Gmail promotions tab hero image

Gmail Promotions Tab: Is it Really That Bad for Marketers?

Of all of the email clients out there, Gmail is one that gives us some pretty big headaches. It’s the most popular email clients in the world with 1.8 billion users and the Gmail app has a 53% market share in the U.S. So standing out in Gmail inboxes is crucial. But what if you don't end up in the main inbox? What's the impact of landing in the Gmail Promotions tab instead?

If you're worried that could mean your marketing emails are getting missed or ignored, you're not alone. Email marketers across the globe felt this acutely in 2013 when Gmail introduced tabs to their inbox experience, separating marketing emails, social media notifications, and transactional email into their own sections. 

But guess what? It’s not the end of the world if your email lands in the Promotions tab. In fact, it can sometimes be a good thing. Here’s what you need to know about the Gmail Promotions tab:

The Gmail Promotions tab: The basics

With tabs, Gmail uses an algorithm to sort incoming emails into different categories:

  • Primary: From “people you know”
  • Social: From social media sites
  • Updates: Automated notifications, statements, billing, or other transactional emails
  • Forums: Replies from online groups or discussion boards

…and finally, Promotions. According to Google, this includes “deals, offers, newsletters and other ‘call to action’ emails” aka marketing email campaigns like yours. How they do so isn’t entirely clear, but they say that “signals include (but aren’t limited to) who the email comes from, what type of content is in the message and how Gmail users have interacted with similar content.” 

Note that this is not the same as landing in the spam folder. That’s a way bigger issue related to your email deliverability rather than the content of your emails. If your email campaign makes it to the Promotions tab, you’re still in the inbox. Making sure your subscribers find and read it is another matter.

Can you avoid the Gmail Promotions tab? 

…not really.

There’s no magic way around the algorithm, even if you try formatting plain-text style emails or other conventions meant to mimic regular emails. At this point, it’s just too smart. And you’re more likely to find this kind of attempt to game the system backfires and hurts your deliverability in the long run.

Gmail does offer the ability for users to manually adjust their inbox tabs and filters, including eliminating them altogether. It’s an old-school marketing tactic, but it may work to just ask your Gmail subscribers to add your information to their contacts or manually drag your emails into their Primary inbox. It’s worth a shot, anyway.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s worth considering that the Promotions tab is where your emails belong. Here’s why:

How the Gmail Promotions tab actually helps your email marketing

In 2013, email marketers panicked about how the Promotions tab felt like a second-tier spam folder and that their open rates would drop. At the time, that wasn’t far off. But at this point, tabs have been around long enough that users understand how they work and how to use them - and other mailbox providers like Outlook and YahooM Mail have introduced similar inbox experiences of their own.

The silver lining of all this is that now, there’s a place where subscribers actively seek out deals and brand messaging. When our friends at Sinch Mailjet surveyed thousands of email users for their Email Engagement Report, they found that 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. Rather than get lost in the day-to-day emails in the Gmail inbox, there’s a dedicated spot for your marketing emails so that it’s easier to get found. 

How often do you check the Gmail Promotions tab?
From Mailjet's 2021 Email Engagement report

Opens from the Promotions tab, experts like Chad White argue, indicate higher purchase intent. He writes:

“Any dip in top-of-the-funnel engagement that’s caused by being in the Promotions tab—and it’s not clear that there is any—is made up for in an increase in bottom-of-the-funnel engagement from higher conversion rates. That’s a trade that every brand should be more than happy to make.”

Chad S. White, Author/Email marketing expert

Trying thinking of it this way... Tabs in Gmail help people organize email messages automatically. If you're sending promotional emails, that's exactly where those messages should be, and that's where you're subscribers will look for them when they're interested in what you're promoting.

Email annotations and the Promotions tab

For developers and brands with more advanced email marketing programs, Gmail added a little extra something for emails in the Promotions tab: Email annotations. Email annotations allow you to add special email content that only appears in the Top picks section of the Promotions tab, helping your emails stand out that much more. 

These annotations require special Schema markup for Gmail. They include product carousels, calls to action at the inbox level, promotional cards, and more.

Mobile phone showing Gmail promotions tab
Product carousel in the Gmail Promotions tab

When you include the annotation code in your email, subscribers may see your logo, coupon codes, and featured images below your subject line, depending on the content of your email. This is shown directly in the inbox for users in Gmail’s mobile app. 

Annotations may not be useful for every email brand. However, it could be very advantageous to ecommerce companies and B2C brands. There are also specific features that were built for travel, hospitality, and dining. At this point, most of these features only display on the Gmail mobile app. However, if subscribers are engaging with your emails in the Promotions tab, Gmail may highlight them in a "Top picks" section on Gmail for the web/desktop. Sure, it's usually next to a couple of ads, but it's much better inbox visibility.

Gmail Promotions tab Top picks
Gmail Promotions tab Top picks

What about transactional emails and newsletters?

Transactional emails like receipts, purchase confirmations, or billing notifications shouldn’t be in the Promotions tab. For subscribers using tabs, that gets sorted into “Updates” or more often, left in the Primary inbox. If you’re worried about subscribers missing important information like this, it may be a good idea to send transactional emails from a different subdomain than your marketing emails. 

Newsletters vary by brand and your overall reputation with Gmail. It’s not necessarily a promotion, but they can be classified that way by Gmail’s algorithm. At least in our own inboxes, we’ve found many brand newsletters land in Promotions, while notable publishers or major media companies like the New York Times stay in the Primary tab. So, it is what you make of it.

How pre-send email testing can help 

Instead of worrying about Gmail placement, the best thing to focus on is sending high-quality, engaging emails that people actually want to read. If you deliver something amazing, subscribers will anticipate your emails instead of ignoring them, no matter where they are in their inbox. 

The best way to do this? Test every email before you click send. With Sinch Email on Acid, we make pre-send email testing easy. Our industry-leading email previews show you how your emails will look when opened in Gmail and many other email clients. Test your email marketing campaigns on 100+ clients and live devices before you hit the send button. And with Email on Acid, you'll never have to worry about hitting a limit. Every paid plan can take advantage of unlimited testing.

Even Great Emails Need to Be Tested

It’s true: Even well-designed emails can break from time to time. That’s why email testing is an important part of sending a successful campaign. Sinch Email on Acid tests your email code quickly and accurately, allowing you to preview your design across more than 100 of the most popular email clients and devices. Try us free and start delivering email perfection!

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