This summer, when Google introduced Gmail Tabs—a feature that automatically filters incoming messages into separate areas (tabs)—many marketers worried that their emails would stop reaching users' primary tab and wind up in a secondary tab, where they would be ignored.

It turns out they were half-right: A recent analysis by Return Path found that 90% of commercial emails now wind up in the Promotions tab, and only 0.3% go to the main tab.

However, contrary to some expectations, the study found that Gmail users are actively searching for marketing messages in the Promotions tab and reading them at almost the same rates as before the feature was introduced.

For some industry sectors, slight declines occurred in key email marketing metrics since the introduction of Tabs, but some large sectors maintained their performance levels, and a few even recorded higher read rates.

Below, additional key findings from the report, which was based on data from 3 million people who agreed to anonymously share their inbox experiences.

Fewer Commercial Emails Going to the Spam Folder

  • In the analysis, 93% of commercial messages that should have been filtered to the Promotions tab made it safely and avoided the Gmail Spam folder.
  • In contrast, only 77% of emails made it through to users' primary tabs.
  • In addition, complaint rates—consumers’ "This Is Spam" reports—for mail in the Promotions tab were less than half of those in the Primary tab.

Tab Configuration

  • Most users (61%) have left their default Tabs configuration in place and continue to sort mail into Promotions, Social, and Updates (mostly transactional messages) tabs.
  • Of those who have modified their default configurations, 77% opted to keep the Social tab, 46% kept the Promotions tab, and 46% kept the Updates tab. Virtually none (0.25%) removed all but their Primary tab.
  • The most used tabs are the Social tab (91% of users), Promotions (79%), and Updates (79%). Only 6% of people use the Forums tab.

About the research: The report was based on data from Return Path's panel of email users—approximately 3 million people who agree to anonymously share their inbox experience. The study included 400,000 distinct Gmail inbox configurations from users whose email engagement scores fell between the 5th and 95th percentiles during October 2013, eliminating the least and most active accounts from the analysis.

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How Gmail's Tab Feature Has Changed Email Metrics and User Behavior

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image of Ayaz Nanji

Ayaz Nanji is a writer, editor, and a content strategist. He is a co-founder of ICW Media and a research writer for MarketingProfs. He has worked for Google/YouTube, the Travel Channel, and the New York Times.

LinkedIn: Ayaz Nanji

Twitter: @ayaznanji