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How to Stay Out of the Gmail Promo Tab and Why it May Not Matter as Much as You Think

A lot of people spend a lot of time worrying about how to keep their email marketing from going to the Gmail promotions folder (technically the Gmail promotions tab). So what we are about to tell you may surprise you: Google and Gmail actually think that they are doing you a favor by putting your email in the Promotions tab and, similarly, they think that they are doing their users (the people you are sending your email to) a favor by putting your email in the promotions tab.

Now, you can probably understand that last point, but what about the first one? What do we mean when we say that Gmail thinks that it is doing you a favor by putting your email in the promotions tab?

It’s important to understand that Gmail created the promotions tab so that their users (to whom you are sending your email marketing) could easily find the various offers and promotions that come their way. Again, the promotions tab (or promotions folder, however you choose to think of it) is not a secondary spam folder. In fact, it’s intended to be a secondary inbox – the inbox where commercial offerings are stored and easily found. The primary inbox is, as Gmail sees it and intends for it to be used, a place for personal correspondence, and transactional and other one-to-one business correspondence.

In fact, Google publishes entire guides for businesses and developers on how to deliver more value in the Gmail Promotions tab, which demonstrates that their intention is not to punish someone by putting the email they send into the promo tab, but rather to categorize it.

And let’s face it – it’s likely that the reason you are reading this information right now is because you want to stop your promotions from going into the promotions folder. Well, the bottom line is that if your email looks like it is promoting something, and sounds like it is promoting something, then it probably is promoting something, and so that is why it is ending up (rightly, given all of the above) in the promotions tab.

It’s also important to remember that Gmail users have the choice of using a promotions folder or not, so if they are choosing to use it, that means they are choosing to to gather all of their offers and other promotions in that one location where they can find them (either that or it was defaulted to using the promo tab when they signed up, and they don’t know that they can, or how to, switch it to a single unified inbox).

So, to recap, the promotions tab is a secondary inbox, not a secondary spam folder. It was set up by Gmail as a way of letting their users curate all of the various promotional offers they receive in one place.

Still, some email senders really want their email out of the promotions tab, and going to the primary inbox. If you are one of these people, then here are some steps that you can take to get your email out of the promo tab and into the inbox.

How to Get the Email You Send Out of the Gmail Promo Tab and Into the Inbox

The bottom line is that the less promotional or commercial your email looks, the less likely it is to go to the promo tab. Makes sense, right? So think about the last email that you sent to a friend or family member; it probably didn’t mention special sales, didn’t have a call to action, didn’t have tons of images and links – it was basically plain text and conversational, right? Those are the kinds of email that get to the inbox.

The key thing to remember here is that Gmail is parsing every bit of every piece of email that you send to every one of their users (as are most inbox providers). That means that they are taking note of from where you are sending your email (are you using an email marketing platform? Are you using a sending platform with a good sender reputation?), and they are taking note of the composition of your email (how many images and links does it have, compared to the amount of text), and they are taking note of what that text says.

That means that there are three main areas where you can either appear to be promotional (into the promotions tab you go), or appear to be conversational. Conversational is what is going to help get you out of the promo folder. Those 3 main areas are:

1. What your email says.
2. What non-text elements are in your email.
3. From where (through whom) you are sending your email.

Taking them in reverse order, there’s really not much you can do about #3; the bottom line is that if you are doing email marketing you almost certainly are (and should be) using an email service provider (ESP). The important thing there is to be sure that you are using one that has a good reputation with the inbox providers. (How can you know? Ask us!)

That leaves numbers 1 and 2, which you can do lots about.

Non-Text Elements in Your Email

Having a ratio of “too much non-text” to “not enough text” will not only put you in the promo tab – it also contributes to ending up in the spam folder, so it’s doubly important to keep an eye on this.

Yes, most email service providers offer all these pretty templates – some have even started offering embedded video, some of which autoplays (for the sake of all that is deliverable, please don’t embed autoplaying video in your email – it’s a great way to tick off your recipients, not to mention a great way to get into the spam folder!) But what they don’t tell you is that the more code that is in your email, the greater the likelihood of it going to the promo folder, and even the spam folder.

So minimize the amount of code in your email!

This includes the number of images and links that you have in your email! A good rule of thumb is that there should be no more than a couple of images in your email, and no more than a couple of links (and all links should point back to the same domain). It’s also important to note that people need to know who an email is from, and recognize the brand, before they ever open your email – the reason for mentioning it here is to point out that if your “From:” address or subject line is well-branded, then it’s superfluous to include a logo in your email, it takes up an image spot, and it contributes to your email looking promotional (remember that this article is about how to not look promotional if you don’t want to end up in the promo tab).

What Your Text Says

The content of your text is crucial when it comes to where an inbox provider is going to put your email (inbox, promo tab, or spam folder). As we mentioned above, the inbox providers, including Gmail, are parsing every single word (indeed, every single letter) of the content of the email that you send. That means that words are important!

Words like “buy”, “sale”, “special”, “don’t miss out”, and many, many more can alert the filtering algorithms at Gmail and elsewhere to the fact that your email is promotional and so should go into the promo tab (or, even, at inbox providers that don’t have a promo folder, the spam folder). And when you start stringing them together (“Buy now, don’t miss out!”) that really trips those filters. Our Email Delivery Handbook includes a list of dozens of such words and phrases.

KISS Your Email Marketing: Keep it Short and Simple

The bottom line is that if your email marketing is going to the promotion tab, and if you want more of your email marketing to go to the inbox instead, you need to keep your email content (relatively) short and simple. Remember, minimize non-text elements (images, links, code) and keep the text of your content conversational, as if you are writing to a friend. Bonus: The more conversational and less promotional your email is, the more that people will be inclined to read and act on your email!

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