Advice for Marketers on Overcoming Gmail Tabs

Jan 08, 2014

Article ImageThe Average Joe may have already forgotten the "Great Gmail Tabs Panic of 2013," but if you're a digital marketer the lingering effects are still impacting the way you get your job done-or don't get the job done, in this case. The introduction of the tabbed email inbox threw the marketing world into a tizzy, but Silverpop-an email and marketing automation company--decided to dig deeper. In its report, "Gmail Tabs: Impact on Email Marketing and Strategies to Respond" looks at how people are actually interacting with the tabs and how marketers can work around this new obstacle.

First and foremost, the study cautions against reacting out of panic with simple and often ineffective tactics. It recommends you "...take a multi-tiered strategic approach that combines analysis of how your customers are interacting with Gmail Tabs, specific actions geared toward Gmail Tabs users, and broader steps aimed at engaging customers more strongly in the long run."

Silverpop also urges marketers to stop, take a deep breath, and consider just how many Gmail users are even employing tabs. If you use the Gmail browser interface, the iOS or Android apps than tabs are supported. But if you use, for instance, clients like Apple mail or Outlook-even if you import email from Google-than you are not using tabs. Users also have the option of reverting back to the old inbox if the tabs don't sit well with them. While numbers aren't yet available on how many people are actually using tabs, Silverpop urges marketers not to overestimate the power of this particular change just yet.

Even research into the effects of tabs on engagement is not just inconclusive, but downright conflicting. According to the Silverpop report, "Return Path's study from August 2013 said ‘read rate' in the first week or so after Gmail Tabs went into general rollout went up 2.1 percent among highly engaged readers." But over at Litmus, a study found that "Gmail opens fell 18 percent from mid-May to mid-August 2013." Alternatively, "Silverpop's informal client survey found that 13 percent said Gmail open and click rates were down, while 10 percent said Gmail conversions were down."

The one thing marketers can be sure of is that Gmail's tabs will have some effect on email campaigns and its best to get a head-start on preparing for it. Silverpop suggests a three step approach:

  • Analyze
  • Act
  • Evolve

Silverpop says its important to truly understand what it happening with your users before taking any steps to address issues that may have arisen: "Run reports across your database by domain and analyze engagement (opens, clicks, clicks-to-open, etc.). Then, analyze conversions, revenue or whatever metrics you use to measure success." Comparing results for Gmail users against others-especially during the timeframe in July when tabs were introduced-will help you understand more about whether or not the new layout is actually effecting your campaigns.

The report also suggests that, once you get to the Action phase, marketers should be proactive in helping users understand how tabs works. Explanations on your sign-up, landing, or confirmation pages could help encourage users to move your messages to the primary inbox. It also suggests putting a short, unobtrusive note in your email templates, so no matter which email your users open, they'll see the instructions regarding tabs. You could also go straight to the source, according to Silverpop, which suggests sending a survey to Gmail users about how they use tabs.

But perhaps the most important piece of this puzzle is the last one: Evolution. All the research in the world won't do you any good if your campaigns aren't nimble and ready to change to meet the needs of your customers. Even before tabs came onto the scene, email users were being inundated with messages-many of whom deleted many of their messages rather than keep them around to crowd their inboxes. The importance of knowing your customer, and reaching them with compelling content when and where they want it is more important than ever, but certainly isn't new. In fact, Gmail's tabs may be just the kick in the pants many email marketers needed to refresh and refine their content. As the Silverpop report put it, "With the appropriate resources and management support, you can start incorporating behavioral data and automation, deploying real-timemessages that make your email program so compelling that subscribers will do whatever they have to do -- whitelisting, setting up special filters or moving them from one tab to another -- just so they don't miss them."