Okay, I’m just going to put this out there: the “Gmail issue” – that is, the ever increasing challenge of getting marketing emails to land in the Gmail Primary tab — is super frustrating! There. I said it! And I know I’m not alone on this. However…
Do you know who doesn’t hate the Gmail issue? Gmail, that’s who! And thank goodness for that, because they’ve given us all a reason to pause and consider how we think about our email campaigns, and what our subscribers want to know, receive and read.
That said, from a delivery and compliance perspective, senders can do a lot to ensure they get the best possible results in terms of where they want their mail to land at Gmail.
First, senders have control over the quality of their addresses and the content of their mail. Send “good stuff” to “good addresses” and your mail will make it to the Gmail tab you’re aiming for.
One of the main things I’ve always encouraged our clients to do is to send a mailing to their Gmail addresses only, thanking them for being a member or a customer. I recommend writing a subject line that reads something like, “A special message for our Gmail subscribers”. Doing this will remind the recipient of their relationship with your business, so if your mailing lands in the Promotions tab, hopefully they will notice and move it to their Primary tab.
Along with the recommendations above, the tips below will help improve delivery to the Gmail Primary tab. But keep in mind that they are also best practices that can (and should!) be applied to all your campaigns, no matter which mailboxes your messages land in.
Keep Your List Clean
If you start with a well-maintained, consent-based mailing list, chances are the mail you send will land in the Primary tab and the recipients will engage with your message by opening it and clicking the links within. If you see that some recipients are consistently not opening or clicking, then it’s time to remove those addresses from your list. Gmail measures engagement, and your delivery results depend on that evaluation. So if you’re mailing to a large number of Gmail addresses that are consistently unresponsive, Gmail is going to process and filter your mail based on that information. Furthermore, continuing to send to Gmail addresses, in the hopes that they may open your message, will hurt your domain’s sending reputation in the long run.
When your recipients respond to an email, it shows that they have a relationship with your business. As you might expect, Gmail looks at this favorably, as it’s another indication of engagement. To encourage engagement, I suggest sending an email with a question that you want your subscribers to respond to. You could also send a survey, or ask for feedback about the subject matter in your email.
In addition, although it’s not within your control, it helps when your recipients move your email from the Promotions tab to their Primary tab, and when they add your email address/domain to their safe senders list. Why not include a line or two in your messages that asks them to take both actions?
How many images, if any, should you include in your email and how does it affect tab placement?
As a rule, you want to have a healthy ratio of images to text within an email – no single image mailings and no “all-text-and-links” mailings. Lately, there’s been a lot of chatter indicating that the fewer images in your email, the higher the chances that it will land in the Primary tab. This is because the Primary tab is meant for personal correspondence, not marketing and advertising (that’s what the Promotion tab is for!). Gmail “reads” emails with lots of images as promotional messages, and that’s why they are sent to Promotions tab. That said, if your mail has only one or two images, it’s more likely to be seen as personal, so it will be filtered to the Primary tab. Along the same lines, Gmail can also read emails with heavy use of HTML as promotional messages, so the mail will be filtered to – you guessed it – the Promotions tab.
As with images, if you have an excessive amount of links in your email, Gmail will read it as a promotional message and filter it accordingly. As a general rule, you should only include one or two links in your emails, and do not use link shorteners, as these services are used by spammers to mask what they are really sending. ISPs, including Gmail, tend to take a suspicious view of emails containing shortened links, and as such, they are likely to be filtered out of the Primary tab.
Subject Lines and Content
While it’s tempting to use a clever or eye-popping subject line, as well as lots of stunning images, Gmail will read emails like that as promotional. And if you’ve been paying attention up to this point, you know what that means. So it’s in your best interest not to use subject lines that are overtly sales-oriented, or that indicate discounts or deals. Don’t use monetary amounts in your subject lines, and definitely stay away from the word “free”! The same is true for your content – the more you personalize the content and make it feel like correspondence between friends, the higher the chances that it will be filtered to the Primary tab.
Finally, If at First You Don’t Succeed…
Test, and test again! It’s the only way to determine how to get the best results from your campaigns. Evaluate the results of each test mailing and continuously fine-tune your campaigns until you hit on a strategy that works. It might seem like a lot of up-front work, but the whole point of sending email campaigns is to get your message in front of as many of your subscribers as possible, and then convince them to take a desired action. That can’t happen if you don’t take the time to ensure that your emails have a good chance of landing in the prized Primary tab at Gmail.