Gmail’s new inbox organization has been the talk of the town. This automatic filtering of incoming mail into five new tabs (Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums) leaves most guessing as to what the impact on their businesses’ email will be… and more specifically, which tab will they end up in?

This new tabbed inbox is designed to help users classify mail appropriately so they can easily find what they’re looking for. Now, you won’t have to search through shipping confirmations and order receipts to find that email from your Mom (that you may or may not have forgotten to read!) and you won’t miss that LinkedIn invitation from your new colleague because it was hidden in a sea of marketing newsletters. With Gmail’s new tab layout all of these emails (with a little direction from you) can be properly organized for easy searching.

First, let’s review which tab is intended for which email. Gmail users can configure which of the following tabs are used:

  • Primary folder = direct contacts (i.e.: personal email and replies)
  • Social folder = correspondence from social media sites
  • Promotions folder = email customers subscribe to (most likely emails sent from businesses i.e. deals, offers, and other marketing emails)
  • Updates = transactional email (like confirmations, receipts, bills and statements)
  • Forums = discussions via mailing lists (like message boards, mailing lists, forums, and blogs)

Why should you care?

Lots of your customers use Gmail! At SendGrid, Gmail accounts for approximately 30% of our total email volume. Furthermore, this change will impact recipients who interact with their email both through Gmail’s web interface and through the Gmail app for iPhone or Android.

Until we can measure the full impact of this change, we want to update you with some information, insights, and tips that we’ve found that will help you navigate these uncharted waters so you can better anticipate how Gmail will classify your content.

Web Interface

Gmail’s “Primary” tab is shown by default when users log in. The impact of having messages delivered to the Promotions tab is still up in the air, but preliminary research has shown an approximate 2% decrease in the open rate of emails within the Promotions tab.

New Inbox Interface

*Notice the new unread message in the Promotions folder.

The new inbox is defaulted to showing the Primary, Social, and Promotions tabs, but users also have the ability to enable the Updates and Forums folders:

Mobile App

On the mobile app, email that is delivered to the Primary tab will notify the recipient with an alert, but emails that are delivered to the other tabs will not notify recipients. Instead, they are grouped in the inbox as a “Categorized Message.”

New Primary Message Notification:





Notice the “New categorized mail.” Unread messages delivered to the Promotions tab are not included in this preview, and unread Social messages are only displayed until they are visible to recipients, not necessarily opened or read.

Achieving Delivery to the Primary Inbox

So how can you help ensure that your email makes it to a recipient’s primary inbox? While there’s no secret sauce, I did play around a bit and found some helpful insights.

When I first tested SendGrid’s transactional messages, they were all going to the Promotions folder. So, I tested a number of different configurations on my account and also moved my account to different IP groups. What did I find?

  • Open and click tracking: Open and click tracking didn’t affect which tab the message was delivered to, and neither did the IP.
  • Subscription tracking: I was able to get delivery to the Primary tab from SendGrid by disabling the Subscription tracking. (Subscription tracking is implemented through SendGrid’s Subscription Tracking App which automatically inserts an unsubscribe link and an X-List-Unsubscribe header.) I manually added an unsubscribe link to the message and delivery to the Primary tab was maintained.
  • Content: To test content, I took some content from a marketing message I received and sent it through SendGrid without a list-unsubscribe header; this resulted in the message being delivered to the Promotions tab. Because of this, I believe that both the list-unsubscribe header added by subscription tracking and content are used by Gmail to determine which tab to deliver the message to. The message also had a tracking image used by a third party email marketing service, meaning that domains could also be used, however after several tests I wasn’t clear if domains were used to determine tab placement.

But not to fear, recipients can still be in control of their inbox by overriding Gmail’s default settings.

How to Change Your Settings

To change which emails are appearing in which tab, a recipient just has to drag the message to whatever tab they prefer…

and Gmail will ask if they want to remember that setting.


Insider Tip: We recommend sending an email to your subscribers that explains these new inbox changes. Simply asking them to take a few seconds to “drag and drop” your email into the Primary tab can help your email program maintain consistent metrics. This email to your base can also act as a great re-confirmation opportunity to ensure you are sending wanted email to the right people.

Key Takeaways

  • Content plays a part: test your messages prior to using new content
  • Your headers matter: the unsubscribe header affects which tab your message is delivered to
  • Ask for recipient involvement: You can send out a re-confirmation email asking recipients to add you to their Primary tab to help ensure delivery
  • Web and mobile are affected: Be sure to optimize and test your emails for both users
  • The inbox is still adapting: Some messages may be misclassified in Gmail’s new inbox. Google’s system learns and adapts as users reclassify their mail, so Google’s classification accuracy will improve over time.

Because Gmail learns (from customer use) which emails recipients do or don’t want and adjusts accordingly, this places even more importance on sending wanted and valuable email. We will continue to monitor these email stats and let you know what new information we find. But in the meantime, check out our additional best practices posts that will help you ensure that you’re sending quality email.

Have any new information or questions on the new Gmail layout? Let us know in the comments below!

Brian is SendGrid's Product Manager. He has over a decade of experience in SW Development, Productions/Ops, and Product Management.