• Best Practices

FML, Every Email I Send Goes To The Gmail Promotions Tab

Chris Farmer
5 min read

The Promotions tab. Some people love it, some people hate it, some people love to hate it. For many of us, when we find our messages filed under Promotions instead of the primary inbox, we say something along the lines of:

It all started a few years ago when Google introduced tabs to make 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.

Tabs give Gmail users a way to organize their email clutter into nice, little tabs where messages are categorized and waiting for users like you to read them at your leisure, all the while keeping your most important messages in the Primary tab.

What are these Gmail tabs anyway?

So if you’ve been living in the upside down since 1983, you might have some questions. Most importantly, what are these Gmail tabs 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 and automatically assigns that message to the appropriate category. Users who have tabs enabled will then see those messages collected under the corresponding tab.

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

Primary: 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.

Social: The Social tab is where you’ll receive messages from your social networking sites/apps such as Facebook, Tinder, LinkedIn, etc.

Promotions: All you shopaholics will find your coupons, offers, and other email marketing messages in the Promotions tab.

Updates: The Updates tab contains what most would consider transactional messages such as shipping notifications, invoices/receipts, order confirmations, etc.

Forums: You’ll find all of your discussion forum, group, and mailing list notifications here.

But these tabs suck…

Or do they?

So tabs are 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 actually did make it to the inbox.

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

There are some legit 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 looking for deals, they know to go directly to the Promotions tab. This means recipients are more likely to open your message at a time when they’re interested in that type of message.

It’s also important to remember that not all of your Gmail recipients are using tabs. About 35% of them have this feature disabled (myself included). So the Promotions problem may not be quite as widespread as you think it is.

Cool. I still want the emails I send to go to the Primary tab.

We know Gmail categorizes messages based on an algorithm, and we know that the 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?”

Even though we feel like total losers for saying this, gaming the system isn’t a great idea. The more you make your marketing messages look like personal messages, the more likely you are to get complaints about them. Basically –

But we do recommend improving your chances of getting your emails into the Primary tab. And your best shot is by sending to users who want your messages (double opt-in for the win!) and sending high-quality content that’s related to what they signed up for.

If people are super excited to read your email, they just might move your messages from Promotions to Primary. You can even come right out and ask them to move you to Primary. I remember quite a few companies doing this back when the tabs feature first came out. Here are some instructions from Google you can share with your engaged Gmail subscribers to help them move messages to the Primary tab.

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

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

Happy Holiday Sending!

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Last updated on August 19, 2019

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