Tips on Getting Into the Gmail Primary Inbox

  |  August 22, 2013   |  Comments

Avoid complaints, address issues, but most importantly focus on the interaction.

I absolutely love the new Gmail inbox!

Twenty-five percent of my messages are a result of me being a member of social networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook), 60 percent are promotional, and 15 percent are personal and extremely relevant. Plus, I am not even counting messages that show up in my spam folder.

Gmail has placed my messages into three folders - Primary, Social, and Promotions. This is an ideal way for me to sort through all the messages that I get and I can easily find my personal messages without having to go through all the "extra" messaging.

The feature is definitely helping consumers keep tabs on what is important but it does add a degree of complexity for marketers who are trying their best to get in front of consumers.

Gmail has been playing with beta versions of this priority inbox for about three years and brands have had the opportunity to adjust the messaging to make it personal and relevant to land in the Primary folder.

There are many valid reasons for Gmail creating these folders - by helping organize our mail it wants more use of Gmail as a primary consumer destination among mailboxes. It also gives Gmail an opportunity to come up with ways to become intrusive with competitive advertising on its Promotions tab.

I also think that Gmail will eventually start toning down the advertising on the Primary folder in an attempt to "respect" the privacy of the consumer. Maybe Gmail is anticipating privacy legislation or wanting to use the advertising space to offer other forms of engagement.

Is the Segmentation Perfect?

Not 100 percent, but pretty close. I will also point out some anomalies - first, I did find a few promotional messages in my Primary folder. Surprisingly my financial institution's e-statement (something that is important for me), an order confirmation from a retailer (a transactional real-time message), and a work order from a home warranty company (I kept waiting for it, and even called them up about the confirmation) all showed up in my Promotions folder.

What Drives Messages Into the Three Folders?

HTML versus text is not the determinant of what shows up in my Primary inbox. Consumer preferences, past history, and a few evolving rules drive the placement. A number of non-HTML, text-only emails keep landing in my promotional folder.

LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are easy to identify and these messages are put into the correct social folder. What I do not like is when my interactions with individuals on social networks show up in the social-only folder. I would prefer that Gmail put these in my Primary inbox so I can keep a conversation going.

I do get a few promotional messages in my inbox primarily because I have interacted with this brand in the past.

I read a daily newsletter from a group called NAFCU, I enjoy twice a week cartoons sent by a real estate company, and my car rental company sends me three messages per rental - a rental confirmation, a rental reminder, and a receipt. All three HTML messages continue to show up in my Primary inbox.

What Can Marketers Do to Hit the Primary Zone?

Consistency and best practices in messaging will go a long way in helping you stay in the zone. Authenticate your sending ID, keep the balance of HTML and text similar, and encourage interaction.

Consumer awareness is important - train your channels to tell your recipients to expect the message and to move the message into the Primary inbox.

A good subject line is going to get the consumer to pay attention to your message. A better subject line will draw the consumer to open your email. If your content can lure the consumer to a click, you have achieved a trifecta. You can do even better by getting the consumer to move the message into the Primary folder. Think about making it even easier by asking your recipients to click on the "Priority" icon in their inbox.

Avoid complaints, address issues, but most importantly focus on the interaction. The more engagement you can drive with your readers, the better you will convince Gmail that your message is important to earn the coveted spot in the consumer's Primary folder.


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Sundeep Kapur

Sundeep Kapur has been assisting organizations with their converged channel marketing strategies since 1990. From direct marketing to digital to converged, he is a passionate teacher who works with businesses across multiple industries, helping them to enable technology and services to brand, and personalize and speak to consumers more effectively.

He is an industry-recognized expert who has delivered keynotes, run panels, and delivered "relevant, inspirational, and outstanding" education for organizations around the world.

Sundeep is also an avid user of social media, having leveraged words, pictures, and video into a conversational digital book. His daily dose of best practices can be found at, where he has more than 1,200 articles on best practices.

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