A First Look at Inbox By Gmail: What Email Marketers Need to Know

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The Gmail team over at Google has made numerous changes to Gmail—including quick actions, image caching, the auto-unsubscribe, and more—all of which have put the email world in a tizzy. The biggest change of all: they launched an entirely new email app, Inbox by Gmail.

While built by the Gmail team, Inbox is not meant as a replacement for Gmail. The team over at Google assured that “Gmail’s still there for you, but Inbox is something new.” Inbox is currently in the invite-only stage (you can email inbox@google.com for an invitation) and only available for @gmail.com addresses—it is not yet available for business app email addresses. At the moment, it’s only accessible via the Chrome browser, and iOS and Android apps.


In this post, we’ll take a look at Inbox’s functionalities, as well as this new email app’s effect on the email marketing world.


Bundles for organization

Similar to Gmail’s tabbed inbox or labels, Inbox automatically groups emails into categories. Emails in each category are “bundled” together in the Inbox. While it allows for a clean inbox, it requires users to click into each bundle to view the emails in there.


The standard Bundles that come automatically in Inbox are:

  • Travel: Travel-related email such as flight confirmations and hotel reservations.
  • Purchases: Purchase-related email such as receipts and shipping updates.
  • Finance: Finance-related email such as bills and bank statements.
  • Social: Emails from social networks and other social media services.
  • Updates: Notifications from online accounts, such as alerts and confirmations.
  • Forums: Messages from mailing lists and discussion groups.
  • Promos: Marketing emails such as deals and offers

These Bundles can be turned off, or you can create your own. Inbox users can also choose when they’d like to receive emails in each category—immediately, once a day, or once a week.


Emails + Reminders management

There is a large circle at the bottom that enables users to create a new email or a reminder, or email the three people you interact with most.


Reminders and all new email sits in the Inbox—either as Bundles or individual emails—and users can take one of various actions on these emails. Users can swipe (on the mobile apps) or click (in the Chrome browser) to choose which action they’d like. Here are the actions available:

  • Pin: Pinning an email, or email thread, will bring it to the top of your inbox—acting as a reminder to either read or respond to that email. It will remain there until further action is taken. Similar to the ability to “star” emails in Gmail, all pinned emails will have a blue pin next to them—enabling them to stand out.
  • Done: Since all pinned emails essentially become a task, you can mark those, as well as Reminders, as “done” by clicking on the check mark. This will move those emails and Reminders out of the inbox and into the Done category.
  • Sweep: In order to move any unpinned emails, an entire Bundle (excluding any pinned emails in the Bundle), or a group of Reminders out of the inbox, you can “sweep” them into the Done category.
  • Snooze: Not ready to read or respond to an email? Need a little more time before you can act on one of your Reminders? With the “snooze” option you can remove these items from the top of your inbox for a specified time frame.
  • Move to: Email not showing up in the right spot? You can simply move it to another Bundle, add to a new Bundle, remove it from Bundles all together, mark it as spam, or delete it.

A more visual inbox

While Gmail moved towards a more visual inbox with the introduction of the Pinterest-like Promotions tab (still an opt-in feature), Inbox takes it to a new level with Highlights. Highlights showcases information from the email in the inbox view underneath the sender image, from name, subject line, and preheader text.


This feature enables users to see key information, such as flight itineraries and photos, without having to open the email. Similar to quick actions, you can use a little code, called schema, to include these visible actions in the inbox. You can use these markups to add images, reservation information, and more directly within your subscriber’s inbox!

On occasion, Highlights will even “display useful information from the web that wasn’t in the original email, such as the real-time status of your flights and package deliveries.” These helpful tidbits of additional information are called “Assists.” As Google explains, Assists are “handy pieces of information you may need to get the job done. For example, if you write a Reminder to call the hardware store, Inbox will supply the store’s phone number and tell you if it’s open. Assists work for your email, too. If you make a restaurant reservation online, Inbox adds a map to your confirmation email. Book a flight online, and Inbox gives a link to check-in.” Very helpful add-on information for Inbox users!

Responsive email

Despite all the innovation and forward thinking displayed by Inbox, it appears as though these advancements have been layered on top of Gmail’s existing rendering engine, which lacks support for responsive design. That’s right—Inbox doesn’t support responsive emails. This isn’t a huge surprise, but it’s still disappointing. Gmail mobile apps for iOS and Android (as well as Gmail on the web) have a long history of stripping out CSS—and the media queries that make responsive email design possible—placed in the <head> of HTML emails.

Inbox by Gmail (Not responsive)
iOS Mail (Responsive)

There is no support for responsive email in Inbox (or the Gmail app) whereas iOS Mail offers full support for media queries.


So you know what Inbox looks like and how it works, but what does it mean for email marketers? It was only released two days ago, so we’ll keep our eye on it, but here are a few email design quirks to note:

  • No support for media queries. Be sure to use mobile-friendly design elements like a single column design, large text, and touch-friendly buttons so Inbox mobile app users can easily interact with your emails.
  • Uses Google+ profile picture. Like Gmail’s visual Promotions tab, the sender image is pulled from your company’s verified Google+ profile. For senders that don’t have a verified Google+ profile, it will display the first letter of your sender name.
  • One line of preheader text. Similar to Gmail, Inbox displays one line of preheader text next to the subject line. Use this critical space to further encourage your subscribers to open your email and take action.
  • Images automatically enabled. Last year, Gmail started downloading images automatically (of course, after they’ve been cached and checked for viruses). You can rest-assured that your subscribers using Inbox will see your design and associated content. However, you’ll still need to optimize for images off through the use of bulletproof buttons, ALT text, background colors, and a proper balance of imagery and live text, since many other clients do not display images by default.

Continue to send relevant, timely emails

With this new inbox essentially burying marketing (and even transactional emails), it’s more important than ever to only send emails that resonate with your subscriber. Relevancy is crucial! And, as always, be sure your sender image, from name, subject line, and preheader text are optimized to encourage opens.

In addition, consider longer lead times for your emails. If your subscribers have set their bundles so they only receive them once a week, then they miss out on key deals and promotions.

DON’T send an email about Inbox

When Gmail’s tabbed inbox was released, there were a flurry of emails explaining how to “move us to your Primary tab”—we don’t recommend sending those. If your subscribers are engaged with your brand, then they will actively search for your emails (and perhaps even pin them!). Wouldn’t you rather send an email with an impactful, relevant CTA than ask your subscribers for a favor?

You may see a decrease in Gmail opens…but don’t worry!

Similar to quick actions, Highlights enables users to take action without opening an email. While it may affect open rates, Highlights are a great opportunity for email marketers. Not only will the visual element help your email stand out in the inbox, but they offer direct access to conversion opportunities without users needing to open an email. While your open rates may decrease, your conversion rates may go up (that’s a win!). Test to see what resonates with your subscribers (maybe an A/B test on the image used in Highlights?).

Are Inbox previews available for testing in Litmus?

Not yet! Since it’s still in beta and its user base is very small, we’re going to wait until its adoption picks up before we add it to our testing suite.

Anything new?

In 2016, Google updated Inbox By Gmail once again with several new features. Here’s everything you need to know about Glanceable Newsletters.


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