Help! Every email I send goes to Gmail’s Promotions tab

The Gmail Primary and Promotions folder helps recipients organize their email. But is this folder really as bad as everyone makes it out to be? We’ll break down Google’s tabs and explain how readers can prioritize your emails.



The Gmail Promotions tab – some people love it, some people hate it, and some people love to hate it. For many of us email marketers, when we find our witty subject lines and email campaigns filed under the Gmail Promotions tab instead of the Primary inbox, we say something along the lines of "oh, fudge."

It all started a few years ago when Google, one of the main email service providers (ESPs), introduced new folders (also called tabs) to make Gmail account inboxes a little less chaotic. This is good because all too often important personal or business conversations get hidden in the clutter of coupons, shipping notifications, promotional emails, invoices, and social media updates. It’s all stuff you want to catch up on, but you have to take care of your boss and/or your mom first. Otherwise, you get yelled at for not responding to that email of cute puppy pictures.

Inbox tabs give Gmail users a way to organize their email clutter into nice, little Promotion folders where messages are categorized and waiting for users like you to read them at your leisure, all the while keeping the most important messages in the Primary tab. But is it possible to move our emails from Gmail Promotions to the Primary tab? Let’s break it down a little.

What is the purpose of the Gmail Promotions folder?

So if you’ve been living in the Stranger Things upside-down world since 1983, you might have some questions. Most importantly, what is this Gmail Promotions tab and what do they do exactly?

Google created five tabs with labels that correspond to the most common categories of emails. It all happens thanks to a proprietary algorithm that identifies which category an incoming message belongs to and automatically assigns that message to the appropriate category. Users who have tabs enabled will then see those messages collected under the corresponding tab.

What is each Gmail inbox tab used for?

Here’s a breakdown of the five inbox tabs and their intended uses:

Primary tab

The Primary tab is intended for person-to-person conversations from the user’s contacts or any other messages that don’t fit into the intended use of the other tabs. This is generally where a user’s most important and necessary messages end up, and pretty much all email marketers want their messages to land here.

Social tab

The Social tab is where a user will receive messages from social networking sites/apps such as Facebook, Tinder, LinkedIn, etc. These messages will most often be notifications of new posts, comments, or reactions that are associated with the user’s social media profiles.

Promotions tab

Any shopaholic will find their coupons and discount codes, special welcome email offers, and other email marketing messages in the Gmail Promotions tab. This is where marketing campaigns tend to land if they don’t make it into the Primary tab.

Updates tab

The Updates tab contains what most would consider transactional messages such as shipping notifications, invoices/receipts, order confirmations, etc. If you share Google documents, Google slides, or other collaborative projects with other people, the Updates tab will notify you when they’ve made edits.

Forums tab

You’ll find all of your discussion forum, group, and mailing list notifications here. Messages and Google invitations sent to large groups of employees, friends, and other organizations will be found here.

Does landing in the Gmail Promotions folder harm your deliverability?

Gmail’s Promotions tab is all fine and great for the recipients, but most senders would say they’re not so fine and great. As a business, you want your message to get to the inbox. Well, the good news is that if you land in any of these tabs you did actually make it to the inbox.

Gmail’s tabs are simply the inbox broken down into categories. And that’s a lot better than getting blocklisted. So, before you start fretting about your emails ending up in the Gmail Promotions folder, take a minute to celebrate making it to the inbox.

There are some benefits to Gmail’s tabs. For one, ReturnPath found that these tabs actually improved deliverability (messages making it to the inbox vs the spam/junk/bulk folder), increased open rates, and reduced the number of spam complaints.

Since these emails are categorized, they’re not fighting for space with different types of emails. So, when people are in the mood to shop and look for deals, they know to go directly to the Promotions tab. This means Gmail users are more likely to open your message at a time when they’re ready to engage with that type of message.

It’s also important to remember that not all of your Gmail users are using tabs. 47% of users have this feature disabled. So, the Gmail Promotions situation may not be quite as widespread as you think it is.

“53.3% of people with Gmail accounts use the Gmail Tabs feature. Out of those, 79.7% check the Promotions tab at least once a week, and 51% do this daily.” The path to email engagement 2021

How can I avoid Gmail’s Promotion tab?

We know Gmail categorizes messages based on an algorithm, and we know that tabs aren’t all that bad for senders. But if you’re like every human ever, you’re probably thinking, “how can I beat the system?”

Many “experts” will tell you to imitate important emails by changing your formatting to plain text, use simple HTML templates, send from a personal email address, and avoid sending bulk emails. It is true that a combination of these methods could trick Google into prioritizing your emails into the Primary tab.

But even though it may sound tempting, gaming the system isn’t a great idea. The more you make your email content and marketing emails look like personal messages, the more likely you are to get complaints about them and, eventually, be consigned to the spam folder or unsubscribed.

However, we do recommend improving your chances of getting your emails into the Primary tab.

How can I get my email campaigns into the Primary tab?

If you still want to avoid the Promotions folder and get a premium spot in the Primary tab, there might be a legitimate way to do so. Engaging in email best practices is the best way to earn your spot alongside other important emails.

Here’s how to get your emails into Gmail’s Primary tab:

  1. Start by only sending to users who want your marketing campaigns (double opt-in for the win!).

  2. Send high-quality email content that’s related to what they signed up for.

  3. Now you have earned their trust, ask them (as a friend) to move future emails from the Gmail Promotions tab to the Primary folder. If people are super excited to read your emails, they might just move them themselves.

And that’s it. Your subscribers ultimately have the final say over which tab your email messages go to. And that’s okay because the Promotions tab isn’t so bad after all.


Want to know more about email best practices?

Check out our Email Growth Playbook, a database of 60+ tactics to help you increase the performance of your email campaigns.

Can Mailgun get me from the Gmail Promotions tab to the Primary tab?

Landing where you want to in the inbox can be tricky. However, Mailgun’s Inbox Placement service solves this problem. Use the Inbox Placement tool to predict which tab your email will end up and then take steps to ensure that your relevant emails land in your subscribers’ Primary inbox. You can also use this tool to analyze deliverability issues and test/tweak emails before they send. Easy, right?

Now, if you’re not ending up in the inbox at all, that’s something that needs to be addressed. Our Deliverability Service provides a dedicated account manager who proactively monitors your account for delivery issues, IP reputation management, throttling, blocklists, etc. And they’ll work together with you to develop a bespoke game plan and best sending solution. Learn more about it and talk to one of our email experts here.

TL;DR: What should you remember about the Gmail Promotions folder?

The Gmail Promotions tab (and other folders) aren’t meant to be obstacles for your email program. They’re meant to help the recipient organize messages, so you can use the existence of these tabs to your advantage. Don’t try to beat the system – instead, engage your subscribers with quality content for optimal deliverability, and let them know that they can move your messages into the Primary tab with just a few clicks.

Inbox placement depends, first and foremost, on engaged subscribers and consistent messaging. If you keep this in mind and cultivate strong relationships with your subscribers, you will have no trouble keeping your messages in the Primary tab. And to us, that’s worth a major award or two.


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