With 1.2 billion users, Gmail operates as the second largest email service provider accounting for 21% of the email market share in the world. The richness of audience in Gmail alone makes it a favored go-to marketing channel for many eCommerce stores.

Unfortunately, Gmail’s inbox now has several tabs to organize the incoming messages. The tabs separate messages according to their intended purpose. The autopilot tab is called the “Primary” tab which most eCommerce sellers would intend to land.

For promotional messages like email newsletters sent out by eCommerce stores, these are all grouped into the “Promotions” tab which poses a real challenge since Gmail users would exert more effort to actively look for these promotional messages.

Now, the question as to whether or not the tabbed Gmail inbox has negatively impacted the performance of email marketing arises. Has it dwindled the engagement? Are users opening the “Promotions” tab? If not, are there best practices to work around this challenge?

Today, you’ll learn some observational data that reveal the real impact of this Inbox classification and why your eCommerce store needs to shift strategies to arm up with this challenge. Ready?

What is Gmail’s Inbox classification and how does it affect eCommerce email marketing?

In May 2013, Google introduced an Inbox classification which sorts your emails into five tabs:  Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums.

The goal of Gmail’s tabbed inbox is to help users with an easy organization of their email and entirely build an email ecosystem that safeguards its users from spam and other potential abuse.

These tabs cannot be customized but Gmail users can enable or disable any one of them anytime.

inbox classification

The “Promotions” tab is where all email marketing campaigns fall under which is a bit of a headache for eCommerce owners because it lands most (68.4%) of the total email volume but receives the lowest read rate at 19.2% only.


So, in a sense, nobody really wants to land their emails in the Promotions tab because it means that their efforts will just go unnoticed.

Now, you are maybe wondering what exactly you can do to avoid landing in the mostly volumed Promotions tab?

But before that, let us see what specific factors and elements that can cause an email to be classified in the Gmail Primary tab.

Basic Factors affecting the Gmail Primary tab classification

  • Overall Content: In email classification, content does matter. Obviously, what you say in your email will highly impact its classification. What looks like a promotion will go in the Promotions. The idea here is not to sell at all. So, if you’ve been trying so hard and too obvious to sell, now is the time to be more subtle.
  • Trigger Keywords: Avoid using the words that have been reported as promotional or spam as they trigger exclusion from the Primary tab. A few examples of these trigger keywords are:
  1. As seen on
  2. Clearance
  3. Satisfaction guaranteed
  4. No obligation
  5. The best rates
  6. Free
  7. See for yourself
  8. Shopper
  9. Why pay more?
  10. Will not believe your eyes

You can read more about these trigger keywords in our infographic HERE.

  • Images: Have you seen an email body from your co-worker or a friend with tons of images? Clearly not. Most of ‘authentic’ emails from someone you know are in plain texts. This is why Gmail knows that it is probably not an important message that the user needs to read. Cut the images to one or remove them altogether if not necessary.
  • Links: The abuse of links is similar to the overuse of images in the emails. An email with tons of links is a signal of promotion. Make sure to tone it down to a logical number like only 1 or zero image.
  • HTML: You will not be possibly receiving an email with the use of HTMLs from a friend, right? HTML use triggers Gmail to think that you’re not a person. You will learn more about this as we go on the best practices below.
  • Authentication: Email authentication helps your message to be accurately classified. The lack of authentication will likely cause the rejection and spam or promotions placement of your emails. We also recommend signing messages with DKIM and publishing an SPF record and a DMARC policy. Learn more about email authentication.

For email bulk senders, you can learn more about these basic factors in Gmail bulk sender guidelines.

And now, here is a list of best practices to increase your probability of landing the exclusive Gmail Primary tab:

Best Practices to Land in the Gmail Primary Tab

1 – Ask recipients to completely place you in the Primary tab

If you really want your emails to land on the Primary tab, why not just ask for it? There is no harm in asking. There are two ways do this: first is for them to add you to their contacts or move your email to the Primary tab.

Adding you to their Contacts

When a website visitor subscribes to your mailing list for your future newsletters, this will not automatically place you to the Primary tab which is why you need to ask an email subscriber to add you to their Gmail Contacts list.

To do this, you can send a newsletter to all your subscribing urging them to include you in their contacts for a higher chance of landing in the primary tab. This is also an almost guaranteed method for your emails not to end up in the spam folder.  You can show this process in your email:adding contacts

Moving or dragging your email to the Primary tab

Did you know that only one email after being moved or dragged to the Gmail Primary tab will make all your future messages always end up on this tab? This is because the recipient has given outright consent for you to do so.

Here is a visual guide to move or drop one of your emails into the Primary folder:


2- Make plain and light emails

Although HTML emails provide an easier way for readers to digest your messages because they can just scan an email through, you will never really expect to receive a visually appealing HTML email from someone you know.

Plus, HTML emails do not really add value to you. In a study conducted, HTML templated emails significantly reduced open rates by 25%. So, why not make things simpler?

Send plain text emails as an alternative. While plain text email may not be as appealing as heavy HTML emails, they appear to be more logical to receive and act as your safeguard to make sure you do not seem too promotional.

The main objective of HTML emails is to provide life to your plain text email such as images, colors, fonts, etc. And, if you can’t avoid spicing up your email, you can opt for a light HTML email instead.

3 – Sound and act like a human

We have told you earlier that content matters if you want your email to land in Gmail Primary tab by sounding like a real human. For the longest time, email works because it is intended to be a personal two-way communication medium. And, in email marketing, making it personal is more engaging.

By sounding like a human, avoid things that most humans do not usually do and include in their images. If you want to b more realistic, do these best tips:

Follow the Traditional Letter Form

Think of writing your email in the traditional letter form. Keep your messages as simple and as organic as possible. Make your readers will that you are talking directly to them. Plus, it makes Gmail think that you are not a marketing ploy ready to be placed on the Promotions tab.

Address the Recipient by Name

What’s more personal than calling the person by name? A simple greeting accompanied by the first name of the recipient sounds more natural. To add the recipients’ names to your emails, you have to gather them via email signups first, and then you may use them by simply adding variables descriptions such as customer names.

Avoid the use of images, links, and price tags altogether

In a conversation email with someone you know, you will not normally see price tags, images, and links all at once. In fact, the number of elements affects the overall email performance of a campaign. For instance, it was found out that increasing the number of images in an email has a negative correlation to the email click rate.

effect of images

Short subject line

You will not also expect a heavily composed subject line from a friend, let alone a full sentence. If you haven’t noticed, most of the people you know care less about the subject line, to be honest. So, avoid sounding all so sales-pitchy and keep it as short as possible.

4 – Email from a real person

If you want your email to appear non-robotic, send it from a real person. Typically, your own Gmail account is the best way to get higher chances to land on the Primary tab. However, it is the hardest thing to employ and practice every single time.

One practice is to set up a mail merge in Gmail for your personalized mass emails. But, this method only sets you to send a maximum of 500 emails per day. The other practice is to utilize the Gmail API, but it only allows you to send emails to 3000 unique recipients per day.

Fortunately, you can send via email gateway services such as Mailbot, Smartrmail,… for a reliable email delivery. The problem is it will not guarantee you to land on the Primary tab every time. To improve email deliverability, they recommend their users to configure their domain’s DNS settings to show ISP and let Gmail grant the permission to send emails to you.

Verifying your domain will also make you appear natural. Normally when you send an email via an email software provider, the default will look like this:

Default (signed by Beeketing.com):




Versus, signed by you:

your setup

Learn more about MailBot

Learn more about Smartrmail

5 – Always test before sending

If you haven’t been testing your emails, then this should be your reminder that email testing is very crucial for a variety of reasons like deliverability, security, quality, and yes, you’ve got it right Gmail inbox placement.

If you really want to know where your email will likely end up to, then sending test emails to see whether your email will land in the Primary or Promotions tab is the key. Do not rely on luck on this matter because the thing is you have all the factors above to consider.

You can do A/B testing to understand which elements affect your Gmail inbox classification. Try isolating some factors like images, links or price tags. The idea is for you to identify which elements to reduce or drop.

Email like a pro

It is important to note that Google changes its Gmail Inbox classification algorithm every time. To keep you ahead of it, you need to understand how it works first and then constantly plan and evaluate your email deliverability. We have provided you with the basic factors above to monitor when executing your email campaigns.

While there is a variety of reasons why an email is classified in the promotions tab, you can use our best practices above to get your next emails land in the coveted Primary tab. It is always a matter of constant planning, prior testing, and thorough evaluation so you can email like a pro every time!

boost email marketingemail marketinggmail primary tabmailbot