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Email Marketing Survives Gmail Tabs

Marketers were understandably concerned in 2013 when Google announced a new tabs feature for Gmail. The new tabs broke up the primary inbox into social, promotional, and even an update tab (if users enabled it), and the thinking was that this segmentation would spur declines in read rates and click-throughs. This didn’t turn out to be the case.

“We saw that there was little impact at all. Most businesses saw no change. Some even saw improvement,” says Tom Sather, senior director of research at email data solutions provider Return Path.

New research from Return Path shows that most users (more than 66%) don’t even have Gmail tabs enabled. Of  those who do use tabs, more than 50% claim they check their promotions tab at least once a week, with 26% claiming they check the tab daily.

This is good news for email marketers, especially considering promotional and transactional “update” emails make up more than 90% of users’ inbox. Additionally, 60% of users who use tabs have the promotional tab enabled, indicating a fairly strong email environment that is at odds with the immediate response Gmail tabs received. Note, though, that promotional emails do have the lowest read rates at just over 19%, but this is only 3% behind the read rates for primary inbox emails.

“That’s how it always has been. When you typically look at read rates they aren’t [broken down] by the Gmail categories,” Sather says. “This [variance] falls in line with a lot of what we see out in the real world.”

While marketers shouldn’t fear the effect Gmail tabs have on their read and open rates, the way emails are sorted on the platform could be an issue nopt only for marketers, but for users who expect certain emails to land in a particular tab.

Sather shares the tale of a woman he interviewed for the study, who couldn’t find her electronic ticket where she expected it (her updates tab). “For whatever reason, Gmail misclassified this airline ticket as a promotion,” he says. “We found in this report that about one in ten messages were actually misclassified.”

A similar example presented itself during the election campaign cycle, where Hillary Clinton’s emails were being classified as updates while Donald Trump’s were tabbed as promotions. Clinton’s were read more, and raised more money, because these emails defaulted to the primary inbox for users who didn’t have the update tab open, and the primary inbox still performs better than the promotion tab, if only slightly.

Sather has a couple of suggestions for marketers looking to correct email misclassification in Gmail. “Gmail recommends that you send your different types of mail out through different authenticated  domains… [which] will help them classify your emails more accurately,” he says. “Additionally, look at the content. If a lot of the copy sounds like marketing speak in your receipt, then you increase the chances of that receipt being misclassified as promotion. Make sure the copy matches the intent.”

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