Open rates in marketing emails have dropped half a point since Gmail introduced its new tabbed option for organizing your email inbox, according to figures from MailChimp, an email service provider. The news, on the surface, sounds alarming to marketers who are busily trying to implement workarounds for their email campaigns. But is the new tab layout as hurtful as it seems?
Several weeks ago, Google gave Gmail users the option to turn on the new tabbed layout, and if they do, Gmail sorts your inbox messages into several categories, including "Primary," "Social," "Promotion," and "Updates." Certainly, not everyone using Gmail has turned on the option, but in the three weeks after the option appeared, open rates in Gmail, which had previously stayed above 13 percent, dropped down to around 12.5 percent.
Though alarming for marketers, it's too early to say whether the effect is permanent, likely to improve or going to get even worse. It could rebound as people get used to the tabs, or it could continue to slide as more people adopt them.
Whatever happens, the effect is massive. Google is the world's largest email provider worldwide, beating out Windows Live Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail. Plus, it's growing fast. There will be an estimated 2.25 billion email users next year, which is approximately 15 to 20 percent of all users.
In the U.S., although Yahoo! Mail is the largest provider with 40.8 percent of online Americans, Google is right behind with 37 percent, while Hotmail trails with 19 percent.
While many marketers reacting to the new layout are looking for workarounds, it's important to keep your eye on the bigger picture. Optimists have suggested that the change could be a good thing in the long run. Your offers, promotions or insights will be more likely to reach people when they want them under the new system.
The ultimate measure, after all, shouldn't be open rate, but conversions—are people buying your products or visiting your site. In other words, are you reaching your marketing objectives? It might be that the tabs are just filtering out the low-value subscribers anyway.
For those subscribers who do really want your newsletter, some are suggesting that you can send them special emails showing them how to move the newsletter into the primary tab.
Google is also one of those optimists, either primarily or in part because it's running a new type of advertising in the section where ads look like emails. The company doesn't want people to ignore the tab any more than you do.
The upshot of all the above, as commenter Kyle Usher put it, is that the key to email newsletters is building "relationships with customers so they want to open."
It's just as simple—and as hard—as that.
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