Digging Deep into Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox

In 2013 Google began rolling out a ‘tabbed’ Inbox interface for Gmail. The gist of it is that Google uses send data and algorithms to determine if the email coming into Gmail is worthy of your “primary” attention (and thus placed in a tab called “Primary), or should be categorized as “Promotions” or “Social” etc.


As you might expect, companies and nonprofits who use email to communicate with their constituents grew quite alarmed. And with good reason. If a customer has opted into your email list, why should Google get to “decide” where and how its delivered?

Numerous initial reports indicate that the impact is complex and multifaceted. While businesses were fearful that open and click through rates would plummet, that hasn’t seemed to happen. It turns out that having some basic categorization might actually help users wade through email.

Danny Sullivan of Marketing Land is one of the smartest data and marketing journalists working today. He recently wrote about his own personal experience with the Tabbed Inbox. And although his piece represents a sample size of one, he has some interesting insights:

  • HTML vs. plain text emails don’t seem to impact where your email gets “tabbed.”
  • It may the be case that Google is using “unsubscribe” links – which are generally industry best-practice – as signals to place an email in the dreaded “Promotions” tab.
  • Google might be giving a break to known non-profits.
  • ┬áThe “Social” tab might be a clever way for businesses and nonprofits with robust social strategies to reach constituents.

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