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.

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 Panda 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 platforms {like Mailchimp} cite this super awesome study from ReturnPath to prove that the Gmail Tabs-apocalypse never happened. Fun facts:

  • 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 -  93% of commercial messages to the promotions tab avoided the spam folder; only 77% made it through to users’ Primary tabs...Additionally complaint rates – consumers’ “This Is Spam” reports – for mail in the Promotions tab are less than half of those in the Primary tab

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

    If you're still worried, use data. Segment your list by Gmail addresses. And see if those users are showing different email performance metrics {opens, clicks} 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? 

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

    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.

    But first, what not to try. A lot of people will tell you that you should start by 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, people don’t do this. So why waste your breath -- or your email real estate? According to the ReturnPath study of recipients of emails from major retailers’ “move me” campaigns: "Only 61 of 65,507 messages from those senders landed in Primary inboxes in October – less than 0.1%."

    OK, now on to things that actually can help.

    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. {find a source for that} So if you’re going to personalize, go with “Hi, Suzie” or “Dear, Suzie” or “Hey, Suzie” or something...whatever fits your brand voice.

    Send your email from a person

    I’ll bet you’re sending your emails from “,” arent’ 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 “” instead of just info. I mean who is Info?

    Write your email like a person

    Basically, don’t write like a spambot or a Nigerian Prince who wants to wire someone money. If you use all caps, excessively use words like free or guarantee, 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 (elipses, exclamation marks, or question marks  ...,  !!!, and ???) or symbols {like $$s}, you’ll look like spam.

    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. And 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. But, they are plain. And they are text. And they are not buttons or images or pretty colors. So...plain text {mostly}.


    That's it! Happy emailing!