The Gmail Promotions Tab: How to Avoid It and Why It Matters

An illustration of a woman moving an email icon from the gmail promotions tab, to the inbox tabIf you’re like most email marketers, your primary goal is to increase your open and click through rates. And you know what kills these rates faster than you can say “ouch”? When your emails end up in the Gmail promotions tab.

The fact is that despite the well-meaning nature of these tabs, most users only ever look at their primary inbox. Those additional tabs were created to help people prioritize which emails they look at first, and not get overwhelmed. However, unfortunately, most people just never open those tabs, ever.

That is to say, if your emails end up in the promotions tab, people are far less likely to open your emails. This is even people who were very excited about getting your emails. I’m talking about people who might have otherwise become one of your most engaged subscribers and long-time recurring customers. 

Now that you know why this matters, you’re probably itching to learn how to avoid the Gmail promotions tab. Fortunately, the rest of this guide will help you do just that.

Pick a deliverability-centric email marketing platform

You know, there is a reason so many huge email veterans are moving their lists to Emercury nowadays. While we have many advantages, one of the main reasons is that they’re sick of platforms that don’t care where their emails end up.

Fun fact, most of the fancy marketing platforms focus on bells and whistles, and really do not care if you actually make money off of your email campaigns. As long as the email has been sent, they’ve deemed their job “done”. 

Deliverability-centric platforms have a different take on this. We see our job as not just sending the email, but doing everything we can to make sure it is actually delivered. For all intents and purposes, an email that ends up in the spam folder is no better than an email that was never sent.

When you’re with Emercury, you get access to an expert team that’s obsessed with deliverability. This includes all of the features designed to help you with delivery, but also, some of our higher plans include a personal deliverability manager and personalized hands-on help with delivery. And yes, avoiding the promotions tab is part of deliverability.

Avoid Excessive Use of Promotional Language

If you’ve studied the spam filters, you should probably know that language factors in quite a bit. In fact, this is why at Emercury we have a “Content Scoring” button right on the sending screen. It analyzes your email content to make sure you’re not using too many words that can trip up the spam filters. It is that important.

The same is true when it comes to the algorithm that decides if your email is “promotional”. You can think of the promotions tab as the place where emails end up when they’re deemed to be “a spammy looking email from a legit sender”. Know that if you use a lot of hype and over the top promotional language, you always risk ending up in the spam folder. Barely escaping the spam folder and ending up in the promotions tab instead isn’t much better.

To prevent this, avoid phrases that are too quick to rush people into converting. Think phrases like “Buy now”, “Limited Offer” or other cliched ways of creating urgency. If your email uses phrases that fit in an infomercial, you’re going to trip that promotional tab algorithm.

Instead you should focus on conveying the amount of value that people will get from your offerings, and build a sense of connection over time. When you do have something to sell, they will rush to buy it, even if you use softer language. 

You can still mention the scarcity or limited spots, just don’t make it the main focus of the email. It is more about informing them that spots are limited, rather than shouting “grab your spot before it’s gone!”.

Brevity is your friend

This is a factor that is a bit unique to the promotional tab. While a lot of these factors overlap with those used by the spam algorithms, a few are unique to detecting “overly promotional emails”. For example, while spam emails are typically short, legit (but overly promotional emails) can get a bit lengthy. 

This is because again, as with most mistakes on this list, the marketer wants to go into a selling pitch. The email then turns into a bit of a super-long infomercial. But wait, how can you keep it short and still provide enough value? Shouldn’t you be providing tons of value in your emails?

Yes, but it doesn’t mean that the entire content has to be in the email itself. You want to give the most important information in the email, and then link to your website. And then on the website itself you can have a video or article that tells the full story.

This is also useful because getting people to click on your links is a positive signal for both the spam filters, and the promotional tab algorithm. In addition, when you use Emercury, you can track their journey across your website. 

You can even trigger automations, re-segment the subscriber and improve personalization by using events and site tracking. So again, if it gets a bit lengthy, use this as an opportunity to link to your website and get people in the habit of clicking.

Deliver value through text, not images

Having too many images can definitely set off the algorithm, but it’s not just about the quantity. The images have to be optional in terms of delivering the core content of the email. 

If a person opens your email with images disabled, will they get the exact same value out of it? In essence, images need to compliment the textual content, not substitute it.

Encourage subscribers to help you

Just like with spam, subscribers get to say that something should stay out of the promotions tab. And just like we can ask subscribers to click “not spam” if it ends up there, we can also ask them to label it “not promotional”. You can bet that the more people do this, the less future emails will end up in the promotional tab. 

Customer advocacy and loyalty concept. Loyal customers sharing their experiences with your business and help other customers get the most value out. Wooden cube blocks with advocacy and loyalty icon.

So don’t be shy about asking subscribers to check the Gmail promotions tab, and click “not promotional”. You can do this either when they first sign up, on the instructions screen. Or, you can wait after they become subscribers and educate them about this as part of the welcome series. 

You want to communicate the following: if they want to keep getting this massive amount of value, they will want to click “not promotional”. This is to make sure  that they don’t miss out on any future value-packed emails.

Don’t be shy, go personal on the sender

What does this even mean? Well, as it turns out, the Gmail promotional algorithm looks at both the sender profile (address and name), as well as whether the sending and reply-to address match.

That is to say, the closer it resembles an actual human sending you a one-to-one email, the better. You want the email to be sent by “Jane @ YourBrand”, and people should be able to reply to Jane just as if it is a friend that sent a one-to-one email.

Impersonal sender addresses like “newsletter@brand” and a reply-address that says “donotreply@brand” can hurt you.

Avoid that “mass-mailer” look at all costs

Email marketing works because it feels intimate by its very nature. Unlike a broadcasting medium such as YouTube, Radio or Television, you’re sending a message to that one person, directly. This is why if used properly, email beats every other channel out there.

Now, ironically we do in fact have a sending option that we call a “broadcast” in email. But didn’t we say that email is completely unlike “broadcast mediums”. Well, here’s the trick, you can and should personalize your broadcast emails as well. It shouldn’t feel like everyone is getting the exact same email at the exact same time, and especially so if you’re sending them the email equivalent of an infomercial.

An effective email marketer utilizes both broadcasts and automations equally. And furthermore, they do a great job of personalizing the experience with both. And this is something that factors heavily in whether your emails are seen as a sales pitch and end up in the promotions tab.

Now, whilst personalization can be a broad topic, we have plenty of guides to help out. And even better yet, you can get massive benefits by just implementing the basics. This includes leveraging smart personalization and basic email segmentation. This should more than suffice for keeping you out of the promotions tab.

Get your email frequency right

Email frequency can be quite tricky unless you understand it. A lot of people assume that it’s just about “not sending too many emails too often”. However, it’s just as bad to send too few emails. This hurts your engagement as it prevents the habit-formation process. You want to send frequently enough that people get in the habit of getting and reading your emails.

We have an entire separate popular guide on email frequency, but the main takeaway is that you want to experiment. You want to learn what works and how it works by trying things out. Try higher frequencies and lower frequencies and compare the open and click-through rates.

And when you’re ready, you can get even more granular and have different segments based on the engagement temperature. You can then have higher frequencies for some segments, and lower frequencies for others.

Don’t forget the basics of deliverability

It’s easy to get carried away and focus on this tab and its peculiarities to the point where you forget about the basics of deliverability. You want to think of the Gmail promotions tab as a subset of the inboxing algorithms. 

That is to say, this algorithm takes into account all of the basics of deliverability such as properly setup authentication records and engagement. And then, it adds some additional factors on top. That means you should still set up your sending profiles correctly and track all of your engagement rates such as open rates and click through rates.

Again, we’re talking about the basics of deliverability. All inboxing algorithms prefer well-verified senders that can produce good engagement from recipients. This is true whether you’re trying to dodge the spam filter, or the promotions tab.

The good news is that Emercury makes it super easy to set up authentication and sender profiles. This is even included in our generous forever-free plan. The onboarding process itself will walk you through everything, and our team is right there to help out if needed. If you haven’t grabbed a username yet, now is the time. We might pull this overly generous plan at any time.

Test, experiment, measure and iterate

We already touched on this subject when discussing emailing frequency, but it applies to everything else on this list. In fact, you can look at this final strategy as the “parent” or “meta” strategy that allows you to get the most benefit from applying everything else on this list.

Implementing the different strategies we discussed will not work nearly as well if you just rush into it without a plan. And for your plan to be effective, it has to include the act of measuring things, and then iterating based on the results.

Decide what you are going to work on, and then measure the difference by looking at your open and click through rates. Study what happens, form a hypothesis about what to try next and do that (this is the iterative process). 

And it actually applies to absolutely everything in email marketing, not just deliverability. If you want to get really good, really fast, study our email marketing guides, and then apply this process. And oh by the way, if you’re not signed up yet, we send these guides to you for free. All you have to do is grab a forever-free Emecury account. You get the most generous free plan out there, and the best email marketing education sent straight to your inbox, also absolutely free.

Get A Strategic Partner On Your Side

There’s no need to go at this alone. While we do put out a lot of free content to help you, nothing beats a one-on-one conversation. In these articles we try to help clarify things as best as possible. However, every business is different, so we have to generalize.

If you want to understand better how to implement email marketing in your specific business, let’s have a chat. At the moment I am still able to do some free demos, so be sure to book one while I can still do these.

I would love to hear about your specific needs, challenges and any confusion you might have about email marketing strategies. And then, help you see how you can use Emercury to improve your bottom-line.

Alternatively, or in addition to booking a free demo, you can also grab a username for our forever-free-plan while we still have it. It’s probably the most generous email marketing automation plan on the planet. We include almost every feature in this plan, with very few restrictions.

Remember, you get to keep this plan for life, for free… Provided that you grab a username while registrations are still open. Note that we might decide to pull this way-too-generous offering at any point. So click that link to check if we still allow registrations.

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