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August 12, 2013

Google Launches New Gmail Tabs – The Fallout Report

A couple of months ago, Gmail launched a brand new tabbing system for inboxes, sending users and marketers into a veritable frenzy. The new tabs aim to organize your inbox into three core sections: Inbox, Social, and Promotions.

Your default inbox will mostly contain personal or business-related emails that are likely from people you know directly. Social contains blasts from social networks, like LinkedIn connection requests and Facebook mentions, as well as news from any social tools you subscribe to. Promotions is pretty self-explanatory – this ought to contain consumer-focused newsletters, discounts, and related marketing materials.

It’s obvious why marketers would specifically be worried – will their meticulously crafted newsletters be sent into utter obscurity, now that users must click one more section to read them?

The answer is simple: there’s nothing to panic about. If you already create quality content that your audience wants to read, they will still get your blasts. If you’ve been sending meaningless drivel, however, you’ll still be ignored or marked as spam.

See? The sky isn’t falling. Here’s proof.

Users are Still in Charge

The new tabs are simply a way to keep our oft-cluttered inboxes much more organized. Some, however, are erroneously touting that Google is getting bossy.

Take the team of customer support experts HelpScout. In a recent article about the new tabs, they had this to say:

“The premise behind these changes is sound, but there’s a major concern to be addressed: Google is now organizing your inbox for you, and it can be argued that they are filtering messages without your consent.”

Without my consent? That’s a bit dramatic. The truth is, Gmail users still have full control over their inboxes. Google now attempts to organize things into folders, but we all have a very easy way to override the filtering. Nothing is etched in stone.

See an email in your Promotions tab that you feel belongs in your default inbox? Simply drag it from promotions onto the Inbox tab, and wahlah, it’s official. At that time, Gmail will ask if you’d like to move all emails from that sender into your inbox – if you click yes, it’s a done deal (until, of course, you move it elsewhere.)

Google hasn’t become the email police. They just decided to respond to the bazillions of users complaining inboxes were too crammed and messy.

Now, the real question is, are the new tabs preventing folks from reading newsletters? Let’s investigate.

How the Tabs Affect Online Marketers

We will first tackle this from a user perspective. The verdict’s still out about whether or not this will decrease readership of marketing-centric emails, but regarding those that are actually appreciated by consumers, they will still get read.

The Promotions and Social tabs illuminate nicely when new email lands in either one, and it’s incredibly simple to click over and see what’s landed. If you, as a marketer or business owner, have worked hard crafting worthwhile emails that users have voraciously consumed in the past, expect that to continue now. Organization is not a barrier to entry.

Most people already organized their email consumption; meaning that when one has free time, one dives into the promotional type emails, and responds accordingly. Nothing dramatic will change with the new tabs, except that perhaps you can’t get away with sending bad content anymore. Those days have been numbered for some time anyway.

The concerning part of all of this, however, lies in the additional way Google is using the Promotions tab. They are now sending unsolicited advertisements through this tab, thinly veiled as promotional emails. It’s easy enough to spot them – they have an “ad” label – but it still smacks of a sneaky way to shove more ads at us. Still, that’s how they make money – and since they’re only doing it in the promotions area, it’s not so heinous.

Don’t Believe the Negative Hype

Since the tabs were released, the internet has been teeming with angry marketers making extremely dramatic claims. Many quote a recent MailChimp survey that tracked early statistics on newsletters, and they did show a slight decrease in readership. But please don’t jump to conclusions like the masses, as this survey did not capture a huge majority of Gmail users that just recently enabled tabs. In other words, it was a premature survey with limited reach. Nothing to bet the farm on.

So what should you do? First, don’t panic. There’s no data supporting the negativity and fears, so hang in there. Next, follow the steps below to ensure you’re creating content your users want.

How to Weather the Gmail Tab Storm

Be proactive in your approach now that the tabs have launched; let them motivate you to create better marketing materials. Here are some top tips:

  • In your next communication (and all future blasts), ask your users to move your content to their primary inbox, and link to easy instructions that tells them how (either through the drag/drop process or reverting back to the Classic view.)
  • Study exactly how Gmail is filtering all communications, and take steps to prevent your other sends from landing outside the primary tab.
  • Concentrate your communications on valuable information in your niche or industry, and not so heavily on your own company promotions. In other words, create content people actually want to read, and you seriously have nothing to worry about.

Why Marketers Should Embrace the Tabs

There is a big upside to these new tabs that few are discussing. These changes may even increase the readership of newsletters overall. Think that’s crazy talk?

Consider it this way – in the old model, all emails were crammed into a single view, with little rhyme or reason. That means your company newsletter had to compete with an email from mom, from various critical business partners, or from little Tommy who just learned to write. You aren’t going to win that battle for attention.

But you may very well earn the click-through when you’re sitting next to other, less interesting promotional sends. If a user clicks the Promotions tab, they know exactly what to expect – you have their attention. It is therefore up to you to not lose it in those critical moments.

See, it is possible that Gmail’s new system is a win-win. I challenge you to view this as a glass half-full scenario and see what the data tells us in the near future!

Have you seen any tangible results from the new tabs yet with your email sends? Positive or negative – we’d love to hear about it in the Comments section!

Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.