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Tips for Designing Email for Google’s New Promotions Tab Grid View

  |  March 31, 2014   |  Comments

The newest change to Google's Promotions tab introduces a grid view that ultilizes images to help users decide which emails they want to open and which they want to ignore.

On Tuesday of last week, Gmail introduced another change to the Promotions tab - a new grid view which relies heavily on images to help readers decide which promotional e-mail messages to look at and which to ignore. See the grid view of my personal promotions tab below. And for those of you who are curious - yes, the top left grid is an advertisement, not an e-mail message.


Tim Watson, founder of Zettasphere, wrote a great blog post about why Gmail may be making this change; I wanted to partner that with some practical tips for designing e-mail to fully leverage the potential of the new grid view.

First of all, it's helpful to identify what portion of your list consists of e-mail addresses with the "gmail.com" domain. This will give you an idea of what percentage of your list will be potentially impacted by this change. But also understand that, because Gmail offers a branded option for businesses, there may be people using the Gmail inbox interface who don't have the gmail.com domain in their e-mail address.

It's also important to understand that this grid view is in test mode, so it's not yet available to everyone with a Gmail account. But when they turned on my grid view, it was made the default (I can toggle back to the traditional view if I want). So even if you have a high percentage of Gmail addresses on your database, not all of them will be seeing the grid view of the Promotions tab right away (if ever).

The new grid view presentation has four key elements:

  • Featured Image
  • Sender Image
  • Sender Name
  • Subject Line


Let's start at the bottom and work our way up.

Subject Line

Gmail is going to pull your actual e-mail subject line into this view; that's good. It plays the same role here that it plays in the traditional Promotions tab view: to engage readers and get them intrigued to explore the rest of your e-mail.

Here's the key thing you need to know: Gmail will be imposing a maximum length of 75 characters. And if your subject line is less than 75 characters, it doesn't appear they will be pulling in snippet copy (additional copy from your e-mail) following the subject line to fill the space, as they do in the traditional view. So while your snippet copy may help you engage readers in the traditional view, it will not be present to help you in the grid view.

This means that you if your subject line is less than 75 characters you are potentially wasting some of your "prime real estate" to get readers engaged in Gmail's grid view. My old rule of thumb was to get the key message across within the first 25 characters of the subject line. My new rule is to do this AND make sure I have roughly 50 more characters there to support why readers should take a moment now to engage with this email.

Sender Name

Here it appears that Gmail will be pulling in the friendly from address; this is also good. Once again, it plays the same role here that it plays in the traditional Promotions tab view: to engage readers and let them know who the e-mail is from.

For the sender name, the truncation limit is 20 characters. For most senders this won't create any issues (I didn't see any sender names truncated in my grid view). But I am concerned about my clients that send promotional e-mails from a person with the brand following their name (see below). If your sender name is more than 20 characters, you might think about retooling it so that it's as powerful as possible when truncated.


Sender Image

This is the small icon at the bottom right of the featured image; as a sender you must have a verified Google+ page for it to be pulled in. You can see in my grid view that Gmail seems to be pulling in shadow monograms ("M" for Moosejaw, "O" for Only Influencers) when that requirement hasn't been met. Here's more information on getting your Google+ page verified so this sender image will appear.

Featured Image

This is what's really different about the grid view. The minimum size for your featured image is 580 pixels by 400 pixels; it appears that it doesn't have to be an image that actually appears in the e-mail - you can provide Gmail a URL to pull a designated featured image from your server (more on how to do that in a minute). Gmail has announced that larger images will be resized to fit, so if you want control over what is seen here, providing a designated 580-by-400 feature image is your best bet.

In the visual of the grid view that Gmail has been using to promote the service, the featured images are very clean. That's not the case right now in my actual Promotions tab grid view (see above).

There was a logo image in the Only Influencers e-mail (top right item in the grid), but it was too small - only 600 pixels by 140 pixels - so Gmail pulled in a headline instead. Moosejaw's "climbing stuff" looks kind of artsy chopped the way it is (top center), but Ann Taylor's "Sing the Blues" (second row, left) just looks a little odd the way it's been cropped. Word to the wise: Include a link to a designated featured image so that Gmail doesn't choose, chop, and/or crop one for you.

These featured images also provide another place you can position benefit-oriented copy to engage your readers. This is the biggest difference with the new grid view. With the prevalence of image blocking, it didn't make sense to put a lot of copy in your images; better to make it rich text to guarantee it would be seen.

But now there's a huge opportunity to include copy in your featured image to support your subject line. This is brand-new "prime real estate" (at least in the Gmail grid view), which e-mail marketers didn't have before. Think about what you can put here to work synergistically with your subject line to pull people into your e-mail message.

Reading to get started? Here is some more information from Gmail on the new grid view, including details on how to designate a featured image.

Until next time,

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Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a recognized expert in the email marketing industry and managing director of digital marketing for Digital Prism Advisors. She has more than 20 years of experience in the email and online marketing and product development world. Jeanne's direct-response approach to digital strategy, tactics, and creative direction helps organizations make their online marketing initiatives more effective and more profitable. Digital Prism Advisors helps established businesses unlock significant growth and revenue opportunities in the digital marketplace; our clients learn to develop and implement successful digital strategies, leveraging data and technology to better meet bottom line goals. Want to learn more? Check out Jeanne's blog and Digital Prism Advisors.

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