabs, as their new Inbox took them to an even higher level.

Gmail: The Five Steps of Grief

You’ll see why I’m not exaggerating: at MailTrack.io, we add double-checks for read receipts solely for Gmail users. This means that one of my main responsibilities is to communicate with a 200,000 database of Gmailers, but our most important messages would start going more and more to the growing adopters of Google’s email solutions — and therefore, to the new Gmail tabs instead to their primary inboxes.

First, I denied it. Deep inside I wanted the whole thing to be Google’s next Wave or Google Buzz. And most articles I read on the new promotions tab did the same by then as well.

Then, I got angry. I bitterly shared the opinion that Google was taking away their users’ capability of determining which emails they consider important, with all the subjectivity it implies.

It didn’t take long for me to start bargaining. I sent tweets and emails to anyone who could indirectly get to someone aware of what was Google’s plan, so we knew what was going on. Can we expect further changes? How can we prepare for them? All I got was much of the speculations I was already considering together with my team.

Finally, came depression. It especially hit hard when we saw the numbers on it. MailChimp had already commented after the promotions tab was on that the open rate had been impacted. In October, we ran a survey in which we found out that around 60% of our European users (again, they’re all Gmailers) had their promotions tab activated.

But, inevitably came acceptance. I advise you to get there fast. We decided to run another survey in November, this time on Google Inbox, and that’s when we concluded we should make changes in our email marketing strategy:

  • MailTrack Gmail users in Europe are still skeptical about Inbox, but around 80% of them already knew about the new tool.
  • The great majority of this subgroup (80% of them) tried or wanted to try Inbox.
  • A third of these users who knew about it thought it was substitutive of Gmail.

Be careful when extrapolating these numbers, because we’re talking about MailTrack users in Europe, who all happen to have Gmail. Although the best advice is to take this bias into consideration when analyzing the results, they still give us some hints on what might be happening outside the realm of our startup.

You’ve probably already seen the good side of our discovery: we have time to adapt. At least in our case, 40% of our Europeans Gmail users don’t have the tabs and are getting our communication in their primary tab. Also, 70% of those who tried Inbox did not think it would substitute Gmail (which happens to be also the Google’s official position on the relation between the two apps).

Nevertheless, it is clear that Google is dedicated to extending the use of these kinds of tabs. And although no one can for sure say this is actually the way we’ll use our email apps in the future, you don’t want to ignore the plans of a giant player such as Google. Inbox, for example, is just available through invitations, but a lot will happen when it becomes available to everyone.

So, What Can You Do About It?

First, don’t panic. If you’re an email marketer, you’re already used to dealing with a channel that effectively communicates with around 20% of your target. I bet you celebrate a lot when your open rate reaches 30, 35% percent.

First thing is to realize is that the existence of the promotional tab does complicate the planning and execution of our email communications, but doesn’t mean it changes your work significantly. It seems that a lot of Gmail users still prefer the traditional inbox instead of the ones run by algorithms. What you’ll need to do is to find solutions to address those who prefer the new email solution proposed by Google as well.


The second thing I’d advise you to do is check how this news affects your case specifically, just like we did here at our startup. Do some quantitative and qualitative research with your clients. Do your best to know how they’re using their Gmails, what they think about these new solutions, and how they might change (or not) their preferences toward them.

If our strategy on this field might help you rethink yours, this is the solutions we are either debating or already applying here at MailTrack.io:

  1. We retagged users according to their activity - We became more strict with the number and format of communications each user receives. This meant our emails became more pertinent to each profile, increasing the correlation between emails sent and click-through rate.

By producing segmented campaigns, we guaranteed MailTrackers would relate our brand to relevant information. In a sense, Google’s changes make us think our email readership might drop in the long run. If this is the case, we would have to compensate it by segmenting our database more efficiently and making sure campaigns will be even more pertinent to the potentially fewer recipients we will reach.

  1. We’re asking ourselves if we shouldn’t send some emails without email marketing tools - Amanda Gagnon wrote on AWeber’s blog a compelling argument on how the promotion tabs might actually mean good news for our promotional messages. But this made us think that, sometimes, the most important thing for us is to reach our users with a very important message, not so much to promote ourselves.

By sending a simple email to them without using an email marketing tool in these case, we hope to reach them through their primary inbox. The main problem is, of course, how could check the effectiveness of this solution.

We’ve Thought of 3 Ways We Could Measure This Strategy:

  1. io happens to be a email tracking tool for single emails (not like MailChimp, which sends bulk campaigns), so we could divide our userbase and send one message to thousands of users during several days. If you use Google Apps for Work like we do, this would mean you’d have a maximum of 2,000 emails per day. The negative part would be that our extension is able to indicate opens, but not per email address. Still, it would be a way to verify the number of opens registered by one email.
  1. In the cases in which we wanted to include a link, we could use a URL builder to mark the link and check on Analytics the number of clicks. What we would be in fact checking here is CTR, but still it’s better to have one indicator than none. And it’s an indicator we can compare with regular campaigns sent through email marketing software.
  1. Even when sending the email with or without an image or link tracker, we could select a sample of the recipients and directly ask them through surveys and interviews if they like to receive plain-text messages with more important, non-promotional emails in their primary inbox.

I advise you to try and test our and your assumptions regarding this new challenge brought by Google’s latest innovations on its email apps. And I’d really appreciate if you could publish here some of your insights and comments about them.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Conrado Lamas is responsible for the Communications at MailTrack.io, and writes periodically about email, productivity and marketing at blog.mailtrack.io.

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