In late May 2013, Gmail introduced the now infamous tabbed inbox—an interface that allows users to enable different tabs for better inbox management. This new inbox is available in Gmail webmail, as well as the Gmail app for iPad, iPhone, and Android 4.0+. The tabbed inbox allows users to automatically sort incoming messages into five categories: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums.

However, the tabbed inbox is completely optional and users have the ability to modify, edit or remove tabs in their account settings.

Email marketers really freaked out about the tabbed inbox. Since commercial emails are often routed to the Promotions tab, rather than the default Primary tab, many wondered whether their subscribers would ever see their emails. In addition, with the introduction of inbox ads, which are placed above other emails, commercial emails are pushed even further down the inbox.

As a result, many retailers sent emails encouraging their Gmail subscribers to move their emails to the Primary tab, rather than the Promotions tab.

Above is an example of Whole Foods asking subscribers to move their emails to the Primary tab.

Was it a valid concern? Between the introduction of the tabbed inbox in May and November, Gmail opens decreased 24%.

While the roll-out of the tabbed inbox had a negative effect on open rates, there’s evidence that engagement rates increased. Although fewer people may open emails in the Promotions tab, those that do open are more engaged. That’s not a bad thing!


Tabs aren’t as big a deal as many email marketers made them out to be. As long as you send relevant content and optimize your from name, subject line, and preheader text, you shouldn’t worry too much about tabs.

What should you do?

While we’re still receiving some of those pesky “move us to your Primary tab” emails, we don’t suggest sending them. If your subscribers are engaged with your brand, then they will actively search for your emails (and may even move them to the Primary tab). Wouldn’t you rather send an email with an impactful, relevant CTA than ask your subscribers for a favor?

Also, keep in mind that some triggered emails, such as confirmation and welcome messages, do land in the Primary inbox. Use those emails as an opportunity to enforce the value of your email program.

With the tabbed inbox it’s more important than ever to only send emails that resonate with your subscribers. Relevancy is crucial! And, as always, be sure your from name, subject line, and preheader text are optimized to encourage opens.

In addition, consider longer lead times for your emails. If your subscribers aren’t checking their Promotions tab on a daily basis, then they may miss out on key deals and promotions. Chad White compares the Gmail promotions tab to a shopping mall; saying that consumers visit when they’re ready to buy.

We also developed a Which Gmail Tab? tool that lets you send a test email to a real Gmail address—telling you where to expect delivery in a tabs-enabled Gmail account. It’s a quick and easy way to find out where your email will land in the Gmail inbox.