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The Impact of Gmail Tabs on Email Behavior

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Gmail users have steadily moved away from using the email provider's Tabs feature to sort their emails over the past few years, according to recent research from Return Path.

The report was based on data from a survey conducted in December 2016 of 1,628 Gmail users as well as an analysis conducted using Return Path's Inbox Monitor tool of 6 billion messages sent to Gmail users in October 2016.

The researchers examined how consumers are using Tabs, a Gmail feature introduced in 2013 that automatically sorts email messages into categories, such as Social, Updates, and Promotions.

Some 34% of Gmail users now use Tabs, down from nearly 100% when Return Path first examined behavior in 2013.


Some 68% of Gmail users who use Tabs have the Social tab enabled, and 60% have the Promotions tab enabled.

Less than half (45%) of consumers who use the Promotions tab say they check it at least once a day; 20% say they never check their Promotions tab.

Two-thirds (68%) of messages sent to Gmail users end up sorted as Promotions; 22% are classified as Updates.

Messages that are categorized as Social have the highest placement rate (i.e., they make it safely to the inbox without getting lost or sorted as spam); Updates messages have the highest read rate.

Only 56% of messages that are not classified end up in inboxes.

The categorization of email messages varies widely by industry. For example, most emails sent by retailers end up in the Promotions tab, whereas most emails sent by banking/finance firms end up in the Updates tab.

About the research: The report was based on data from a survey conducted in December 2016 of 1,628 Gmail users as well as an analysis conducted using Return Path's Inbox Monitor tool of 6 billion messages sent to Gmail users in October 2016.


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Ayaz Nanji is an independent digital strategist and a co-founder of ICW Content, a marketing agency specializing in content creation for brands and businesses. He is also a research writer for MarketingProfs. He has worked for Google/YouTube, the Travel Channel, AOL, and the New York Times.

LinkedIn: Ayaz Nanji

Twitter: @ayaznanji

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  • by Web Mon Feb 27, 2017 via web

    It's also worth noting that the 'tabs' feature of gmail doesn't translate to a mobile device, where I would wager most people are checking their email these days.

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