What Gmail’s Changes Mean to You: Not Much, Yet
By Ken Magill
Google raised a ruckus among email marketers last week with an announcement that it had made some changes to the way Gmail users could manage their inboxes.
But while the changes to Gmail are certainly part of a larger trend prodding email marketers to segment their files and send more engaging, relevant messages, the development in and of itself is not a game changer.
Dubbed Priorty Inbox, the initiative divides Gmail users’ inboxes into three sections: “important and unread,” “starred” and “everything else.”
As messages arrive, Gmail automatically flags some of them as important using various criteria, such as people the user emails most and which messages they open and reply to.
However, it’s important to note that Google has yet to promote Priority Inbox other than through a blog post and a red “New! Priority Inbox” link in the top right corner of Gmail users’ inboxes.
And in order to take advantage of the service, Gmail users must turn it on.
According to various inbox-provider representatives, fewer than 10 percent of people ever make changes to their email settings.
Moreover, Gmail addresses usually account for single-digit percentages—at most, 25 percent—of email marketers’ lists.
So it’s not likely Gmail’s Priority Inbox will have a significant immediate impact on any commercial emailer.
However, the development is part of a larger trend in which ISPs are taking steps to punish emailers who send largely irrelevant offers to massive files of mostly unengaged recipients.
Said Rick Buck, director of e-media and privacy/ISP relations for email service provider e-Dialog: “Gmail’s doing it now; Hotmail’s doing it now; Yahoo’s been sort of doing it for a while. It’s no longer about sending e-mail at 11 a.m. so people see it in their inboxes 15 minutes later. It’s about sending relevant email to people who you know are engaged so you get into the top of the inbox.”
Buck added that the ISPs’ push for engagement makes it even more critical that the first messages marketers send to new subscribers are relevant and engaging.
“Setting the tone for engagement with that first couple of emails is critical,” he said. “You really want to have strong calls to action in those first emails to get people to click and open. It’s sort of like building your reputation.”
Michelle Eichner, vice president product management for email optimization and deliverability concern Unica Pivotal Veracity, explained Gmail’s changes in a memo to clients:
“Priority Inbox changes the dynamic of the typical date-sorted inbox view,” she wrote. “In addition to their current spam filtering, Priority Inbox focuses on users’ engagement with emails, specifically the frequency of; opens, replies, sends to, using stars, word association, archiving with no open and deleting. “
Gmail Priority Inbox also features two new buttons: “mark as important” and “mark as not important.”
If an email lands in the “important section,” the “mark as not important” button is available so the user can indicate that email should not be in the “important section.” As a result, the email will move to the “everything else” section.
If an email lands in the “everything else” section, the “mark as important” button is available for users to move it to “important.”
“All of these user interactions lead Priority Inbox to learn where each senders’ emails should land within the Inbox according to the importance to the user,” wrote Eichner.
Priority Inbox also reportedly tracks words that appear repeatedly in emails individual users open. Email with terms that appear frequently in messages Gmail users open may stand a better chance of being filtered to “important.”
“As a sender, this is another reason to be segmenting your subscribers according to their interests, purchases, and commonalities between emails they have engaged with in the past,” Eichner wrote.
However, Eichner also noted in an interview with this newsletter that, for the reasons spelled out above, Google’s Gmail changes are not immediately earth shattering.