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An Early Look at the Impact of Gmail Tabs on Email Response Rates


By Stephanie Colleton

As many of you know, Gmail rolled out the much anticipated (or much dreaded) Tabs last month. Inbound mail is now directed into one of three default tabs: Primary, Social and Promotions. The tabs can be modified but those are the three initial labels. Many email marketers worried that if their messages end up in the Social or Promotions tabs that response rates would plummet. A few weeks in, the initial reports will come as a relief for marketers – you can exhale for the moment.

Last week, Return Path released the Gmail Tabs Analysis, a report on how inbox delivery rates (mail routed to one of the three tabs and not to spam) and read rates have changed since the Tabs were implemented. Here are some key points:

• Highly engaged users are reading a slightly higher percentage of marketing messages (58.64 percent before Tabs vs. 59.88 percent after Tabs)
• Moderately engaged users are reading a slightly lower percentage of marketing messages. (10.55 percent before Tabs vs. 9.81 percent after Tabs). However, this may be offset by the fact that, for these users, more marketing messages are going into the inbox and fewer are going into the spam folder since Tabs was introduced.
• Users who rarely engaged with marketing messages before Tabs are engaging at a significantly lower rate (2.19 percent before Tabs vs. 0.42 percent after Tabs). For these users too, more marketing messages are going into the inbox and fewer are going into the spam folder.

There are a few additional factors to consider while evaluating the impact of Tabs. First, is mobile. Tabs are only available on the desktop, not on mobile. So with 44 percent of email being read on mobile, the impact of tabs is only coming from desktop use. The second factor is that Tabs are still very new and some users may be clicking on the Social and Promotions tabs out of curiosity at this early stage. Only time will tell if checking those tabs becomes a habit or not.

So are any marketers going on the offense? I’ve seen a few campaigns that indicate the answer is “yes.” Gilt has tried two different approaches. First they sent a campaign where an animated GIF at the top of the campaign addressed how to find Gilt emails and how to ensure future messages are delivered to the Primary tab. First one image displayed for 3 to 4 seconds, then the next one.

In addition, they also sent this dedicated campaign that walks the subscriber through the three steps for ensuring future messages go into the Primary tab. The subject line was "Gmail Users: Never Miss a Must-Have Steal!"

Below is an example from Life After Bankruptcy. A bit sinister in look and tone—the subject line was “I’m about to disappear from your life…”—this one gives the recipient three options: how to remove tabs altogether, how to ensure Life After Bankruptcy emails go into the Primary tab or in the P.S. (wait for it…) just switch to Yahoo or Hotmail! [Now known as Outlook.]

Finally, we have a more concise approach from men’s retailer Mr Porter. The subject line was "Gmail users: don’t miss out."

Whether or not these types of messages help is still to be determined. But it can’t hurt. The bottom line is that it currently does not appear Tabs pose a major threat to response rates. If Tabs are implemented for mobile, that may change. Looking at the numbers again in a few months will determine if checking the Social and Promotions tabs becomes a habit for engaged users.

Stephanie Colleton is director, professional services, response consulting, for email intelligence firm Return Path.



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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Stephanie Colleton
Date: 2013-08-14 15:45:09
Subject: Gmail tabs

Thanks for your feedback, David and Kirk. You are correct, tabs are enabled for those using the email app. Which is good new for marketers - since response rates have not plummeted that means that the mobile users that do have tabs enabled may be checking the other tabs. Dino, it is definitely a learning game. While we don't know how impactful the informational emails are, I can't blame them for trying! We're certainly not finished with this story yet.
Posted by: Dino Michetti
Date: 2013-08-13 22:35:06
Subject: Follow up on Gmail Tabs

Stephanie Great article, thank you for your post. I wanted to make one comment. Emails like the examples above would have been great 8 weeks ago, but at this point, I think the ship has sailed on informational emails, and it seems like more of a pile on now. We are working with our clients on other ways to help manage gmail placement - to your point, it is still a learning game, but we are seeing some good data at this point and are very bullish on the new tabbed inboxes. Great Post Sincerely
Posted by: Kirk Gray
Date: 2013-08-13 16:55:09
Subject: Tabs on Mobile

Hi Ken: I like David have seen this posted where the tabs don't show up on mobile devices. This is both correct and incorrect. If you use the Gmail app on your mobile device, the tabs show up. If you use the stock applications or another "mobile client" they don't show up. There seems to be some misunderstanding in the email world about this. It boils down to, just like rendering, which client you use to read email on your mobile devices. It's an all or nothing scenario with Gmail, if you use the Gmail app and the webmail, they're on everywhere - you can't pick which "client" you want them turned on in. But if you use Gmail webmail, and the stock applications on either android or iOS, then they are on in the webmail but not on the phone. This is where I battle with people who advocate for full mobile responsive designs, we're not a place yet that we can determine which mobile client readers are using. I suspect that most people who use iOS devices, use the stock app, and that people who use Android devices are most likely evenly split - either because the stock app is already there or they don't want to configure another mobile email app because they can't delete the stock apps from their phones.
Posted by: David
Date: 2013-08-13 16:42:01
Subject: Tabs on Mobile

I've seen it posted here and in other articles on the topic that Gmail's tabs don't appear on mobile, yet my Gmail mobile app updated with the tabbed interface almost at the same time my regular inbox changed. (I use an Android device. Maybe Apple devices haven't updated?) In fact, I like the new Gmail organization and my phone only gives me notifications for the most important emails, allowing me to choose when to read my promotional emails and updates instead of my phone vibrating or making noise throughout the day.