In the early days of email, you could easily send an email without worrying about its arrival in the recipient’s inbox. This was possible because of two technical requirements:

  • A well-maintained delivery server
  • Good IP reputation

Things have changed since then. Email services such as AOL and Hotmail started keeping “reputation score” on their senders. This crucial number is based on the calculation of your relationship with your recipients.

Then in 2011, Gmail joined in the game by introducing Priority Inbox. It was developed as a “smart” inbox, which could decide whether to place each email into either the inbox or spam folder. This detection was based on the “reaction” of the email address owner.

Gmail began collecting feedback on this feature from its users. As a result, they improved it and changed its name to “Inbox Tabs” in May 2013. Basically Gmail categorizes incoming emails into five tabs:

  • Primary
  • Social
  • Forums
  • Updates
  • Promotions

Gmail decides which of these tabs your email lands into. While this is good for end users, can the same theory be said for email senders? Are these folders a threat for email senders?

Consider the following email scenarios happening:

  • Your password reset is sent into the Forum folder
  • Your monthly newsletter is sent into the Promotions folder
  • A promotional ad offering an upgrade with a $10 discount is sent to the Promotions folder

These are all real threats for email senders.


With lots of subscribers, Gmail is one of the most popular email services. Regardless of this fact, if your email doesn’t arrive in the recipient’s “Primary Inbox”, it’s likely that it won’t be immediately noticed and opened by the recipient.

Given this, the sender can ask its recipients to do two things:

  • Mark their email as a “primary inbox” email
  • Add their email address to their contact list

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. Instead it frustrates email recipients. Furthermore, recipients will immediately question why they should mark you as a “primary inbox” sender. So, no matter what value you create for them, asking these favors from your subscribers won’t work.

Here’s a better way to get your emails noticed and opened:

  • Send your email to recipients who want it
  • Make sure the email is relevant to your recipient’s interest
  • Encourage your recipient to reply back to your email. This step is crucial, for it informs the email service that you (the sender) is important to the recipient. As a result, your email address will be added to the recipient’s contact list; giving your future emails higher priority against other senders.

This is why you should always send your email with a working, monitored, “from” email address. Your recipients should be able to reply back to you.

Next, focus on your email subject. Make it interesting and relevant to the recipient’s interest. This, in turn, will make the recipient open it.

The email content is the appropriate area to ask users to reply back. These replies can be in regards to getting a discount, getting more information, etc. Once you get a reply, your reputation will increase with the email service.

Although Gmail Inbox Tabs are a threat for email senders, this can be eased with the establishment of good relationships between you and your recipients. Your email open rates won’t be affected as much, and that’s a really good thing!