New Gmail Tabs Cause Marketers Grief, Get Mixed Reviews From Users

Gmail tabs

Google unveiled Gmail Tabs this week and like anything new on the Web today, the initial reviews are mixed.

Some people love the new compartmentalized look to their Inbox.  Others are furiously scrambling to remove the Gmail tabs and return to the Gmail look they are familiar with.

And marketers — well many of them are decidedly unhappy as they discover what the tabs will mean to their marketing messages and transactional e-commerce messages.


If you haven’t opened your Gmail recently, when you do you’ll notice a major change. Three Gmail tabs will top the first message in your Inbox: Primary, Social, and Promotions.

You can add others or delete these to return to the traditional look by navigating to Inbox Settings inside Gmail.

A Look At The New Gmail Tab Settings

Here’s a brief explanation of what you can expect to find in each of these Gmail tabs. (Note: These tabs are not the same as the Categories which you already probably use to organize your emails.):

Primary: These are inter-personal messages from your regular contacts. Or they could be messages that don’t fit the other tabs you’ve set.

Social: Very simply, these are messages you receive through social networks. They could include updates on new Twitter followers, direct messages you’ve received, and other updates from social media sites like Facebook, Google Plus, and others.

Promotions: These messages, at least at first glance, are marketing messages. Based on my initial use of the new Gmail tabs, they are generally messages from sites where you’ve signed up for updates.

Google will automatically pre-sort messages and place them under what it believes to be the appropriate tab. You can also add tabs for Updates (messages from sites like PayPal) and Forums (pretty self-explanatory).

How It Could Affect Your Business

If your business relies on e-commerce, this new tabbed layout could mean that abandoned shopping messages and other order communications will not immediately be seen by customers.  This could lead to lower customer satisfaction and missed sales opportunities.

And for those that do email marketing, they will find their messages likely pushed to the Promotions tab.

Only time will tell whether or not people actually read the filtered messages in the Promotions and Social tabs.  Some fear those messages may get buried.

Some of the Issues Predicted

There’s already some buzz on the Web about how these new tabs (particularly Promotions) could impact businesses.

  • Promotional posts archived. Melanie Pinola of Lifehacker observes that if the filters available on Gmail are applied, emails in the Promotion tab could be archived automatically. That means they would never be seen.
  • Delayed action on marketing emails. Many email marketing messages are ending up under the Promotions tab. Carolyn Nye of Practical Ecommerce suggests this may cause customers to look at them much later.  You may need to rethink timely offers and deadline-oriented campaigns.
  • More abandoned shopping carts. The delay and archive of promotional materials may also thwart abandoned shopping cart notices which have the highest return on investment of any ecommerce email if read within the first few hours.
  • Greater competition. Having your marketing email piled up to be read later with other marketing messages may mean you must do even more to stand out. Also Google’s inclusion of its own promotions within the tab only creates more noise detracting from your message.
  • Less emails in the junk box. On the positive side, Carolyn Nye suggests having special tabs may cut down on the number of your emails ending up in the junk or spam box. That’s because users now have a place to put promotional messages they really want to receive.
  • More engaged customers. Also on the positive side, conversion rates could also be higher among customers who take the time to seek out your emails in the Promotions tab.
  • Greater email shelf-life. Emails may no longer be the immediate response marketing tool they once were. Customers could go back to that email in the Promotions tab weeks later to actually take action.

Some Simple Advice

But rather than wait to see what the new Gmail Tabs will do to your email marketing campaigns, instead be proactive. Digital marketing expert Michelle Gamble from Marketing Angels suggests contacting your customers now.

Tell your subscribers that the email updates you send them may be going to their Promotions tab. Tell them if they still want to see those emails regularly they need to either visit the tab or mark the email “not promotions” for the future.

Watch Google’s brief visual tour of the new Gmail Tabs below:

Image: Wikipedia

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Joshua Sophy Joshua Sophy is the Editor for Small Business Trends and the Head of Content Partnerships. A journalist with 20 years of experience in traditional and online media, he is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. He founded his own local newspaper, the Pottsville Free Press, covering his hometown.

30 Reactions
  1. I think you might be looking at this from the wrong angle. When a new promotional email arrives in my inbox, the Promotions tab lighs up green and alerts me. Many of these types of emails normally get lost in a long list of my normal email. Google has differentiated them from my normal email stream. This is helpful to users and I think will be benificial to email marketers.

    I don’t want offers from companies interrupting me while I conducting normal email, Googles new tabs alert me to offers without disrupting my normal email workflow. Less chance I get annoyed with offers and promotions and unsubscribe or mark them as spam, alerts me to new ones as they come in.

    The new tab doesn’t hide promotions, just makes them less disruptive, and by extension less likely to annoy me.

    I’m sure there are bugs to worked out, but I see this as a good thing in long run.

    Thanks for your article.


    • Hi Chris, We have these tabs on our Google Apps email, also.

      I guess time will tell — will people click on the tabs?


      • Not me… not for all the money in Google #EvilEmpire

      • Hi Anita,

        I think they will when it suits them. I see constant complaints from my clients along the lines of: “please stop bothering me with your offers”. Even when the offer was from a company from which they intended to subscribe. My only explanation on that is for every one promotional email from a friendly company, there are 10 more unwanted promotions from all sorts of places so legit/established offers get diluted in the mix and users feel overwhelmed.

        Once I show them how they can control their email flow and file things for later automatically, most are thankful and stop clicking a Junk button. And truth is, most people do not use the filters and rules in their mail clients, many don’t know it’s possible. The new Google tabs are really just version of setting up a custom rule and auto filing for later.

        And for people who really hate it or don’t find it useful, you can turn it off in your settings by deselecting all the all the categories under inbox.

        Like you said: “Time will tell”

        cheers c-

      • Should of noted: by “please stop bothering me with your offers” – I meant my clients complain about there email getting full of junk, not that I am sending them offers.

      • Not me either

      • I can’t stand it when gmail “improves” their system. So far, none of their “improvements” have been improvements for me (nor anyone else I’ve talked to) and have caused considerable frustration. Why did they start “fixing” a thing that was great to begin with?? They’ve only made it worse and worse and WORSE in my book and now there’s a new “improvement!” I don’t even like opening gmail anymore. And the icon on my bookmark bar now looks identical to the google search icon. At first I couldn’t even find how to check my emails! Why don’t they first offer us the choice of keeping things the way we like them (or are resolved to accept them since the last change) rather than just taking over and changing something so personal to people as the look and functioning of their email page? Offering a choice upfront would be so much better (and more polite) than “hijacking” our email, making changes without our consent, and then leaving us to wade around to find out how to change it back (which no one bothers to do because, like me, they’re intensely frustrated). The change before last made me start to vaguely dread checking my emails. I would involuntarily cringe with foreboding of what vastly different looking and functioning monster I would find there this time. Now it looks like something you would only see on your grandmother’s computer screen since she refuses to wear her eyeglasses. HUGE UGLY font taking up the ENTIRE screen clear from left to right! Ghastly. It’s like a relationship that you’ve known for a long time has been over, yet you wasted years by staying, trying, thinking things would stop getting worse. The only sad solution is to gather your things and move out.

    • Chris, thanks for your insights. Those are great points. I think for those of us who are doing honest email marketing and sending only to those who request, this will hlep us to be better able to reach customers by “separating” our emails from the sleezy stuff.

  2. My question is, Why?? Tabs are useless and confusing in email, When I want to sort mail I (like 99% of people with an IQ over 5) use folders and filter rules… The best thing the evil empire (Google) could have done was to follow Microsoft and introduce a “sweep” feature that gets rid of ads and junk with on sweep… all of them… I suspect that there will be a taking away of our ability to remove tabs – just like every other time Satan (Larry Page) wants to impose his will on the peons (yeah… the users he pee’s on) who use Scroogle services… I am just about ready to switch back to… hell I already switched back to Bing to get rid of the advertising… #GoogleSucks #Googleisevil #Tabsinemailsuck #Bingisbetter #Getalife

  3. Google destroying people’s livelihoods again. Time to move to direct mail.

  4. Help Please, I opened the new gmail tabs on our iPad and everything disappeared. I cannot get anything on my screen at this email address. Could you please help me? THanks so much, Karen

  5. This is obviously a very good development from gmail as this gives an absolute clarity in terms to what we are reading and what we want to read. i absolutely agree that this is a trouble for internet marketers but if thought in a right way this is a big opportunity to find only the interest users base and that too without irritating your users base.

  6. I am very happy with the new feature. It saves a lot time wasted sorting messages. 3 division is the optimum number. I was flummoxed trying Sane Box. This is totally much easier. For a change I am not furious at Google’s keeping changing something policy. Although I hate the whole hangout thing.

  7. I believe this is a good thing from Google. Despite spam prediction, promotional mail does get into the inbox. Sometimes, it is from what you have subscribed to, not realising that they intended to send you 5 mails every day. As the author says, this helps the focus of the user. Google’s business is its users, not the promoters. As for the promoters, I think they have a better chance of their promotions being seen. Right now, I delete the promotions directly from my inbox without giving a second thought. With promotions separated, if I choose to go to that tab, I am going to open the promotions and actually read the offers.

  8. Thanks for your take, Joshua. I’m glad to see some very interesting discussions among marketers on this topic.

    One thing worth noting – Google’s decision to launch this change during the summer, when many small businesses tend to slow down, should help. Small business owners can take the time see how their open rates and click-throughs are affected by the changes and adjust their campaigns accordingly in preparation for a busy fourth quarter.

    You’re certainly right about how this could lead to more competition among marketers, as consumers will now see all marketing emails at the same time. It’s more important than ever for businesses to make their emails as relevant and engaging as possible, which means the bulk of emails should contain valuable information, with a rotation of sales promos worked in. The goal is to make consumers want to take that extra step to find your emails. This change also emphasizes the importance of developing relationships with customers across as many channels as possible, so they’re actively looking for your content.

    – Ron Cates, Director of New Market Development, Constant Contact”

  9. Stavros - PromotionsTab

    Although there will be grief indeed, there are tremendous opportunities as well, especially for the marketers that will understand the new introduced variable (tabs) and recalibrate their proposals / promotions / offerings etc. Some first thoughts on the opportunities on

  10. Personally – I am not a fan of the tabs. I use multiple inboxes and labels(for business). Seems to be a bit more of a headache if you receive alot of email, and you don’t always read newest first. Some of my un-read “not as important but need to get to” fell onto page 2, 3… Which is for sure to be overlooked.

    I could see the advantage in my personal email however.

  11. I am an avid user of gmail and love most of the features, and I have two complaints with the new Tabs feature – first, they cannot be customized and second, I am missing some emails I would like to read. So now I’m spending time moving those into the Primary folder. I manage several email campaigns for clients and I am concerned about the potential for emails being “ghosted” and disappearing into folders never to be seen. Google should have made this an option, rather than a forced change. How for the positive – as a user of gmail it is nice having fewer emails in my Primary box! I haven’t noticed any of the personal emails being directed to the wrong folder.

  12. Ruth Lever Kidson

    I hate it. Google has no idea what I want to prioritize and I certainly don’t want to have to waste time looking for the emails I want to read (as would inevitably happen). I have removed the tabs and restored my account to the old format.

    If you wonder why I say it would inevitably happen, I speak from my experience with junk mail folders. Invariably some genuine emails land up there. It’s much quicker and easier to turn the spam filter off and sort everything through my inbox.

  13. Alamin Chowdhury

    I have my own personal opinion regarding this. I think the new Gmail feature is outstanding and making life much easier. Previously I had to scroll down my inbox and look for my regular emails out of all social update and promotional emails that I receive daily in my inbox. But now, with the new tab feature it’s quite easier for me to get my regular emails being a general Gmail user. I only look at the social and promotional tabs if I want to, otherwise not. It has certainly saved a lot of my email browsing time than before.

    Whether email marketing is buried or promotional emails get unseen, I am happy with this new style of sorting emails that Google has brought for its users.

  14. I am not happy to see this new feature. It’s too much time consuming.

  15. I am having trouble with the new website,I am getting spam in my in box now,I have to check the spam filter for emails I should be receiving,I have same company emails ending up in different tabs, and I object to the emails sometimes at the top that cant just be deleted but have to be opened then dissmissed

  16. I did not like tabs from Yahoo and I am not liking it on Gmail. Well, my browser already have tabs. Now e-mail has tabs too and now I’m too confused. I prefer to see my mails as list. Why do they keep changing the design when a lot of people are already used to it? Same goes with Facebook. Bah!

  17. New tabs a pain. How can I go back to previous version?

  18. I am very happy with the new feature. It saves a lot time wasted sorting messages,As for the promoters, I think they have a better chance of their promotions being seen.Small business owners can take the time see how their open rates and click-throughs are affected by the changes and adjust their campaigns accordingly. still few bugs if we open these tabs on a tab, but still good feature