Gmail Introduces the Priority Inbox

On this blog and others, traditional “batch-and-blast” (PS don’t ever use that word unless you’re mocking it) email marketers have been hearing for a while now that relevance plays an important role in your email deliverability.

As far back as 2007, we noted that “spam” was about email subscribers don’t want or value. Not just email that they didn’t request (although that’s still spam, too).

As I noted in that post, “If you’re not providing value to subscribers, their actions with your messages will reflect that. ISPs track what’s done with your messages, and can choose to filter you out if they find you’re not ‘what the consumer wants.'”

This week, Gmail announced a new feature that makes this a reality.

Introducing The Priority Inbox

To manage our overflowing inboxes, a lot of people already sort email into groups of emails to read and respond to now, later or never. (Your own groups’ names may vary, or you may not even have a specific system like that… but I’d bet you read emails from certain people more often and/or more quickly.)

Gmail’s Priority Inbox attempts to simplify and automate this process for email users by figuring out which senders’ emails are important, based on how (or whether) you interact with those emails and senders.

Here’s how they explain it:

Priority Inbox is a beta feature that will be rolling out to users soon (I haven’t gotten it yet, but am eager to get my hands on it and see it in action).

What Are People Saying About It?

Here are a few of the articles I’ve read about it:

I especially recommend you read the last one of those.

“So Do My Marketing Emails All Go Into The “Everything Else” Pile Now?”

Not necessarily, but consider the examples in the Gmail video… note whose email is getting prioritized (email from contacts, friends, people you email back and forth with regularly) and whose is not (the “Special Offer” email).

It’s early to make predictions about what all of this means – or if it will even stick around as a feature. You never know, Gmail users might end up not liking it (although I tend to doubt that’ll be the case).

That said, it’s clear that whatever the future of the Priority Inbox holds, ISPs are continuing to move toward creating systems that reward email that people want at the expense of email people don’t want. (Gmail isn’t the first to try this – the same sort of thing is happening at Yahoo! and Windows Live Hotmail.)

What this should tell you is that you need to take a long, hard look at whether your emails are something your subscribers really want. Because if they aren’t, you’re going to find it harder over time to continue getting them opened and clicked.

It’s Not All Gloom And Doom

In fact, this is excellent news if you’re creating and delivering email marketing campaigns that people want.

So the question is, how do you create emails people actually want?

Engage your subscribers in conversation via your emails. Invite feedback. Ask them questions. Increase the value that you deliver in your emails.

Start identifying groups of subscribers within your list who have similar interests. Start segmenting your list and creating more relevant emails.

Here’s a list of posts we’ve written on email segmentation. (If it seems like we talk a lot about segmentation on this blog, well… this is why.)


  1. Okoji

    9/2/2010 7:20 am

    I am currently using it in my gmail.

    I love it so much and it is working for me.

    Thanks to Google.

  2. Chase Kramer

    9/2/2010 8:53 am

    According to that video, someone replying to your message is a BIG determining factor when it comes to whether or not Gmail is likely to prioritize your messages.

    Accordingly, it may be VERY beneficial to send a Broadcast to your list with the soul purpose of encouraging them to write back to you and give you some type of feedback. This will accomplish two things:

    1) You’ll get feedback! This is something that’s been touched on many times on this blog. Encouraging a bidirectional email relationship with your subscribers will make them feel more invested in your communications and will typically yield a much more responsive subscriber base.

    2) Gmail will take note of the fact that their users replied to your message. This has a good chance of leading to increased deliverability and exposure as they begin to "trust" and prioritize messages coming from you.

    As an alternative to (or in addition to) doing this through a one-off Broadcast message, you may consider adding a blurb in all of your messages on an ongoing basis encouraging people to reply with any feedback.

  3. Chris Lang

    9/2/2010 10:12 am

    So far we see this as something very good for us here in my business.

    You see, your Google social network following is built on your Gmail contacts. When you follow someone on Google Buzz or Google Reader they are added by name only to your Gmail contacts.

    It’s up to you to continue and further that relationship by adding their email address and phone number if you deepen that relationship.

    So, by using Google’s social networking features you are building that relationship Google is speaking of and a two way relationship. Not to mention forging a closer personal relationship that get’s your emails opened.

    How does this benefit you? Your emails to Gmail will go to the priority side of Gmail if you have this social relationship. Or so we believe and have for quite some time now…

    So come join us on Google Buzz and I guarantee you your Gmail open rate will go up, ours has for quite some time and Gmail performs best for us!

    Oh, and my site link above is my Google Buzz feed so we are easy to find.

  4. Carl

    9/3/2010 8:13 pm

    Hi Jason, yep! I saw it too. Using it now. I love it.

    What it means for us is we’re going to have to email content that’s even more relevant if we don’t want to end up in the not-so-important-so-I’ll-never-read-it pile.

  5. Zizo

    9/4/2010 5:32 pm

    As an alternative to (or in addition to) doing this through a one-off Broadcast message, you may consider adding a blurb in all of your messages on an ongoing basis encouraging people to reply with any feedback.

  6. Angela Wills

    9/5/2010 12:47 pm

    Great thought provoking post!

    I actually got access to the Priority Inbox (didn’t realize it was limited still) and am trying it out. I was looking at it purely from the user point of view and it didn’t occur to me to look at it from an email marketer perspective until reading your post.

    From a user perspective I actually am not digging it that much. Maybe because I’m one of the few people who has a really clean inbox to start with. I ALWAYS sort my emails as they come in by doing this:
    – delete any I won’t read
    – unsubscribe from lists I no longer want
    – star any I need to get back to
    – file any I am done with and want to save
    – read any sorted into folders that I want to get to
    – respond to any that I can immediately and quicly clear out

    My inbox is usually less than 30 emails and once in a while I manage to get it empty! (but that’s rare)

    Anyway, I went a bit off track there but your post really has got me thinking about how my emails can be made a priority in the minds of my own subscribers.

    I also have a question – I very rarely get emails reported as ‘spam’ but on occasion I do – is there any way to remove the person who reports it as spam? I would rather take someone off my list if they consider my stuff spam than have them in there able to report again and again.

    Again, it is a case of someone getting a promotional email they don’t like versus 800 people who are happy to find out what my business has to offer them. I personally just want someone off my list who doesn’t understand what they signed up for but I can’t see any way to figure out WHO reported the spam email in my account – is there a way?

    Sorry for the long winded comment! Thanks for the great blog here at Aweber 🙂

  7. Justin Premick

    9/7/2010 9:08 am

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts on this!


    I tend to agree that Priority Inbox is a good thing for (good) email marketers. I can’t speak much to Buzz as I don’t use it much.

    Chase & Zizo,

    That’s a solid idea – we ask for feedback in that way in a few of our own campaigns, and we regularly recommend that email marketers strive to take advantage of the two-way nature of the medium.


    I use Gmail about the same as you do – matter of fact, almost nothing stays in my inbox for more than a day before it’s starred, archived or deleted.

    But based on conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues who use Gmail, the way you and I use it appears to be abnormal. So perhaps Priority Inbox will be more helpful to other users.

    Re: subscribers who lodge spam complaints – we automatically unsubscribe them. No need for you to do anything to get them removed.

  8. Angela Wills

    9/8/2010 10:41 pm

    Thanks for the reply Justin! Yes it seems it’s not uncommon for people to have hundreds of emails in their inbox – personally I just wouldn’t be able to stand that.

    Also good news about unsubscribing the spam complaints, I didn’t know that.


  9. Anna

    9/14/2010 6:21 pm

    ‘Congratulations! You’ve read all the important messages in your inbox’ is sooooo iritating, don’t you think?

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