How Gmail’s new email promotions tab changes everything

Unless you’ve been living on another planet you may have noticed that Gmail now segregates emails into three different tabs by default; primary, social and promotions.

Let me tell you how I responded to that development.  Within minutes of discovering Google’s new email tabs I wrote and launched a PHP script which prevents anyone with a Gmail account from joining any of my lists.  So, it’s now impossible to get onto my lists if you’re using a Gmail account.  Also, within 24 hours of the news I was on the DC Radio Network and I declared that this aggressive move from Google represented a tectonic shift in the landscape for internet marketers.  Unlike the rest of the marketing community I was onto this fast.  In my opinion it was big news and it demanded decisive action.

It’s disappointing – although not surprising – to discover that others within the marketing community have been slow to appreciate the magnitude of what has just happened.  For example, here’s an article from Sonia Simone which offers seven convenient, bite sized tips for surviving Gmail’s new tabs.  Here’s another article by Taylor Lindstrom which positively takes delight in the new tabs.  Some of the articles I’ve read are advising us to ‘re-educate our subscribers’ and/or focus on producing engaging content.

It possible that I’m entirely wrong about this.  However, my guess is that these tabs are significant and potentially devastating for email marketers.  To see why that’s the case you only need to look at your own Gmail inbox.  For those of you who have a Gmail account, I would encourage you to log on and flick through the various tabs.  If you’re anything like me then I think there’s a good chance that your promotions tab will be filled with a tidal wave of unopened messages.  Everything is there from Groupon to Tony Robbins.  This filter is ruthless and it’s taking no prisoners.

I happen to be on a variety of marketing lists.  I enjoy the content and I’m happy to be pitched.  Sometimes I buy from them.  I am basically a marketer’s dream.  However, since these new tabs came into force I’m not getting anything at all from those marketers who have commanded my attention over the years.  They’re all getting filtered and – for the most part – not opened.  Sure, I can go into Gmail’s settings and declare that certain emails shouldn’t get filtered.  Here’s the problem.  I don’t have time.  I just don’t have time, and if we’re really going to hold a spotlight to this, I think Google appears to be on a mission to make their opt out procedures as confusing as possible.

Enough time has passed for us to see that marketer’s emails are getting filtered – aggressively and with very rare exception.  Even if Gmail users click into the promotions tab (I don’t accept that they do, by the way) then their guard will be up.  This really is bad news for email marketers.  After all, virtually every marketer’s pitch/launch comes under the guise of being free training or a free news update.  The moment Gmail classifies those launches as being “promotions” then the recipients are effectively being told to watch out because the magician has something up his sleeve.  It’s impossible to overstate how devastating this development is for email marketers.

Unfortunately, the new Gmail tabs represent a problem for which there is no WordPress plugin.  Indeed, there is no soundbite, no to do list, no affirmation and no particular amount of easy steps which are going to undo what Google has done.  The email marketing landscape has changed fundamentally and I’m not optimistic about it going back to the way things were.

Just to underline how screwed we all are (I suppose we’re all a part of the internet marketing community), I’ll quickly offer a few words of speculation on how the new Gmail tabs actually work.  This is, for the most part, speculation – however, I’m confident that it’s good speculation.  As you probably know, people with large mailing lists obviously can’t fire thousands of emails from regular hosting accounts.  So, marketers with lists of greater than a thousand subscribers have to use services like Mailchimp, iContact, GetResponse and aWeber to get their messages sent out on mass.  The trouble is, all emails come with headers which identify which servers they’ve came from.  All Google has to do is install a few lines of code to easily find out if an email has came from one of the ‘usual suspects’ (i.e., Mailchimp, iContact etc).  If an email has come from one of those providers and (get this!) the same message has been sent to lots of other Gmail accounts then it seems both natural and obvious for Google to assume that the email is a promotion – in which case, it’s getting filtered.

For email marketers, that little description of how the tabs might work is potentially nuclear.  The reason why is because, unlike with traditional spam filters, the filtration is happening regardless of what the content of the actual message may be.  In short, you’re not going to outsmart Google’s filters.

For the marketers who depend on their lists, my advice to change your marketing!

I think it’s time for you to start looking for intelligent new ways to get your message out.  Thankfully you have powerful resources like YouTube, Twitter and iTunes (yes, iTunes!) as your disposal.  These resources offer unprecedented opportunities to reach vast new audiences in ways which are exciting creative and – for the most part – free.  Earlier this year I was doing some work for Textmarketer – an SMS marketing company based in the UK.  Some of the software developments within the realms of mobile phone marketing are astounding and I think it’s an area that’s definitely worth checking out.  Another thing which seems to be working for me is good old fashioned discussion forums.  Having discussion forums on your site is great way to have visitors coming back and also a good platform for keep people in the loop with what you’re doing.  Of course, Google loves discussion forums so there’s huge benefits for anyone interested in SEO, as well.

Interestingly, there appears to be signs that some of the heavyweights of the email marketing world have started to change the way they do business.  For example, we’re now seeing a lot of the ‘big gurus’ using YouTube for their launches.  This was unheard of three years ago.  As well as that, a few of the big names in marketing appear to be turning their backs on their old email marketing models and they’re focusing on new ways of generating revenue.  For example, Eben Pagan has recently declared an interest in moving away from internet marketing and focusing exclusively on software development.  Frank Kern – once a giant of the email launch world – is now earning a living by offering one on one consultations from his homepage.  If these people can change their business models and move away from “traditional” email marketing then perhaps it’s time for us to do likewise.

I ought to stress that I’m not saying that this is definitely the end of email marketing.  However, I do think that it’s a good idea to start looking at new marketing strategies to compliment what you’re already doing.

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