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Why You Shouldn’t Be So Quick to Disable the New Gmail Tabs

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Not lovin’ the new Gmail tab array? You’re definitely not alone. But, before you dismiss Gmail’s new features and quickly put your Inbox back to the previous default setting, you may want to give it a chance.

I know a lot of people aren’t so happy with the change. This includes some really big names, like Derek Halperin and Kristi Hines. So, the Internet has been abuzz lately with some pretty sharp posts and emails urging people to switch back to the old system. (If somehow you missed the memos on how to do this, there’s a great rundown with screenshots, at the two links included above, or just head over to Lifehacker.)

There are a lot of valid reasons why people are upset. Namely:

  • People don’t like being told how to organize their Inbox. With the new setup out of the box, Gmail takes over the sifting an sorting of emails into the various pre-set tabs. The truth is, with a little work, you can add a lot of customization. More on this below.
  • Email marketing has just gotten a lot harder. Those who rely on their subscriber lists for income from affiliate offers and other calls-to-action are going to have a harder time getting their email blasts in front of readers- especially in the near future as users adjust to the new setup.
  • Google may start using the system for paid promotional emails. It seems Google may start using the promotions tab to send some promotions of its own. Many people find this intrusive, especially since they only way to stop receiving these emails is to either disable the tab or revert back to the old setup.

A Brief Reality Check…

Before I go on, let me just set the record straight for a moment: I’m not the biggest fan of Google. As they steamroll ahead in their efforts to coordinate the creation, analysis, and flow of data and make every effort to infiltrate our lives with it, they are making it very hard for honest individuals to get their content in front of the right people. On the other hand, big corporations and black hatters are making out quite well. (Big corps because they simply have the resources to do so; and black hatters because many of them are still managing to stay several steps ahead of the Google steamroller). This is an undeniable fact.

That said, there is a reality that we all have to deal with here. You can complain about the Big G all you want, but the truth is Google is holding in a place where no other company can really stand. It’s got a very real monopoly, and it got there partly because the majority of their core products are incredibly useful, intuitive, and… free. This is also an undeniable fact.

Given this, at the same time we should acknowledge that there seems to be a method to the madness…

The backlash of Information Overload

The brouhaha over Gmail tabs instantly reminds me of the outrage over Facebook’s Edgerank update. Again, it’s a similar idea: Facebook is now going to decide which content you see in your stream. Some of the strongest voices of opposition were among those who businesses that had relied on Facebook to get their marketing messages in front of their targeted audience for free- some of these businesses are the groups most dear to me: small business owners and self-employed professionals. Now, they have to pay for the privilege of being seen… or get some real interaction with their followers and have it show up organically.

But, anyone who looks into the matter objectively will see that this is not really about some Facebook or Google Big Brotherism. We are swimming in way too much information, media, and calls-to-action that are really calls to part with our increasingly less available time and attention. We have extended social networks full of people, businesses, and causes, that we really don’t know so well nor interact with on a regular basis. We are being expected to keep up with this rapid pace of information creation, dispersment, and analysis. Today, we hear don’t just be everywhere, produce something epic, and then produce it again. This comes as the platforms and the technology that supports them keep changing at lightening speed…

Something… needs… to… give…

I personally get about 75 to a 100 emails a day and have been using labels and filters to organize it all. Now, I can create filters that will send emails to the specific tabs. Though it takes a little work setting things up, in the end I think the new system is much easier to navigate and it allows me to see at a glance where my Inbox is holding. Sweet!

In case you’re wondering, here’s a quick rundown of:

How to Set Up Filters For Tabs and Folders in Gmail

How to Set Filters in GmaIl Step 1: In the Settings section of Gmail, go to the “Filters” tab
and click on “Create a new Filter.”


Adding Filters to Gmail Step 2: A window will pop open. Fill out any information that you
want sort for.The more defined the filter, the better the accuracy.
Click “Create Filter with This Search.”


How to send filtered emails to tabs in Gmail Step 3: Go to the “Choose Category” button on the bottom of the new pop-up. Here you can let Gmail know to which tabs filtered email should be sent. Choose any other options you want, then press the “Create Filter” button. You’re all set 🙂

I personally would like to have the ability to create my own tabs. It just makes much more sense. Also, I (like a lot of people) tend to leave Gmail open in its own tab while I work on other things. Right now, you only see alerts from the active Inbox, not the other tabs. We should be able to customize how email alerts are shown in the browser tab on top.

Bottom line: It’s not a perfect product, by far. But I imagine the Google will change some things; it’s often their pattern.

Nevertheless, simply having a system- even if it’s an imperfect one- just makes the process easier to manage. I know that many self-employed professionals who are maintaining a website and are active with social media are getting swamped with emails as well. What these tabs do is help to organize it all in an easy-to-navigate, visual way.

Another outcome of the change is that it’s forcing email marketers to seriously rethink their strategies. Trying to just convince subscribers to change their Inboxes probably won’t help in the grand scheme of things, and the biggest names online know that.

No. We need to change the way we approach the people behind all those emails we’ve captured. If you’ve built a real relationship with your subscribers, then they’ll look for your emails. You can also alert them in the opt-in process to look in their promotions tab, like many people do for the spam folder, and offer a quick explanation on how to move these emails to the primary Inbox. The real problem is that many people and businesses use subscriber lists to blast affiliate offers and they leave the relationship part out. This is going to have to end if you want to make any money from your list.

But, even though this may require more work on your part, know that this is a very good thing. In the midst of all the complexity and noise, online marketing is actually getting much more real… and simple.

In closing, my goal with this post wasn’t really to convince you to switch back to the tabbed Inbox if you’ve already changed it to the original setup. But, I did want to let you know about the possibilities such a setup may present. You should also keep in mind, that Google has a history of breaking-in new products and setups at the beginning, letting users adjust to the changes or even avoid them, and then after a few months, all users are required to upgrade. This will likely happen with Gmail. That said, if you are on the fence about it, I personally recommend you make the upgrade as soon as you can or stop using Gmail directly.

Comments (6)

  • Hi Susan,
    Of course, the new tabs are not popular with most marketers. And on the face of it, you can understand why. Thanks for taking another look at what, for all intents and purposes, is the new normal.

    • Hi Heather,

      Yes, I definitely think this is going to be the new normal, and although it may be a blow to marketers, it’s one that will force them to re-evaluate and strengthen their campaigns.

  • Hi Susan,

    I actually laughed at the number of emails that landed in my gmail account telling me how to change the tabs. After the 5th one I deleted them as they all said the same thing. I like your article and what many marketers do not realise is that some do not mind Google doing this. I think what freaked some out was they are under the promotions tab. What they perhaps should have done is track what happens with their emails and see if it had any affect on their open rates, clicks etc. If it did then they could take action versus looking like they have panicked and not give their subscribers credit to sort out what they want to view in their account.

    • Yes, the same thing happened to me, and it’s what prompted me to write this post. What I find so interesting is that the people who were sending these Anti Gmail Tab emails were some really big name bloggers.

      As far as a decrease in open rates and clickthroughs… On one hand, I know that some smaller bloggers are seeing a decline in email engagement. But, things may change as Gmail users adjust to the new set-up. On the other hand, I personally am managing to catch all the emails from blogs I’ve subscribed to. They are important to me, and I think that really is the answer. If bloggers/businesses build a real relationship with their subscribers and offer value in their emails, they don’t have to worry about these changes.

  • Susan: I am personally happy for the new tab system. I am developing my own personalized kanban workflow approach called F.I.X IT! and the the new Gmail will help my worklife in a great way. I have used a service called Unroll.me in order to get some relief from all the newsletters and mailing list notifications I get on a daily basis. I like your statement: “The backlash of Information Overload.” It is all needed at this point in time. The marketers have to work smarter and not only push out material in the traditional way.

    • Hi Martin,

      Very true… I actually want to highlight an idea that you seem to be doing yourself: to be successful in marketing in the age of the social web you not only need to know how to get your message in front of the right people in a way that they can receive it and act on it, you also need to know how to filter and focus all the messages and information coming your way. It’s a two-way street. Marketers definitely have to work smarter, and they also have to understand how to use their resources to enter the conversation in the best way they can- whether they are on the sending end of that conversation or on the receiving end.


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