The introduction of Gmail’s tabbed inbox system was met with a lot of hostility by marketers. Many assumed that with the new Promotions tab, subscribers would no longer see nor interact with their messages. Some even claimed these tabs would “kill” email marketing. Many marketers even began a “move me” campaign asking subscribers to mark their messages as Primary in an attempt to get their emails delivered to the Primary folder.
To find out the true impact of Gmail tabs, Return Path released two research papers measuring the initial and six month impact of Gmail tabs on response rates. At the time, they compared the response rates for those that opted into tabs and compared open rates before and after the roll out.
What Return Path found was that impact varied significantly across different industries. Many industries saw a slight decline in key email marketing metrics, a number saw no change, and some even saw much higher read rates.
During the rollout of Gmail’s tabbed inbox in 2013, Return Path was also able to determine which tabs users enabled in their inbox. At the time, 77 percent opted to use the Social tab, 46 percent activated the Promotions tab, and 46 percent used the Updates tab. Only six percent used the Forums tab, and virtually no one (0.25 percent) chose to simply direct all messages to their primary inbox with no tabs enabled.
Now that four years have passed since the rollout of the tabbed inbox, Return Path decided to see what impact Gmail’s tabbed inbox is having on both users and marketers. Are marketers still asking subscribers to move their messages to the Primary tab? If not, should they? Are Gmail’s classifications accurately classifying messages? If not, what can a marketer do?
The report was based on data from a survey conducted in December 2016 of 1,628 Gmail users as well as an analysis conducted using Return Path’s Inbox Monitor tool of 6 billion messages sent to Gmail users in October 2016.
Four years after the initial rollout, some 34% of Gmail users now use Tabs, down from nearly 100% when Return Path first examined behavior in 2013.
Some 68% of Gmail users who use Tabs have the Social tab enabled, and 60% have the Promotions tab enabled. Of those that use the Promotions tab, 45% say they check it at least once a day; 20% say they never check their Promotions tab.
Two-thirds (68%) of messages sent to Gmail users end up sorted as Promotions; 22% are classified as Updates.
Messages that are categorized as Social have the highest placement rate (i.e., they make it safely to the inbox without getting lost or sorted as spam); Updates messages have the highest read rate.
Only 56% of messages that are not classified end up in inboxes.
The categorization of email messages varies widely by industry. For example, most emails sent by travel brands end up in the Promotions tab, whereas most emails sent by banking/finance firms end up in the Updates tab.
What does this mean for hotel email marketers?
Though Gmail has created one of the industry’s most advanced email classification and sorting systems, it’s not necessarily keeping you from getting your messaging in front of your customers. The number of Gmail users actually using tabs has fallen by 2/3 since 2013, and nearly half of those still check their promotions tab at least once a day. Still, it does mean that you have limited opportunities to connect with your guests via email, as a lot of brands are competing for their attention. Here are some things you can do with your email marketing program to maximize your chances of success:
1. To avoid miscategorization of your messages in Gmail tabs, send different categories of mail (e.g., promotions and transactions) from different, authenticated sender addresses, and try to keep those addresses consistent over time. This way, Gmail gets used to seeing specific types of messages from specific senders.
2. Don’t send generic blast emails to your entire database, as those are mostly likely to be ignored or earn unsubscribes; segment your database and send promotional emails that are personally relevant to groups of guests that have things in common.
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