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How To Navigate Email Through Gmail’s Tab System

We’re now four years into Gmail’s tab system — an innovation that the email giant rolled out in 2013 in order to help people better organize their incoming email.

We’re also four years into senders of all varieties trying to game the system and get more email into the Primary folder. (Yes, I’m talking about you. It’s ok, though. I don’t blame you.)

As far as we can tell, there’s still not a magic bullet or hidden trick in order for a sender to accomplish this despite what you might read elsewhere. Why senders can’t control this process is fairly simple. Every sender under the sun would do it and would hijack what Gmail is trying to do with the tab system: have specific types of email go to specific places (promotional style email goes to the Promotions tab, transactional email typically goes to Updates, etc).

If you’re a bulk sender, we get it: you want all of your email to go to the Primary folder because a) more eyeballs viewing your email is good and b) all of your email is important. But if you’re a recipient, you still want to be able to choose — and have Gmail choose for you — where certain types of email should go.

Before you even go through this process of trying to manipulate the folder system, review your engagement stats to determine whether you really need to. Do you think moving to Primary will provide a lift in engagement and sales? Remember that in the Primary folder, you’re competing with personal correspondence and are likely to lose out in terms of immediate views.

On the flip side, if you’re confident about your subject lines and creative as opposed to other promotional/bulk email, let it land where it’s supposed to land and let your stats tell the story of what adjustments you should try to make.

Still want to give it a go? Alright, then.

If you’re a bulk sender, the best approach is to create a campaign to get your recipients to manually place your emails where you’d ideally like them to go. Luckily, Gmail makes this easy by providing a message to recipients when you move emails from one tab to another.

Creatively, try a simple 1-2-3 approach:

  1. Ask the recipient to whitelist your address.
  2. Ask the recipient to drag your email to the Primary tab.
  3. Ask the recipient to click ‘Yes’ when the prompt comes up like so:

You should provide a value statement as to why they would even want to do that (faster awareness of limited time offers, breaking news, etc). Another common sense tip: if the email is of an ‘update’ nature (think transactional), it will rightfully fall into that tab. Think the same with traditional promotions/marketing email, etc. Is there a reason why transactional email needs to go to the Primary tab? Probably not.

Alternatively, with Litmus, you can also send them a copy of your email to see where it’s most likely to land.

Ultimately, your Gmail-using recipients will dictate how they want to get your email and in some cases, they are going to be in tune with what should go where. If you provide them rationale as to why they would want you in Primary and they find the value in your emails, you now have a plan for how to get them to do it. Just make sure you’re sending email that is up to their expectations first.


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Whois: Josh Nason

Josh Nason is a Reputation Manager at Oracle Dyn Global Business Unit, a pioneer in managed DNS and a leader in cloud-based infrastructure that connects users with digital content and experiences across a global internet.