How to Ensure Your Emails Land in Gmail's Primary Tab

Andrew Barrett By Andrew Barrett Jan 23, 2020

To get into the Primary tab, senders must send mail that is at least as important to the recipients as any other message already in their Primary Tab.

That might not be the advice senders are hoping to hear, but it’s a meaningful way to think about Primary tab placement. There is no “one weird trick” that senders can use for instant results.

If that seems like a false answer, it’s because the premise has changed. We need to recognize the time-shifted nature of the inbox. Long gone are the days of an interruptive model of marketing that more closely resembles pre-DVR TV or broadcast radio. Under that model, the viewer is briefly held hostage from the content they want by a commercial.

In the tabbed inbox, recipients are free from that kind of linear constraint. Messages are sorted by default according to relevance and context, not by the timestamp. Recipients are now arbiters of the context in which their own messages are viewed—the old, interruptive model no longer exists.

That means senders have to be ready to meet recipients when their recipients are ready and where they are most receptive to our messages. For most of us, that’s the Promotions tab, or sometimes the Updates tab for transactional mail.

If you’re interrupting the recipient in their Primary tab where they are managing and responding to personally important one-to-one correspondence with co-workers, family, and friends, you’re lucky if you’re merely ignored. You’re more likely to generate exactly the wrong kind of engagement.

If you’re less fortunate, you may squander a valuable, permission-based relationship with a recipient who is momentarily annoyed enough to unsubscribe. If you’ve caught them at a particularly inopportune time, you might inspire a spam complaint. If enough recipients are sufficiently ambivalent or annoyed with you, you risk your ability to reach even your most engaged recipients reliably via e-mail.

For most senders, and for most of their traffic, the Promotions tab is exactly where you want to be, because that’s where your recipients want you to be. When they are ready for you, they will turn to you. It’s your job to be there when the time comes.

Landing in the Promotions tab is actually where most recipients want you, and being where you’re wanted is good marketing. The metrics agree: Senders who carefully groom their data and nurture relationships with their intended recipients regularly attain unique open rates of between 17% and 23% on average, straight from the Promotions tab. If they marry that data to topical, timely content and a predictable cadence, we have senders posting open rates reliably north of 30% on volumes in excess of one million messages every business day from the Updates tab.

Your messages can be important to your consumers without ever landing in the Primary tab. If it’s something they look forward to opening and reading almost as soon as it lands in their inbox—which you can control without the blessing of the Gmail algorithms—you’ll be too important to ignore.

Andrew Barrett

Andrew Barrett

Andrew is the Director of Deliverability & ISP Relations for Braze. Formerly, he served as Director of Global Deliverability for the Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Adobe Campaign. He a former six-year co-chair of M3AAWG, and was previously Executive Director of a consumer anti-spam watchdog group and Director of Internal Operations at the world's first spam blocklist.

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