Did Gmail Just Kill Email Marketing?

ahhhh

Short answer: No.
Longer answer: It’s (waaaay) too early to tell.
Even longer answer: Keep reading.

That’s my 140-character take (Tweet this)

Matt Grove over at Mailchimp wrote How Gmail’s New Inbox Is Affecting Open Rates yesterday. For his analysis, he looked back at the past 18 months of client emails to Gmail accounts – 12.5 billion emails and more than 2 billion unique opens. He then compared that to past 6 weeks of sends (1.5 billion emails) … since the time Gmail introduced its new “tabbed” inbox.

(I’m not a stats guy, but that all seems reasonable to me)

If you are not sure what these Gmail inbox changes are that I’m referring to, the Mailchimp blog post has a nice explanation (as well as a few outbound links) that will explain. See the “What’s up with tabs” section of this post.

Grove continues …

I’m not willing to declare an emergency just yet. After all, I don’t even know what the adoption rate is on Gmail’s side. However, I would say this is an early indicator, and we’re definitely keeping our eye on it.

I agree. See my “short answer” and “longer answer” above.

But some marketers are … how shall I say … FREAKING OUT!

In the past 12 hours, I’ve received about a half dozen emails – from newsletters that I’ve subscribed to – providing instructions on how to ensure their emails land in my “primary” tab. Some of those emails are referencing this great “How to Disable Gmail Tabs” video from Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner.

Others are just providing some steps to “deal” with Gmail’s new tabbed inbox.

Still others, like one I received from my buddy John Morgan today, said he was “so aggravated [he] could scream!” To be clear, John was aggravated that so many of those “here-is-how-to-fix-Gmail-so-you-keep-getting-my-emails” messages were sent without any reason as to WHY I should want to continue reading your emails.

There was also this blog post - These New GMail changes hurt you (and me). Do this to fix it - (also sent via email) from Derek Halpern of Social Triggers. He writes:

In a lot of cases, GMail labels content-filled emails as “Promotions.”

That means, if you send content to your list (like I do), your content will be featured alongside spammy Promotional emails.

Not only does this negatively affect your brand, but it also puts people are at risk of NOT getting your emails. The emails they signed up for. The emails they WANT.

While I agree that having your emails land next to “spammy Promotional emails” is not a good thing, I’d argue that if you have “spammy Promotional emails” in your inbox, you need to start unsubscribing or marking them as spam. There is no reason to be getting unwanted emails these days. It’s easy to unsubscribe or mark as spam. It’s time to take back control of your inbox!

Again, to be clear, I’m not opposed to any of these emails or the blog post from Derek Halpern. I think it’s smart to alert your loyal email subscribers about Gmail’s changes. In fact, I’ve considered doing the same for my audience. The “How to Disable Gmail Tabs” video from Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner is short, simple, and very clear.

However, I still think it’s way (WAAAAAY) to early to truly understand the impact of Gmail’s new tabbed inbox.

And before you get all fired up and lash out at Gmail, remember that its focus has always been – and most likely always will be – on the user experience. It’s not about you – the email marketer. It’s about you – and your audience – the consumer.

If you are legitimately worried about the recent Gmail changes, here is what I recommend:

1. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Chug some water. Walk around the block.

2. Create a segment of your email list showing only subscribers with a Gmail address.

3. Run some reports to see what the historic (pre Gmail changes) open, click, and (most importantly) conversion rate is of your Gmail subscribers. This is what Mailchimp did, but its focus was on opens only.

4. Run that same report but change the start date to May 29th (when Gmail first announced these changes). Keep in mind that the May 29th date was when it was announced. Gmail has slowly been rolling it out ever since. It would seem quite a few folks are getting it this week.

5. Finally, compare your historic metrics for Gmail subscribers (#3) to the new report (#4).

 

My bet is that your open rates may be down. And that’s okay. The open rate has always been a proxy for engagement, but for most marketers, clicks and conversions are the metrics that matter more. More on that in a minute.

My other bet is that your click to open rates are up. And that’s good. Click to open is the number of subscribers who click on at least one link after opening your email. Click to open tells you how compelling you email actually is (assuming you have good calls to action that make people want to click). I predict this metric will increase as those folks who have taken the time to “find” your email in the “promotions” or “updates” tab in Gmail OR have proactively moved you email to the “primary” tab will now be more engaged with your emails … and more likely to click.

My final bet is that if you send timely, targeted, valuable, human emails to people who want them, the Gmail changes will have little impact. (tweet this)

Now, if you notice your conversions (webinar registrations, eBook/Whitepaper downloads, sales, and so on) for Gmail subscribers have decreased, then you can get upset. I’d be willing to bet this will not be the case.

If I’m wrong, well, come back here in a few months and leave a comment. That’s the risk in making bold predictions. Ha!

Okay, I’m off to email my subscribers – all of them – about this blog post. I don’t want them to freak out.

P.S. If you are a Gmail user and you hate the new look and feel, read Why Are You Complaining About Gmail’s New Changes? post by Kevin Rose to reminisce about what email used to look like. Namaste, as Rose says.

UPDATE : The folks at Marketo (my new employer!) published a blog post that talks more about Gmail’s tabs. They secured some great quotes from some industry leaders (including one from me – ha!).

DJ Waldow
Waldow Social

P.S. Have you heard the news? Nick Westergaard and I have started a weekly podcast called The Work Talk Show, where we interview crazy-smart folks about how work gets done. Give the latest episode a listen!


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53 comments
Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I really liked your point of the link clicking after opening.

@dannybrown and I discuss often how do you identify your best customers. I would guess those that found your email in the promotions tab and clicked a link after opening should be viewed as potentials for brand advocates. No changes had dissuaded them from finding your email and taking action.

philhill
philhill

I read the Mailchimp article as well and time will tell what impact all this has on marketing emails. of course one solution is to create and send email "newsletters" from inside your Gmail / Google app account and send it to people in your address book. this may not meet the needs of company's with formal mailing lists but i think a lot of individuals / professionals miss this one. i.e. dont upload you're Google Contacts address book to Mailchimp and create an email (it'll end up in the Promotions tab; instead create and send it from your exiting Gmail account.

JonesTheMail
JonesTheMail

If anyone's killing email off, it's Microsoft's 'Outllook/Hotmail'. I refer to 'The Great M$ Black Hole'. For those not familiar, it's when you send a message to a valid hotmail/outlook recipient - the server gives you back a 250 OK - but it never gets to the users mailbox (junk or otherwise) - it vanishes into The Microsoft Triangle.

It's just like a badly set up Exchange server... actually, that may just be it... 

It makes delivery people weep, and grown marketeers cry.


devanmarie
devanmarie

Great thoughts, DJ!

But the #1 rule still stands for email marketing -- make your newsletter so great that they want to go SEARCHING for it if they can't find it or don't get it. 

If anything, this is just a good limiting factor for marketers -- make sure you've got good content, and you won't have to worry (as much) when Google changes things up. :) (which they've done A LOT this year)

Rafic
Rafic

Hi DJ,

Actually, the promotions category was included in Gmail prior to its "tabbed" launch. As a regular user, I look at what many marketers send me as an extra. Their emails are nice to read but not something I get to during the day when I am hard at work. I always check my promotions tab when I have a chance to skim through the "promo" emails as I have subscribed to them. Otherwise, I prefer how gmail has primarily declared the inbox for the user. In a way, it is similar to how Facebook has ads on the side of the screen except for the every-once-in-a-while promoted post, which I find distracting. If people love your content, they will look for it and find it. I know I do. And, this is just a hunch, but many people likely subscribe to a variety of e-newsletters: Chris Brogan, Derek Harlpern, Jay Baer, etc. In essence, these enewsletters are becoming like inbox magazines that you skim to stay on top of things. And so, given the broader context, the promotions tab becomes like the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble wherein you browse through the digital digest of the day. It will just take sometime for people to change the way they find this information. And, if you truly are effective in building relationships, I believe your core customers will find you and keep you. The rest might have been interested in you at one time, opened up your emails to see what was going on, but in the end, might have been too lazy to unsubscribe (email hoarding). Afterall, gmail gives us a huge inbox.    

rosiemedia
rosiemedia

I don't use Gmail so I feel like all this "freaking out" by all of the lists I subscribe to is feeling like spam now.  :-)  Just sayin'....   I agree, DJ.  It's too early to tell and people who want to hear from you will be looking for your emails.

danak527
danak527

What verbiage constitutes a promotional email? Does it help to keep your emails from popping into SPAM if your email drip is for a small number of email addresses?

jasonkeath
jasonkeath

This is great news for Facebook ads.

wurdmunk
wurdmunk

I access most of my email through a client. The web interface of Gmail just got to be too much for me in the last few years. However, it seems most people still access their email via browser. Good post, which as a minor business guy--doesn't affect me too much. ^_^

Julow
Julow

Has anyone mentioned mobile, yet? These new tabs are only a concern if your recipients are reading excessively on their desktop, otherwise it all just falls in the same old inbox. Just another reason to make your email newsletters mobile compatible. 

JoeManna
JoeManna

I don't think this is that bad for marketers. They need to make sure their stuff is relevant and need to keep their lists clean. promotions doesn't imply spam... and as you mentioned, it could result in a higher CTOR, thus more effective campaigns. 

It's prudent to monitor the situation and not get hysterical and freak out your subscribers.

I agree with all of your points, DJ. Nice post! :) 

ScottAyres
ScottAyres

I love the changes, unlike other "internet marketers in my circle.. I guess that's why I'm a crappy marketer!!

The tabs make things much smoother. It doesn't mean "Promotions" is a spam box. Gmail is pretty smart about knowing when you have opted into an email and when someone is spamming you.

Things in the Promotions or Updates tab are things you subscribed to, but aren't personal. They are being sent out in mass quantity by email marketers or companies. 

Again not a bad thing but Gmail knows these are less important than an email from your wife.. 

I also think that Derek and others crying about this makes them look childish and desperate. They are going to lose money.. Oh well. Move on and figure out a different tactic than "emailing content" to your users. This is still marketing even if it's wrapped up in the label of a "newsletter".. Come on.. Are we all that dumb?

If an email from a "newsletter" is so important put it in its' own label/filter. That's what I've done for years in Gmail for those sites I really want to listen to and read their "newsletter" (marketing email)...

I said when this launched that Gmail just killed email marketing as we know it. And that's a good thing. I think this puts more focus back on building relationships.

The funny thing is those that are crying the loudest would also tell you not to depend on a 3rd party site/tool for all of your income.. Although they are depending on email in the same way.. hmmmm

DwayneAlicie
DwayneAlicie

I appreciate this about your post, Mister DJ -- "And before you get all fired up and lash out at Gmail, remember that its focus has always been – and most likely always will be – on the user experience."

Maybe moments like these give us marketers and emailers the opportunity to reevaluate our tactics and consider adopting a similar focus as long-term strategy.  

DylanMailz
DylanMailz

On the flip side this could end up being positive. How many marketers know wether our not their subscribers are already filtering your messages with rules? By "segmenting" the Inbox, Google is empowering the user to easily compare offers and deals from multiple companies without the clutter of emails from clients, friends, family etc. I mean when did "promotion" become such a dirty word? I for one love promos from my favorite companies, and I look forward to saving money and learning about new products. If your sending engaging, relevant content to the right segments, then I wouldn't freak out. I mean really, I thought email died in 2008 just ask your local post office!

schmittastic
schmittastic

Totally agree that we can't freak yet. Track, and decide on a plan of action from there. The funny thing is that I love these tabs. I use them WITH Sanebox so I have a very organized inbox. The "promotions" aren't even in the promotions tab because they're in my sane archives. I get to all of my emails based on their priority. I know I'm an email chick - ride or die - but I think we need to have more faith in Gmail users that they're going to organize their email the way they want to and open the emails they're still interested in. If the tabs don't work for them then they can clearly disable them just like you can with anything else in Gmail. Mostly. Can't wait to talk more about this Friday on Shoot the Schmitt!

ClaytonShumway
ClaytonShumway

The only thing that irks me about Gmail's new changes are the ads they're putting under the Promotions tab - DISGUISED - to look like emails. Bad form!

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@Rafic Great comment. Thanks. Love this part: "the promotions tab becomes like the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble wherein you browse through the digital digest of the day" 

Latest blog post: Shed the lbs

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@danak527 From what I understand, there is no hard and set "rule" (yet) for what gets classified as "promotions." My hunch is that it has something to do with the email headers and/or sending IPs. Maybe.

ScottAyres
ScottAyres

@danak527 My guess is emails that come from any autoresponders like Aweber, Mailchimp and etc are going to Promotions. The verbiage has nothing to do with it. And Promotion doesn't mean spam. It just means it's not a personal email.

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@Julow What @ScottAyres said. If you are using the Gmail App, you'll see the tabs. If not, I don't think other email apps on mobile (including the iPhone Mail app) show tabs. 

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@schmittastic You are an email FREAK ... who does not freak out easily. "I know I'm an email chick - ride or die - ..." <--AWESOME.

I also am PUMPED for Friday! I need to get my hair DONE before then...

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@ClaytonShumway Yeah. Lots of chatter about that. Then again, for the price you pay for Gmail (FREE!) they can do whatever the hell they want! (FYI: Was talking up Traeger Grills to my stepfather this past week)


JonesTheMail
JonesTheMail

@djwaldow @JonesTheMail Oh yeah. When it strikes, it strikes - pay very careful attention to your opening rates with M$, and do weekly seed tests of your own - you'll get a shock!


DylanMailz
DylanMailz

@ScottAyres @danak527 Gmail is the hardest email provider to get into. They deploy the most complicated and behavior oriented algorithms. FYI your comments are coming to my "update" tab in Gmail.I would assume that this is just the beginning. Email 10 years from now is not going to be the same as it was 10 years ago or today.

wurdmunk
wurdmunk

@djwaldow Thunderbird. It fits all my needs, is free, and is easy to use. 

DylanMailz
DylanMailz

DJ I can't spell in me iPhone rebuttals b-cuz I can't speal well dere wit dis knew tab thingamajig. Btw u r "primary."

ClaytonShumway
ClaytonShumway

@djwaldow true, I get that revenue needs to come from somewhere. It's just the fact that the less-savvy emailer wouldn't recognize the new emailish ad and would inadvertently click on it thinking it was just another email. Just seems like shady practice, which is something I've never seen from Google. (RE: FYI: A Weber man talking up Traeger?!? I knew you'd come around :))

wurdmunk
wurdmunk

@djwaldow @wurdmunk I sure am. While Thunderbird development is halted, it's considered a finished product. There really isn't much more they can really do with it. Especially since add-ons provide extra functionality. ONe other thing I use is Zoho Mail. 

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@wurdmunk You are OLD SCHOOL. Love it. I used Thunderbird back in the pre-Gmail days. Loved it.