Changes at Gmail: What The Public Sector Needs to Know

In the public sector, email is an essential component of any best-in-breed communications strategy. With the steady increase in worldwide smartphone usage, email has become the fastest and most efficient way to reach people wherever they are. And because email offers a direct and personalized connection to your stakeholders, it’s imperative that you send email and that your email gets read. However, with advances in technology occurring every day, the world of email is dynamic and ever changing. When it comes to rules for reaching the inbox, no two email clients are the same.

Google’s popular email client, Gmail, recently began a roll out of their new inbox design which changes the way emails are organized and viewed. The new design automatically filters all emails, including those from the public sector, into four default inbox “tabs”: Primary, Social, Promotions and Updates.

This change has some public and private sector digital communicators up in arms. Why? Many worry that this change creates default inbox categories that email users may not explore. The perception is that if content lands in one of these new tabs, it will decrease opens, clicks, and overall subscriber engagement. At GovDelivery, we simply aren’t finding this to be the case. Engagement rates have not changed significantly and there are even some benefits that come with the newly organized Gmail inbox. So fear not! We have everything you need to know about the new changes at Gmail.

What do the tabs mean? According to Gmail, the Primary tab contains person-to-person conversations and messages that don’t appear in other tabs. The Promotions tab holds deals, offers and other marketing emails. Messages from social networks, media-sharing sights, dating services, and other social websites will be filtered into the Social tab. The Updates tab contains personal, auto-generated updates including confirmations, receipts, bills and statements. Any messages from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists should arrive in the Updates tab. The Updates and Forums tabs typically aren’t enabled by default.

2015-07-01 12_43_03-Inbox tabs and category labels - Gmail Help

Are the tabs configurable? Yes! Gmail users can turn these tabs off if they prefer the classic inbox view. They can also customize their tab setup based on how they prefer to organize their inbox. Gmail provides detailed instructions around how to do that here.

Users still have the option to “star” their messages. Stars let users easily mark certain messages as important or to indicate that they need to reply to them later. With the new inbox, any “starred” messages are automatically moved to the Primary tab. This feature can also be configured and turned off.

What about mobile? With more and more email people reading email on their mobile device each day, it’s important to look at how the new tabs change the mobile viewing experience. According to a study conducted by email testing and tracking company Litmus, only 19% of Gmail opens actually occur in Gmail on a desktop computer. A whopping 66% of Gmail opens are occurring on mobile devices.

However, the number one email client for Gmail users is the iPhone’s built-in mail client, accounting for 34% of all Gmail opens. Interestingly, the iPhone’s native email application does not support Gmail tabs, so there is no impact here.

While Android phones and the Gmail app for iPhone do support the new tabs, this makes up a smaller percentage of opens (20%, according to Litmus).

Inbox tab organization isn’t new. Add-ons and applications like Priority Inbox and Clean Sweep have been offering sorting and organization functionalities to email users for years. While new filtering options like these can affect how your Gmail users receive and interact with your emails, these new tabs make it easier for readers to find your messages. Instead of being pushed to the second or third page of the Gmail inbox behind Facebook or Twitter notifications, marketing promotions, etc. your emails may have their own placement at the top of the Updates tab.

As Gmail tabs become more widely adopted, users will inherently know where to go to find your messages.

What’s next? As your partners in communications, GovDelivery watches deliverability for our clients closely. As we mentioned earlier, government organizations that send email to stakeholders through GovDelivery have not experienced a noticeable decrease in engagement across the board, and we are always working behind the scenes to ensure optimal delivery of your bulletins.

While it’s not necessary, or recommended, to take any action to bypass Gmail’s new filtering, there are a few things we’ve seen email industry communicators do to be proactive in making sure their emails are getting read:

  • To increase the likelihood of your communications landing in the Primary folder, increase your readers’ engagement with your messages as much as possible. Include smaller bits of information that require readers to click through to page on your website to read the rest of your message. This will also increase your website traffic and allow you to connect stakeholders to additional information you offer that they may not know about.
  • Remind subscribers to update their Gmail preferences so that you as a sender always appear in a specific tab (directions here). Many companies in the private sector have been doing this for quite some time. Here is another example:
  • You can also do nothing at all! Ending up in another folder, like Updates, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Arriving in a separate tab means your emails will land among less competition. This means less chance of mass-deletion and a higher chance of grabbing your audience’s attention.

While Gmail is the first email client to implement tabs on their users’ behalf, it’s important to watch and see if Yahoo and Outlook (formerly Hotmail) mimic Gmail’s new inbox platform.

For more information on this change to Gmail, check out their recent blog post.

Do you have a Gmail account? Are you noticing any changes to your personal email, with regard to public sector communications?

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