How Gmail's Priority Inbox affects your email marketing

Gmail recently released their new Priority Inbox feature, which categorizes incoming emails based on importance. Keep reading to learn how it works and how to keep your marketing messages at the top of inboxes.

For all you Gmail users out there, you may have noticed a big red link at the top of your screen that says “New! Priority Inbox.” While this feature may send chills down the spines of email marketers everywhere, it’s actually a catalyst for better, more effective messaging.

Here’s the basic premise of Priority Inbox: to automatically push “important” messages to the top of a user’s inbox. In a world of email overload, it’s an attempt to help users sort through emails faster and more efficiently.

To determine which messages are important, Gmail takes cues from each user. Here’s how the determination is made, taken directly from Gmail itself:

  • Who sent the email – If someone frequently opens and interacts with mail from a certain sender, Gmail identifies the sender and their messages as relevant.
  • Keywords within the message – Gmail picks up on terms and keywords within messages that are opened and read. For example, if you frequently read emails about cooking, messages that contain words like “recipes” will be deemed as important.
  • User interactions – Gmail also takes into account how the user interacts with different messages. Emails that are replied to, starred, archived and deleted are analyzed to identify patterns for relevancy.
. . Now let’s see where your emails could end up. There are three default categories with Priority Inbox, with options for customization. These categories include:
  • Important & Unread: Messages marked as important by Gmail that haven’t been read yet. (Hint: you want your messages to be in this category.)
  • Starred Messages: Nothing new here – when a user “stars” an email, it will fall in this category.
  • Everything Else: Emails not identified as important so users can scan at their leisure (Another hint: you don’t want your messages here.)

Here’s a quick video to sum everything up:

Okay, so what does this all mean for your email campaigns?

Quite simply, you’ve got to deliver content that people want to read. If your email strategy is to bombard every contact you have with dozens of pointless (dare I say, spammy) messages, you’re going to wind up in the dreaded “Everything Else” pile. Thus, take a very close, objective look at what’s in your messages. Are you providing valuable information and enticing promotions? If you’re not sure, try polling your subscribers to see what they want from you.

Next, list segmentation takes a heightened importance. Separate your lists into current customers and suspects. Then drill down those lists even further, including brand advocates, repeat buyers, etc. By doing this, you can cater your content to boost your open rate and chances to be placed in the “Unread & Important” folder. Another nice thing about segmentation is it can help determine your email frequency – if people want to hear from you, send them more messages. If they’re not as receptive, slow things down a bit.

Finally, subject lines are critical. Subject lines have always been a make or break for your open rate, but now they will help determine if your email is given priority or not. Thus, invest some energy in A/B testing to see which subject lines perform better and get creative.

All in all, Priority Inbox is the latest attempt to keep email a personal space for users. Hotmail and Yahoo! have already released similar features, and AOL is slated to do the same.


While this presents a shift for marketers, it’s also a much needed wake-up call for us to cut the spam and amp the content.

What do you think about this development?

Happy selling!
-Matt Winn, Online Communications Specialist, Volusion