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Google began introducing inbox "tabs" during the week of May 26th to a handful of Gmail users. Then during the week of June 30th, they introduced the tab functionality to nearly all Gmail accounts. Since then, newly created email accounts have come pre-equipped with the tab interface.
With this update, senders have been primarily concerned with how these Gmail tabs potentially affect open rates. And understandably so. About 80% of webmail users in North America belong to one of the four major email services—Gmail, AOL, Yahoo and Hotmail. What’s more, Gmail accounts for 25-40% of that figure. However, as my colleague Jason Warnock recently told Bloomberg Businessweek: “With what we’re seeing right now, [Gmail tabs is] not a game changer.”
Many companies were worried that the “promotions” tab in Gmail would essentially act as a new spam folder. A drop in open rates would indicate that Gmail subscribers were not seeing marketers’ messages and therefore not “opening” them. Naturally, the release of these tabs would cause fewer Gmail users to see the various marketing messages they received in their inbox. Our analysis, however, tells a different story, in which overall, our (Yesmail) clients did not experience the expected drop in open rates.
The declines were nowhere near the 5-10% that we anticipated. At the end of July, after reviewing high volume mailers (think tech companies that sell items like computers) and small volume mailers (e.g. 5k users), Gmail open rates declined slightly, by only about 0.5-1%. For example, before the Gmail update, one consumer service company had an average open rate of 19.6%. After May 26th, the rate was 18.7%. This minor decline and initial studies reveal that consumers welcome the new tab experience and consumers’ interactions with brands haven’t changed drastically. But of course, it’s still too early to tell how Gmail tabs may impact users’ overall inbox behavior and companies’ email marketing strategy.
As always, marketers should continue creating valuable and captivating content for relevant audiences, especially as more and more competitors vie for customers’ attention. For some companies this has meant deploying what we like to call a “tabsition” campaign, where they encourage loyal subscribers to migrate their emails from the promotions tab to the primary tab to ensure they receive future messages. Other brands have decided that the Gmail tabs warranted no further attention and operated business as usual. Ultimately, email marketers should not panic over the Gmail update but continue to monitor customer engagement rates over the next 60-120 days.