Primary Tab Placement in Gmail

Primary, social, promotions, updates and forums...the five "tabs" Gmail separates a recipient's incoming email into. 

While some companies (particularly retailers) have embraced Gmail tabs - believing the more choice and control consumers have over their inboxes would lead to greater results like visibility - others have worried the promotions tab would be ignored altogether. In actuality, both groups are correct to some degree.

Return Path published a study in 2017 on the analysis of consumer adoption and placement accuracy for these tabs. What the report's authors found was that almost half (45.1 percent) of Gmail users are checking their Promotions at least once a day, but of all email sent to Gmail users, 68.4 percent is classified as Promotions - making this the most competitive real estate of Gmail inboxes. 
(Source: Return Path)

Not surprisingly, Return Path also found emails landing in the Promotions tab have the lowest read rate at 19.2 percent. 
Retailers sending order, shipping, confirmation and other updates will certainly benefit from the high read rate of the Updates tab, but the question remains how to be placed in the Primary tab even if it is marketing material. 

Testing emails for this placement is more crucial than ever considering Google is making it easier to unsubscribe from Promotions emails. Users are beginning to see "tips" from Gmail advising them to unsubscribe from Promotions emails if they have not opened an email from the sender in the last month (see image).
(Image Source: Android Police)

Savvy professionals over the last year have tested and analyzed how to receive Primary placement to take advantage of those higher read rates. Let's take a look:
  • In its testing, found that simple emails with no links and no images ended up in the Primary tab. When the author added multiple images and multiple links, the email still landed in Primary. When the author added a price (i.e., $34.50), however, the same email landed in Promotions. A test of this nature is certainly worth an email marketer's time.

  • MailChimp states, "The only way to improve your campaign's chances of landing in the Primary tab is to maintain a healthy subscriber list." MailChimp recommends asking subscribers to add a company's "From" email address to their Google contacts, because contacts are delivered to the Primary inbox (they recommend asking on confirmation pages, welcome emails and campaign content). MailChimp's other advice is to ask engaged subscribers to move the sender's messages to the Primary tab as Gmail will ask whether this sender's campaigns should always be sent there. 
  • Similarly, Constant Contact advises senders to ask recipients to add them to their Safe Sender's list to land in the Primary tab. Constant Contact also recommends a few other pieces of advice to optimize the chance of being considered for the Primary inbox including writing to contacts as if they were a friend, avoiding spam-like subject lines and authenticating with sender ID. 
Gmail will continue to address users' concerns to ensure they - not businesses - are getting the best email experience. The theme across all advice is for senders to consider the value they are offering with each email, as engaged subscribers are most likely to take the extra step to "star" an email (recipients can notify Gmail they want all starred emails to go into Primary), move it to the Primary tab manually or add the sender to their contacts.