Like many other well-intentioned Google updates before it, the new Gmail inbox has set off a bout of angry and confused complaints from users. Also like many other updates, this one has sparked criticism from marketers who are certain the email-sky is falling. But keep the faith, Marketing Chicken Little — there just may be hope yet.
In case you are not a Gmail user and have managed to avoid the wave of blogger grumblings, this Gmail update was released in late May and has been rolling out to users over the past two months. A new “tabbed” inbox allows users to enable up to five tabs (Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums) into which Gmail pre-sorts their incoming messages.
By most recent count, 29.7% of Gmail’s 425 million users are found within the US, totaling a domestic audience of 126 million email users affected by this update. Feedback from these users thus far has been mixed, but across the board, email marketers detest the extra click now required for their audience to discover a carefully-crafted email campaign.
Like Ross with Rachel (video) back in the day, marketers just want to know how to get out of the Promotions “Friend Zone” and get into a real relationship with the Primary tab.
Early Effects Of Gmail’s New Inbox
Performance over the past two months suggests anything that looks, acts or sounds like a marketing email is automatically filtered into Promotions. Email publishing platform MailChimp released an early study of performance metrics from 1.5 billion emails sent to Gmail users since the new inbox release.
According to MailChimp’s Matthew Grove, an email that “looks like it came from an [email service provider] (has a list-unsubscribe header, unsubscribe links in the content, etc….) goes to either the Promotions tab or the Updates tab.” Once flagged, an email in the Promotions tab competes not only with other marketing noise, but also with Gmail’s native inbox ad placements.
The MailChimp study shows that while the effects of the new inbox have been nominal, there has been a consistent decrease of about 1% in Gmail open rates. This certainly isn’t cause for panic, but does indicate that email marketing has become that much harder.
Potential Problems Facing Marketers
Despite MailChimp’s hopeful analysis, being hidden in a separate tab has downfalls:
- Your email may not be seen as quickly, meaning flash sales and last-minute reminders (“Only ONE HOUR LEFT…”) are more likely to be seen after-the-fact.
- Your subject lines will appear directly next to all of your competitors’ — or at least those to which your audience also subscribes.
- Users may treat Promotions as another spam box, mass deleting anything in it. Of course, marketers can hold out hope that their dutiful email recipients will instead visit Promotions during downtime in their day, when they are ready to peruse content and purchase products.
Even with the latest changes, there are still many reasons to double-down on email marketing and continue investing resources there. Not only is email still fully capable of producing a positive ROI, but there will also always be people like Kyle Wagner, who can’t imagine his life without a good dose of spam mail to keep him company.
So, What’s An Email Marketer To Do?
Marketers that want to fight the good fight and earn their way into a Primary spotlight still have options. Besides continuing to follow best practices, use the following tips to maximize your email marketing results while trying to earn your way into Primary:
- Provoke a response. Initiate consistent, direct engagement from your audience.
- Be up front. Make a direct plea to email recipients to manually move you into Primary.
- Write better subject lines. Studies have shown that “emails with ‘non-advertising’ subject lines were the most successful.”
- Segment, segment, segment. Revisit your existing lists and see how you can further segment to hyper-target messaging.
- Cut the fluff. Only send an email when you actually have something new and useful to say.
- Help Gmail users out. Explain in upcoming emails and on your blog what actions readers should take to ensure they never miss your emails.
- Create awesome. Send out content so great that users will want to see it regardless of the tab it lives in!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.