Gmail Tabs: The end of email marketing or business as usual?

If the internet were to have a patron philosopher, I think I'd nominate Heraclitus, the greek philosopher who believed that change was central to our understanding of the universe. Afterall, if one can't get used to the constant state of evolution that the web and many of its users favourite tools, then digital life will be very frustrating indeed.

Is it perhaps a bit heady to be referencing Greek philosophers in a blog post about the introduction of a new email interface? Perhaps, but I assure you many of the discussions I've read or engaged in around Google's introduction of a new tabbed interace for Gmail have been infused with no shortage of gravitas. And for good reason. Email is one of the central ways we reach communities of supporters and constituents in the digital age. The thought of users not receiving our carefully penned missives is enough to make many in the world of digital marketing grumpy. (For the record my favourite headline on this topic has got to be New Gmail Tabs: Big Yawn or Zombie Apocalypse for Email Marketing?)

But wait, do you not use Gmail? Are you not familiar with the new tabbed interface and the hand wringing that has ensued? Here's Google's overview of the new feature, if you want all the details (including screenshots). The short version of the story is that Google began rolling out a new interface in Gmail (or Google Apps mail) that separates emails into separate tabs such as Primary, Social and Promotions. The big fuss is primarily about the Promotions tab, which now sorts email newsletters into a secondary (ie/ not main inbox) tab. Why the fuss? Well, by putting email newsletters into a non-primary tab users may (and many have) miss those emails. And, for those who put the time and attention into creating email newsletters, that's not a happy prospect. At all.

However, despite the fact that my own summer BBQ was a victim to invitations not received as a result of the Promotions Tab (imagine my horror!), I'm actually coming down on the side of being pro-tabs. And here's why.

Not Everyone Uses Gmail

It's easy, for those of us who do buy into the world of Google apps and Google products, to think that everyone does. But they don't. So at least part of your list is still safe. Take a deep breath.

People Are Increasingly Checking Email on Mobile

The tabs interface, so far at least, has not been carried over to the phone where emails all still come in one big list. According to this stat mobile accounts for 15-65% of email opens and that number is climbing rapidly. That said, on tablets currently I do find the non-Primary email tabs in Gmail to be quite buried, and that will account for some percentage of mobile opens. It's possible they'll address this as they settle into the new interface. 

Tabs May Actually Increase Your Open Rates

I know that I found, once I got used to the tabs, that I was actually enjoying reading email newsletters more often than I had been previously. Admittedly, I don't get to them first. I go through my action items and emails requiring a response first off, and then sometime late morning or so I scan through my promotions tab and read the email newsletters I enjoy. While, I don't flatter myself into thinking I'm a representative statistic, it turns out I'm not alone, Gmail's New Tabs Are Making Engaged Consumers Open More, Unengaged Consumers Open Less.

Tabs Aren't What's Most Important

What's most important is engaging your audience, which you do by writing and gathering good content that has meaning and value for them. If you do that, they will seek out your content. Be that in their email, on Social Media or via your website directly.  

If You're Still Freaking Out

Here's what MailChimp has to say about helping your audience ensure they still see your emails. And here's MailChimps own stats on the impact on open rates