Gmail Does It Again: The New Promotions Tab

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UPDATE: In April 2015, Gmail Grid View was quietly retired. It is no longer available for use with Gmail accounts.

If one topic dominated email marketing conversations in 2013, it was definitely Gmail tabs. The auto-organization of consumer inboxes struck general fear and uncertainty in the hearts of email marketers everywhere.

General consensus among the email community is that brands sending quality messages won’t run into any trouble with tabs. Subscribers will seek out valuable content they genuinely want in the Promotions tab.

Buckle your seatbelts, my friends. Gmail has done it again.

The Gmail team has released the next iteration of the Promotions tab to users who opted-in to try it. Taking a page out of the Pinterest playbook, Gmail is bringing large graphics and infinite scrolling into the Promotions tab:


Source: Official Gmail Blog

Gone are the days of representing an email with just a from name, subject line and preheader text. Gmail will now represent each email in the Promotions tab with a large image, displaying messages in a grid format with heavy emphasis on visuals rather than just plain text.

Other recent Gmail developments like Quick Actions gave marketers the option of adding additional functionality to select messages. Grid view in the new Promotions tab affects all messages. However, subscribers are still able to choose between the current list view or the new grid view, so marketers should plan their emails with both experiences in mind.


To control how your emails show up in the new Promotions tab, you’ll need to implement specific markup—called schemas—into the HTML of each of your emails. Gmail outlines all the details, including code samples, on their Developer site.

The code allows you to specify the featured image that should represent your message in the Promotion tab grid view:


You can use GIF, PNG or JPEG images, but animated GIFs used as featured images will be rendered as static. Additionally, featured images are cached in the same way that Gmail now caches images inside emails.

For emails that don’t contain this specific code, Gmail will use an algorithm to determine which image from your email should be featured. While this algorithmic gamble can sometimes turn out well, it is also resulting in some oddly cropped photos and text:

In some cases, they are forgoing an image altogether and displaying plain text instead. In this example from Kayak, the text shown in the featured image area was pulled from the fourth article in the email:

To have a strategic presence in this grid view, design a featured image to represent your message and implement it using Gmail’s code. Otherwise, you risk a sloppy appearance in the inbox at the whim of Google’s algorithm. We have created a free tool to help you with the implementation process!

The sender name and subject line still come from your actual email, as they do today. For the grid view, the sender name displays up to 20 characters, and up to 75 characters for the subject line, so keep these numbers in mind if you have a high percentage of users opening your emails in Gmail.

The sender image is pulled from your company’s verified Google+ profile. If you haven’t created one, now might be a good time to set one up! For senders that don’t have a verified Google+ profile, the logo portion of the message is the first letter of your sender name in a serif font:
Email without verified Google+ profile


Similar to how ads are integrated in the current Promotions Tab, ads are also included in the new grid layout. Apart from a small icon in the top-left corner and a different background color, ads in the new Promotions tab look the same as any other email.



Notably absent from Gmail’s official post on this development is any mention of how these changes will be reflected in their mobile apps. We are assuming that this initial trial phase is desktop-only, and mobile developments will be saved for a final release.

Keep in mind that this new Promotions tab redesign is still in an opt-in trial phase—so it’s likely to only affect Gmail power users and devotees for now. Elements could change or disappear when/if it is rolled out to all Gmail users. There are many unknowns at this point, but we’ll keep you updated as we find out more.

However, we’d still recommend preparing for the new Promotions tab now, as subscribers who opt-in to participate in the trial already have access to this new layout.

Your preparedness also depends on how many of your subscribers are opening your emails in a Gmail environment. Worldwide, Gmail currently accounts for about 10% of opens.

Use our free Which Gmail Tab? tool to quickly send a test and see if your email is destined for the Promotions tab.


Find out which Gmail Tab your email will appear →

For messages headed to the Promotions tab, we’ve developed a handy Gmail Promotions Tab Code Generator to help you create the code you’ll need to implement into your HTML source file.


Make your email Gmail Promotions Tab friendly →


Stay current on any future Gmail updates and receive our latest email tips, case studies and resources.

  • Dan

    I like it. It will be interesting to see how it will affect open rate

  • Jody Gibbons

    Great work on the Promo tab generator! I mainly work on travel and cruise emails so I can see this having a really positive impact, especially when implemented correctly.

  • Nick Colasurdo

    This format really downplays the subject line. If adoption is high, it certainly changes the game for marketers with high Gmail usership.

  • BenComicGraphics

    I think this is the future of where promotional emails are going. Think more “info cards” and less verbosity.

  • Shinamee

    Really amazing improvement, quick view and decide to open it or not within 5 seconds.

  • Amanda Soehnlen

    Two questions: Does anyone have any indication whether including this promo tab information will make Gmail more likely to actually sort you into the promotions tab if you are currently having partial inbox-vs-promotion deliverability (aka sometimes, you get into the inbox instead of promotions)?

    Also, does the Gmail ‘Which Tab’ tool take into account that Gmail doesn’t actually sort all emails into the same tab every time? (AKA do you test on multiple accounts, and then take the average?) or are you doing some sort of back-end analysis on message content to determine where the message will end up? (Trying to figure out the difference between what you are doing, and just sending to test counts ourselves, and if using your tool would get us more information.)

    • Matt Byrd

      I don’t think there’s been any indication either way, but I’ll try to do some testing on emails that I would anticipate going into other tabs, and see if the schema forces them into Promotions.

      In the language Gmail used in a message to me, they used the phrasing “emails that include the Offer schema and that are classified as Promotions” which, to me, indicates that they are separate things. You could include the Offer schema but not be classified as Promotions. But I’ll do some testing!

      Regarding the ‘Which Tab’ tool, let me check with the person who built it! Not sure what the testing infrastructure is there.

    • Matt Byrd

      Did some testing on your first question. The Offers schema does not force an email into the Promotions tab! Whether it makes it more likely or factors into some algorithm, I can’t say for sure. But it definitely does not mean it will automatically put an email into Promotions.

  • Danyl Sobolev

    Great post @mparkerbyrd! One question: The “Gmail Promotions Tab Code Generator” that you developed outputs the Microdata version of the code. However, gmail also accepts a JSON object wrapped in a script tag. Do you know which one is better?

    • Matt Byrd

      Thanks Danyl! I think it’s your own preference there. They provide Microdata and JSON for all of their email schemas, and they support them equally.

      • Danyl Sobolev

        Thanks for the response @mparkerbyrd.

        The reason I ask is that Microdata version uses divs, which are nested in a specific way. This seems problematic to me for two reasons:

        1. I thought using divs in emails was a no-no

        2. The nested structure of the divs might not always correspond to the way that the email is laid out.

        Any thoughts on that?

        • Matt Byrd

          Using divs in an email isn’t necessarily a no-no. You just can’t rely on them to properly structure an email the way you can tables, as divs and many of the CSS properties that you use to style and architect them aren’t supported everywhere. They don’t cause other issues, though.

          You could probably avoid the email layout issue by just putting them at the very end, before the closing body tag. Shouldn’t affect anything. They will, for all intents and purposes, just be completely empty divs, with no height or width, so they wouldn’t affect layout.

  • emailrocks

    Re: ye olde Open Rate metric: The thumbnail rendering in the grid view probably doesn’t count as an ‘open’ to ESPs but suddenly, you get a visual media impression in the inbox b/c the thumbnail automatically renders. The inbox thumbnail effectively becomes the new subject line!

    • Matt Byrd

      Correct about it not counting as an open. I actually ran a test wherein I designated that the open tracking pixel should be the featured image, just to see what would happen. Gmail didn’t go for it. It just selected random text to show instead. I suspect it’s because they saw the image was so small that it wouldn’t work as a featured image.

  • Marco

    Thank you for the free tool

  • Ian

    Currently the top left email seems to be a paid for Ad email, thats stays there regardless of new emails coming in.

    Any news on if this will still, will more slots be available to pay for?

    How do I get in it!

    • Justine, Litmus

      Interestingly enough, I don’t see any ads, whereas the other day I think Matt said he had seen 6 or 7? I assume this is based on yet another behavioral-based algorithm.

      You can sign up for the field trial here:

    • Matt Byrd

      Yep, I got 7 separate ads in my Promotions tab yesterday.

      Just did a little digging on the Google Ads site. They are currently available only to select US and Canada advertisers. To get those ads right now, you’d need to contact your Google Ads rep and ask about joining “Gmail Sponsored Promotions.”

  • Courtney Fantinato

    Has anyone had this feature not work with certain ESPs?

    • Justine, Litmus

      Hi Courtney, can you explain more? The feature shouldn’t be tied to an ESP, rather it’s Gmail (and the end user) that is determining whether the feature works.

      • Courtney Fantinato

        Hi Justine,
        Yes… an email with a hosted image and using the microdata code for the image works when sending a test email through Campaign Monitor and MailChimp – can see the image provided for the grid view. However, when sending the same email through a test out of Responsys, the image doesn’t appear – Gmail shows one from the email, not the specific one provided.

        My thinking is, could it be possible that certain ESPs may be removing or altering the microdata code in some way during send that prevents it from working? I’m not sure why this would be, but it’s the only explanation I can think of.

        • Justine, Litmus

          Ah, interesting! Some ESPs may attempt to sanitize the HTML and remove the microdata in the process. Let us know if you have better luck with the JSON!

        • Sally Gurney

          Check the image url isn’t being converted to a hosted one – you might be better off if you’re using Responsys, using a hosted content image for the promo tab image, as I’ve heard about it being automatically converted before.

          • Courtney Fantinato

            Not sure what you mean Sally? The image IS hosted, with a full absolute URL in the code, as it needs to be to work.

          • Sally Gurney

            Apologies for lack of clarity – hosted on the Responsys system, versus elsewhere.

          • Courtney Fantinato

            Yep, we have been doing it with the image hosted on Responsys and both the Microdata and JSON versions do not work. We even tested using the Responsys image URL and sending through another ESP and it *did* work. So we are at a point where we believe something else is causing it to not work from Responsys’ side.

  • Luis Antezana (luckylou)

    Thanks for the promo tab generator tool. I’m eager to try it. Previous to this, despite having my organization’s email address in Google+ and verified, the sender image we’re getting upon delivery is still a generic letter, not our Google+ profile pic, sadly.

    • Justine, Litmus

      We’ve seen a similar thing happen! Maybe a bug?

      • Sally Gurney

        It’s where the verified Google+ website domain doesn’t match the emails end domain. I’m told that whitelisting/registering with Google is a solution to this, but have yet to see this resolved.

        Has anyone managed this?

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  • Max Aarts

    Hi there, how am i able to test the code I generated via the tool? Gmail did not enable my Gmail account for promotions tab yet. But I want to test if my e-mails are ready. How do you test?

    • Justine, Litmus

      Hi Max, you’d need to have access to a Gmail account with grid view turned on to test. Litmus may look at adding grid view render tests if the feature is permanently rolled out.

      • Max Aarts

        Hi Justine
        Thanks! Your answers helps me! So this means I can not test it untill Gmail enables my account.
        Thanks for your help.

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  • Yana Moskvina

    Hey guys!
    We would like to try this feature.
    Do you know the place to add microformat-code in HTML?
    Is it or ?
    If it’s : to the end or to the begining?
    Do you have an example of full HTML with that Gmail’s code?

    • Matt Byrd

      Hi Yana – I’d recommend putting the code right before your closing tag!

  • john

    when does this go into full rollout?

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