How to Land Your Emails in GMail's Primary Tab

Every once in a while, someone will ask me for a guarantee that I will land their email campaigns in the Primary Tab of their recipients' Gmail accounts.

how to land your emails in gmail's primary tab

I get it. It must be possible, right? I mean, in the last week I've seen a sudden uptick of total spam landing right there in my own Primary Tab. {As in, from none to two.} Here's one:

Yeah. That's super legit. You can bet I clicked right on that attachment. But. I have to be real with you. I did a double take on this one. I've come to trust the GMail Primary Tab so implicitly, that of course this ridiculous email with a bunch of weird characters and an attachment must be somehow real even if of course none of my websites or domains are down. {Spoiler: it wasn't.}

Anyway. I digress. Back to you, your email marketing, and Gmail's Primary Tab.

Here's the secret to landing in GMail's Primary Tab Every Time...


Yup, that's right. The secret is there is no secret. Because you shouldn't bother.

Way back in 2013, when Google first introduced Gmail tabs, marketers everywhere completely freaked out. Clearly, this was going to ruin everything. Just like every Google search algorithm update. Oh, wait. None of those things have ruined anything.

Much like 🐼 and Giraffe and Squiggle {only one of those is a far}, Gmail tabs have proven to be good for people -- people receiving emails {end users if you want to be a heartless automaton} and people sending users {marketers if we must be honest ;-)}.

How can this be?

Well, most experts and email service providers {like Mailchimp} cite this super awesome study from ReturnPath to prove that the Gmail Tabs-apocalypse never happened.

Note that this study is from 2013, just after Gmail Tabs came out. So, while these fun facts illustrate how people responded to tabs at firstthey are not a reflection of how people use tabs today.The study found that:

  • People don't care about the Tabs enough to do anything about them. 61% of users never change their Gmail tabs configuration {that's 65% of the 1 Billion people who are on Gmail}.
  • The tabs cut down on spam complaints. People marked emails as Spam less than half as often when they landed in the Promotions Tab. So, even if nearly 100% of commercial messages ended up there, these messages were less likely to kick off red flags and so {we can assume} they were more likely to actually achieve something.

The email-pocalypse never happened. People learned to understand the tabs as additional inboxes where users hunt for email offers. Not one industry has had more than a three percentage point drop in email performance since Tabs, and most are doing just the same as before

There’s not a whole lot you can do about where you land in Gmail Tabs

I know super email ninjas who use some, most, or all of the recommended best practices, and they still end up in my Promotions Tabs. And I leave them there. Know why?

I like them there.

I like how easy it is for me to hop over to that Promotions Tab to see what’s happening in the world of my subscriptions. Your people probably feel the same way.

If email marketers are promising you 100% Primary Tab delivery to Gmail users, you maybe should ask yourself why they’re promising this and if it’s too good to be true. And if they’re promising something that’s both too good to be true and unnecessary, then what kind of marketing pro are they? Do you really want to hire that one? {If you land there, here's some advice on how to hire the right marketing pro.}

Also - check the date if you’re reading a pro marketing blog about getting your emails into the Gmail Primary Tab every time. I’d expect that it was published in 2013 or 2014, when marketers still feared the Gmail Tab-pocalypse. Anything you find from the last year will likely tell you not to worry about Gmail tabs at all. Even ConstantContact says there’s no need to fear the Promotions Tab.

But I digress….

    Ok but Still. You’re wondering if Gmail tabs make a difference on your emails?

    use data. Segment your list by Gmail addresses. Track the performance.

    By segmenting out your @gmail subscribers, you can see if those users are showing different email performance metrics {opens, clicks, conversions} than the others. 

    And, yes, people can have addresses at specific domains that are managed in gmail. And, yes, that's for you UK folks. Anyway. This is a start.

    However, if you can't really control where your emails land, and tabs have been proven to actually help marketing emails {if not at least not diminish their success}, then why bother spending time on this? It's up to you.

    and if you absolutely must know that you’ve done everything possible to land in gmail's primary tab, here are the things.

    Again, the Promotions Tab is not all bad. But there are things you can do if you really want to be your subscribers' Primary.

    If you do find that your Gmail people aren’t opening or clicking as much as your other people...or you just are itching to do everything you possibly can to maximize and optimize and all the other _____izes you can find, here are some things to try.


    Use This Tool to see which Tab your email is likely to land in

    Use this super awesome tool from Litmus to test your email and see which Gmail tab it’s most likely to appear in.


    Send your email to a person

    Customize your email with a “Hi, {FIRST NAME}” greeting. {And yes, the comma goes after the “Hi.”}

    Some data show that just a first name can actually hurt deliverability. So if you’re going to personalize, go with “Hi, Suzie” or “Dear Suzie” or “Hey, Suzie” or something...whatever fits your brand voice. {And, yes -- the comma goes after the Hi/Hey.}


    Send your email from a person

    I’ll bet you’re sending your emails from “,” aren't’ you? That’s fine. And if it’s worked for you, totally cool.

    But, if you want to try something different, try sending your emails from a person. Suzie might be more likely to open that email if it comes from “your first name @ your domain” instead of just info. I mean who is Info anyway? That's why you can always email me here.


    Write your email like a person

    Basically, don’t write like a spambot or a Nigerian Prince who wants to wire someone money. {Although Freakonomics has some fascinating explanations re: why those Nigerian Prince campaigns are made that way.} 

    If you use all caps, excessively use words like "free" or "guarantee," and especially if you put those words in your subject line, you’ll look like spam.

    Same if you make lots of promises like, "be amazed," or include too many “click here” calls to action, or talk a lot about money, like: “earn xxxx per week", "check or money order," you’ll look like spam.

    If you make excessive use of punctuation (exclamation marks, question marks,  ...,  !!!, and ???) or symbols {like $$s}, you’ll look like spam. However, emoji of course don't fall into this category. Whether you use emoji in your subject line, or anywhere else in your emails, will be totally up to you. Just, if you do use them, make sure it fits your voice. 

    Go minimalist {as in, plain text}

    You’ve probably designed an absolutely gorgeous email with just the right fonts, colors, content blocks, buttons, and images.

    Sorry, but all those lovely elements are basically a big old collection of waving red flags that tell the Google that your email is in fact a promotional email that belongs in the Promotions tab.

    So, strip that email bare. Try going completely {well, mostly} plain text. My mind is so literal, it makes me a little nuts to call these emails plain text. They’re not really “plain text” because you’re still embedding some links in the copy somewhere, which means light HTML. But, they are plain. And they are text. And they are not buttons or images or pretty colors. So...plain text {mostly}.


    Ask your subscribers to move you to that primary tab. and tell them how to do it.

    {Update!} I used to say you shouldn't bother inviting your people to add your email address to their contact list or drag your email message into their Primary tab.

    Even when asked directly, after Tabs launched, people didn't bother. According to the {2013/2014} ReturnPath study of recipients of emails from major retailers’ “move me” campaigns, less than .1% of people actually did it. So it seemed to me, why waste your breath -- or your email real estate?

    Today, Gmail users are more sophisticated than they were in 2013. There aren't any studies to prove it works, but I'm seeing influencers do a great job of simply asking subscribers to move them.

    Make it easy for your subscribers to whitelist you by sending them to Gmail's instructions. Or make your own page. The benefit of your own page is that you provide a fully branded experience, keeping them in your world, rather than sending them out somewhere else. Here's how Pia Silva has done it. 

    Within an email, she reminds subscribers to "{to} make sure my emails land in your inbox and not spam by "whitelisting" them, here are instructions on how to do it." And that drives people to this page:



    That's it! you've got all the secrets to landing in GMail's Primary Tab Every Time...


    Alright, friends. It's really not a terrible thing for your emails to land in Gmail's Promotions Tab. And if it bothers you, or you have data to show that you do better when your subscribers put you in their Primary Tab {aka, whitelisting}, you've got a few simple things you can do to make that happen.

    hey. What do you hate about marketing? Tell me everything!

    Tell me your dream marketing magic, tell me your nightmare-never-ever-again scenarios. Vent about the worst, gush about the best. 

    Take five minutes to share what you've got in your brain.
    You just might help change the way this stuff gets done....