Gmail Tabs and Nonprofit Email Marketing

There is a lot of discussion lately on how Gmail’s new tab feature is affecting open and click through rates. After reviewing a few sources and some internal data, we are cautiously optimistic this will be a good thing for user engagement and email fundraising in general. Most importantly, we are optimistic about the effects of peer-to-peer fundraising emails.

In short, Google started categorizing emails into tabs. The default tab only displays your direct and primary emails. Emails that are sent from lists will end up in the Promotions tab along with all other competing marketing emails. This is critical as Gmail usually accounts for 20-30 percent of your average email list.

Marketers and nonprofits are worried. There seems to be no way to get emails re-categorized out of the Promotions tab into the Primary tab unless the recipient chooses to do so on their own. Some suggest that if you see a significant drop in open rates, you should send a dedicated email with instructions on how to re-categorize emails to the primary inbox. We recently wrote a post on this very topic.


At first glance, there appears to be two opinions:

1. This is a very big issue and marketers should work on getting their emails into the Primary tab. See:

2. This may have a negative effect on open rates, but not on click-through rates. On the contrary, click through rates may be rising. See and the full report


Everyone agrees that open rates are decreasing. People who were least likely to click or read a promotional email will now rarely visit the Promotion tab. Conversely, people who in the past opened and acted on promotional emails, are now more likely to engage with the email because they are now categorized and easily found in their inbox. When they head to the Promotion tab, they’ll be fully engaged with your email.

If brand awareness is of high importance to your organization, you should be looking at ways to get out of the Promotion tab. However, if you care more about engaged users, you care mostly about the level of engagement over the quantity of views, you may be in for a rise of engaged users. I say “may” because it’s about standing out.

“Standing out”, isn’t that the key to all of marketing? Yes it is, and because your emails are now showing up along side other promotional emails, it makes standing out even more important. You may have an engaged user, looking to engage with promotional emails, but why will he/she choose your email?

Enter peer-to-peer emails. An email that comes from a friend, from a personal email address with a personal message, stands out among other generic promotional emails.

Peer-to-peer emails have an additional kicker. If the email comes from a friend or family member who is in your contact book, especially if they have emailed this person in the past, the email is likely to be categorizes as an “Update” placing it in the Updates tab. The Updates tab is hidden by default, which means emails that are categorized as updates will show up in your Priority tab. Even if you enable the Updates tab, the emails there are bills and other important emails.

We recommend keeping a close eye on open rates and click throughs as email providers continually change and try to improve their services.

By Shmuli Pinson
CTO, RallyBound




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