Corporate Eye

Gmail Tabs Have Little Effect on Email Marketing So Far

email keyboardWhen Gmail tabs rolled out in July, email marketers took notice of this auto-filtering inbox feature. You’d be crazy not to. After all, knowing that your brand messages are going into a “secondary” tab by default is cause for concern. Ignoring the roll out of Gmail tabs is something that no experienced marketer would do.

While it’s still much too early to know how Gmail tabs will ultimately affect email marketing open rates, early results are positive. According to a study by Return Path conducted during the first week after Gmail introduced it’s tab feature, email marketing message open rates changed very little. Here are the key findings from the Return Path study:

  • Traditionally Low Read Rate Users: Gmail users who didn’t read many email marketing messages before the tabs feature launched (11% of users) read fewer after the tabs feature launched dropping 80.82% from a 2.19% read rate to 0.42%.
  • Traditionally High Read Rate Users: Gmail users who read high percentages of email marketing messages prior to the tabs rollout (11% of users) read more after the tabs feature launched increasing by 2.11% from a read rate of 58.64% to 59.88%.
  • Traditionally Medium Read Rate Users: Gmail users who read “medium levels” of email marketing messages prior to the tabs rollout (88% of users) read slightly fewer after the tabs feature launched dropping 8.30% from a 10.55% read rate to 9.81%.

The team at Return Path speculates that mobile had a big effect in the study results. With 44% of Gmail users in the study reading their email via mobile devices, Return Path explains that these users would not be affected by the new tabs feature. Therefore, the results likely do not show the full impact of the tabs feature on email marketing message read rates.

Furthermore, Return Path notes that the results are likely skewed due to the “newness” of the tabs feature. For example, many Gmail users tested the feature during the first week after its launch and probably read more email messages than they normally would in order to “train” Gmail to recognize and appropriately categorize email messages to the right tabs in the future.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the Gmail tabs feature is optional. The real adoption rate of the tabs feature might still be quite low and would have little effect on marketing message read rates.

Bottom-line, it is much too early to tell how Gmail tabs will effect email marketing message open rates in the long-term. For now, the most important thing for email marketers to do is to ensure you’re sending the type of messages your audience wants to receive. Don’t assume you know what they want based on what you’ve done in the past. The battle for email inbox space is changing, and you need to do your research and craft campaigns that make consumers want to receive them and proactively look for them in the clutter of their email inbox—or in the case of Gmail, in their Primary tab or Promotions tab.

Image: T. Al Nakib

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.