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 interface and the end of life for 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

The best thing to like about the new interface is the accuracy with which Gmail sorts messages. Marketing messages go to Promotions, social invitations go to the Social tab, and order confirmations go to the Updates tab. This is great for users who are now being trained where to go to find the message they are looking for.

De-cluttering is good for you

If we're honest with ourselves, most of us could use a little simplification in our lives. As Gmail gains in popularity, the inbox was becoming a big cluttered mess for a lot of us. Messages were being relegated to the second page, pushed there by notifications, group digest messages, and promotions. Finding anything was becoming a challenge for even the most seasoned Gmail user. The new interface has taken some of the pressure off that central repository.

Reading with a purpose

When we take a look at the new tabs and how they drive behavior, a visitor to a particular tab knows exactly why they are making that journey. That's great for all of the tabs and for increasing the all-important engagement metrics once the reader is there. And once they have opened up a tab, customers and prospects will have an increased propensity to take a peek at other promotions while there. And that's a great thing for marketers.

Bring the marketing back to email marketing

These changes mean that marketers can spend more time working on building individual customer relationships and less time worrying about placement and the technical issues that affect email deliverability.

When designing messages, don't forget the importance of your subject line, above-the-fold content, and calls to action. Those factors are once again very important in the new level playing field at Gmail.

The recent changes at Gmail are nothing to worry about. The continued progress made by our favorite email providers is helping to push us down the path of relevancy and improved relationships with our customers.

Embrace this opportunity and concentrate on the message, not the placement, and your customers will find you. Gmail's new inbox is making that easier than it's ever been.

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Email Marketers, Start Thanking Google for the New Gmail Interface

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image of Kevin Senne

Kevin Senne is senior director of deliverability and  messaging compliance at Responsys.

Twitter: @kevinsenne

LinkedIn: Kevin Senne