Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox – the numbers & why it can be good for your marketing

4 minute read

Gmail has made its new Tabbed Inbox interface available to nearly, if not all users now and it’s been causing quite a debate amongst email marketers.
configure tabbed inbox

It’s now being deployed as the default option; if you’re a Gmail user and haven’t had it enabled yet you can do so by going to Settings > Configure inbox within Gmail.

This new feature sorts incoming email into different tabs based on what type of message Gmail thinks it is. By default there are three tabs ‘Primary’ – predominantly person-to-person messaging; ‘Social’ – for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn updates; and ‘Promotions’ for marketing emails. There are also ‘Updates’ and ‘Forums’ tabs that users can enable.

The question that’s been asked by many marketers is ‘what does this mean for email marketing?’ What I haven’t seen much talk about is how many people this change actually impacts.


Let’s take a look at the numbers

There are around 450 million Gmail accounts, and 5 million Google Apps for Business accounts (using a company domain name but the email service is powered by the Gmail platform).

Using those figures, our estimate of the number of active email accounts last year and our own tracking data, this gives us a range of 12–16% of all email addresses being powered by Gmail.

Our email analytics platform tracks what email clients and devices recipients use, as well as who their email provider is (using a combination of analysing the address and doing a DNS lookup on the domain) and based on our data from Q2 2013 we know that 53% of Gmail users used the web interface to read their email and 47% accessed their email on other devices or using a desktop email client like Thunderbird or Outlook.

The new Tabbed Inbox can be enabled for the the web interface and for the latest version of the Gmail app for Android and iPhone. Other clients and devices see the normal inbox, so between 6 and 8.5% of your list is likely to be affected by this change.

That’s an important proportion of your list, but if you’re following permission marketing best practice (of course you are, aren’t you?) then the negative impact should be negligible.


Why the Tabbed Inbox can be good for your email marketing

In fact, I actually think the Tabbed Inbox could improve engagement as it’s makes it easy for people to find your marketing messages when they’re ready to read them, so you run less risk of getting deleted or archived out of hand as people seek the (seemingly mythical) state of inbox zero. Time will tell.


Getting to the Primary Inbox

If you want to, you can help your messages appear in your subscribers’ Primary inbox. All a user needs to do is drag a message from one tab to another, and Gmail will learn to classify future mail like that under the new tab. So, you could ask your users to do this – provided of course you give them a compelling reason to do so.

tabbed inbox screenshot

However, users will quickly learn this behaviour themselves, and the negative effect of sending out an email purely to advise this (unless you have a really compelling benefit for your readers) will probably outweigh the benefits, especially as it’s likely that many other brands will be sending emails like this. Remember, ultimately, it’s all about your readers!