How Gmail’s New Tabbed Inbox is Affecting Open Rates

A few months ago, Gmail introduced a new feature that stirred up panic among email marketers: a tabbed interface that removes marketing messages from the user’s main inbox. The new Gmail defaults to three separate tabs: Primary, Social, and Promotions. And since Google is very good at sorting and categorizing things, it’s a sure bet that any email marketing message will end up shunted to that unappealing final tab.

As of the last quarter of 2012, Gmail had 425 million active users. Should marketers worry about the impact of the new tabs in Gmail?

MailChimp takes a closer look

A popular online solution for email marketers, MailChimp supports more than 3 million users who send newsletters, mass mailings, and more through their platform. Curious about the impact of Gmail tabs, the company pulled out all deliveries to Gmail over the past year and a half—a total of 12.5 billion emails and over 2 billion unique opens—and posted the findings on their blog.

The compiled results showed that the new tabbed interface does seem to be affecting open rates, with a small but noticeable decrease. Weekday open rates dropped from around 13 percent to a little over 12 percent, and weekend rates from just over 10 percent to just over 9 percent.

Potential cause for concern in MailChimp’s findings is that the open rates stayed down for three consecutive weeks—a pattern that isn’t normal compared to the year and a half of historical data they reviewed.

Can you beat the tabbed inbox?

As many online marketers know, it’s not easy to circumvent Google’s algorithms. Trying to “fool” Gmail into believing your emails are not marketing-related is fairly pointless. What can email marketers do to ensure that their messages are still read by Gmail users?

Most importantly, follow the #1 rule of email marketing: provide interesting, engaging content that people want to read. If you want to take an extra step, you can simply ask your subscribers to “whitelist” your emails, so they appear in the Primary tab—Gmail makes it easy with a drag-and-drop option that lets users permanently flag messages from the same address into a new category.

Gmail tabs are still new, and the best approach is probably to wait and see what happens. The impact may not be significant. But if you continue to provide subscribers with attractive, high quality content, the tabbed interface won’t matter much to your business.


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