Gmail Tabs

Impact of Gmail Tabs on Nonprofit Email Marketing

Google recently launched Gmail tabs, a feature that automatically sorts emails into various buckets: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. How will this affect nonprofits?

Feedback has been somewhat mixed and surprisingly impassioned since the release, but many marketers are left wondering how the changes might impact click rates, especially because many emails from nonprofits are pushed to the “Promotions” tab.

MailChimp recently compared data from the weeks following the May 29 release of tabs to data from the same time period last year. Open rates increased during the first week, likely a result of hype and novelty. In the following weeks, however, open rates dropped below 13 percent, a threshold which is rarely crossed except on weekday holidays.

While this may seem alarming, it’s important to keep in mind that this drop occurred a mere few weeks after the introduction of tabs, at a time when some people (myself included) hadn’t converted to the updated organizational system yet.

That being said, it’s too early to determine whether tabs will be an impediment to email marketing for nonprofits. Many Gmail users are still figuring out how to navigate the new inbox. It’s easy to forget about the different tabs when we’re so adjusted to checking just one inbox.

To add to this, Gmail only lists emails from the “Primary” tab when notifying users of how many unopened emails they have, and while each tab indicates how many new emails are in that category, that number only includes emails you haven’t seen yet. So even if you just glance at the emails in the “Promotions” tab and don’t actually open any of them, Gmail will not list those emails in the number of new messages in that category. This makes it very easy to forget about unread messages, and thus will likely bring down open rates until people adjust to the new system. If this is the case, then decreased open rates may only be temporary.

But Gmail tabs also has some useful features. For one, when users are going through important emails, the clutter of promotional emails can be annoying, which can tempt them to delete those emails. Gmail’s tabs feature removes that distraction, because people will know what to expect when they look through different tabs, which could ultimately help open rates.

Second, users can easily drag emails between tabs, an action which is followed by a prompt from Gmail asking if you want emails from that sender to be put in that tab in the future. This is good news for marketers as the people who are truly invested in a cause can make sure that promotional emails are placed back into their primary inbox.

Tabs are also completely optional, and users get to pick and choose which ones they want. If they don’t choose to have the “Promotions” tab, then all of those emails will move right back into the main inbox. Users can even opt out of the new tabs system and revert to the old Gmail format by changing the settings. And no matter where an email is, the people who are truly invested in a cause will open it.

Putting aside these many pros and cons, it’s important to put Gmail into perspective. Data from Email Client Market Share shows that only 4 percent of emails are opened in the Gmail platform. While the mobile Gmail app does use tabs, many other mobile email apps and servers that people use do not. Considering that 23 percent of emails are opened on an iPhone client, 12 percent on an iPad client and 8 percent on an Android client, the dominance of mobile significantly decreases the potential impact of Gmail tabs, so the concern should only go so far.

Nevertheless, the next few months will see marketers and Gmail users alike adjusting to the new inbox. Though the true impact of tabs is yet to be seen, organizations can stay ahead of the game. Silverpop suggests that organizations shouldn’t rely so much on immediacy. The use of tabs will likely slow the rate at which users see emails that have been filtered out of the “Primary” tab, so they may not react to time-sensitive information. Push those messages on social media instead to make sure they still reach your audience.

Silverpop also recommends that organizations stay informed about the Google tabs trends by carefully tracking data from your organization’s emails and comparing messages sent to Gmail users versus those sent to users who use other email clients, so you can make changes as needed.

The jury’s still out on the new Gmail tabs, so stick with what’s been working, but remain open to the possibility of changing your organization’s email marketing strategies in the future.


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