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How Your Email Content Can Adapt to Gmail Tabs

google gmail tab explanationHas Google changed the email content marketing game for good? In just under two months, it certainly has achieved its fair share of buzz amongst marketers who either lament or agree with (ok, mostly lament) its new Gmail tabs — with most citing concerns over visibility, open rates, and (of course) ultimately sales.

By auto-organizing a Gmail user’s inbox into three tabs (Primary, Social, and Promotions), with the option to add two more tabs — Updates and Forums — Google started quite a heated battle.

The reactions tend to fall into one of three camps:

  1. Those who think, “This is the worst thing to ever happen to marketers. In fact, email content marketing is now probably dead.
  2. Those who have no idea what this means, or who feel it’s too early to tell what the ultimate impact may be.
  3. Those who think, “This change might not be so bad. In fact, it kind of validates what content marketers have been pushing for all along — quality content and engaging email programs.

What Gmail tabs are

The new Gmail tabs help users easily sort their incoming emails. In short, it gives consumers control over the emails they want to read, and when. There are currently five tabs available; however, the first three are viewed as most important:

  • Primary
  • Social
  • Promotions
  • Updates
  • Forums

The tabs are flexible, meaning you can choose to “turn on” certain ones, while hiding others (I don’t use the last two, personally, but am interested to see if others do). You can also drag and drop emails to other tabs, setting a standard for future allocation as well (this has been most relevant for me for Evite emails, which got pushed to my “Social” box at first, but I have since moved them to Primary).

land of nod - keep a tab on us

The tabs are also yet another way Google is working to enhance consumers’ experience with email content, serving them the content they want, when they want it, based on past behavior.

On a side note, one company I worked with experienced many challenges with Gmail deliverability earlier this year for their email content programs. Gmail is certainly one of the most rigorous providers when it comes to Spam scoring, and its strict standards really forced us to work on optimizing our text-to-image ratios, calls to action, and subject lines. But more on that later… 

What Gmail tabs are not…

Regardless of the challenges at hand, these tabs are not a death sentence, and are not set in stone. As mentioned above, users have the ability to shift and sort between tabs, or get rid of them altogether. However, the impact of tabs is not something to be ignored or downplayed either. These changes, paired with Facebook’s recent Edgerank changes and News Feed announcements send a chilling message to marketers: Your email content will get lost in the clutter if you don’t make it timely, valuable, and unique.

Consumer behaviors have driven changes like these in the digital world, and whether you choose to believe them or not, both Google and Facebook have been quite clear in their assertions that consumers — not companies — are their top priority (much to the chagrin of their paid advertisers.)

Ultimately, tabs will be what brands make of them

A few weeks ago, Litmus posted that Gmail opens dipped 18 percent since the switch, while Inc. recently reported that some companies were experiencing a drop in email performance since the implementation of these new tabs.

However, Marketo and have taken a slightly different “don’t panic” approach that feels a bit more realistic. For example, DJ Waldow writes: 

“My bet is that your open rates [since the new tabs were rolled out] may be down. And that’s okay. The open rate has always been a proxy for engagement, but for most marketers, clicks and conversions are the metrics that matter more.

My other bet is that your click-to-open rates are up. And that’s good. Click-to-open is the number of subscribers who click on at least one link after opening your email. Click-to-open tells you how compelling your email actually is, assuming you have calls to action that make people want to click.”

By segmenting promotional emails to a separate tab, Google is enabling consumers to be much more targeted in their email consumption. Consumers are smart, and will actively seek the deals and emails they want, re-sorting the emails that are most important to them.

ann taylor message to gmail users

What this means for content marketers

Essentially, Google is helping users easily sort their incoming emails. As a content marketer, you’re already in tune with the types of content your consumers want, and when they want it. So now, you just need to get a little creative. Here are some starter ideas:

  • Cross-communicate: You’ve built some really loyal followers on your communities, so here’s your chance to use them! Use cross-channel communications to encourage others to check out a sale or special offer coming soon to an inbox near them (without overly promoting yourself).
  • Make your messages matter: Google tell us to do it. Facebook tells us to do it. We know in our hearts that our compelling content will win out every time. Good stories, passionate messages, and creative content will help build your reputation and credibility with consumers, encouraging them to actively seek your communications — no matter what tabs they fall in.
  • Educate your consumers, don’t panic them: Finding a light way to ask consumers to add your email content to their primary tabs will make you seem more calm and collected about all this. Your great content should speak for itself, so you shouldn’t need to beg for this, right? Because at the end of the day, you’ll need to…
  • Embrace that having your emails segmented isn’t necessarily the worst thing: As mentioned above, it’s all about quality over quantity: If people are actively seeking your email content and offers in their promotions inbox, well then those are the shoppers you really want anyway, right? Chances are your conversions will increase, and bounce rates will decrease. Your consumers are smart — and so are you — so work together on this to find the best solution that meets everyone’s needs. I truly believe this is possible.

Finally, ignore the fuss and find out what this means to you. A content audit or checkpoint is a great opportunity to see what’s working and not working, and your email content should be no exception. Take the time to learn what’s really working and performing well, because now seems like a pretty good time to optimize all your content marketing efforts. 

For more information on how the new Gmail tabs work, and how you can manually update them as a user, check out CMI’s brief video below:

Are you denouncing, or embracing, the new Gmail Tabs? I’d love to hear your comments and concerns in the comments below.

Are your email marketing efforts feeling a bit sluggish? Let our 7-Minute Email Marketing Workout show you how to get your subscribers’ hearts pumping again.