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.