In recent weeks, email marketers have been criticizing Gmail for its new interface. Some are saying that it's delivering a "spammy" experience for users, while others are sounding the alert that Gmail open rates have already started to decline.
Yes, it is the annual rite of over-reaction to changes made by one of the major email providers.
I actually think Gmail's new interface is a great thing for the email marketing industry. But before I delve into why, let's take a quick look back at some of the recent changes that have rocked the email world.
Hotmail introduced its "sweeping" changes by adding the Sweep button. Microsoft followed that up with the introduction of the Outlook.com interface and the end of life for Hotmail.com. AOL has made more than a few changes to the way you interact with email. And let's don't forget Gmail's most recent spam killer, the 2012 introduction of the Priority Inbox.
In the most recent Gmail interface changes, Gmail has implemented a tabbed system to the Inbox. Upon activation, five tabs—Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums—are now available:
- The Primary tab contains mostly one-off email from friends, family, and individuals.
- The Social tab has all of your social network notifications.
- The Promotions tab is where most of your marketing messages will show up.
- The Updates tab is made up of confirmations, shipping notifications, and other transactional-type messages.
- The Forums tab is where you will see list and group email.
Gmail open rates are some of the most volatile in the industry, typically swinging up and down more than 1% in a single month. February 2012 was an especially significant month for Gmail, as filter changes caused Responsys customers to experience a 4% drop in open rates. So you might expect that the new setup would cause similar changes. However, we've recorded almost no change in Gmail open rates among our customers—only a 0.2% change in July.
Let's examine the reasons why that's so.
Google is smart