How to Get Your Emails Seen in Gmail

If you’re on my newsletter list, you may have noticed that the format has changed this week. The change is a big one — we have stripped away the images, dropped down to fewer links and pared down the text to be as plain as possible, without going to a completely “plain text only” email.


This change may seem counter-intuitive to some. When it comes to marketing, we’re often told that we need to stay on-brand and use company graphics wherever possible to create a cohesive look for all of our communication pieces. However, thanks to recent changes, e-mail is a bit different.

If you use Gmail, you’ve undoubtedly seen the three tabs that exist in the interface. If you haven’t, here’s what they look like:

Gmail Tabs - Primary, Social, Promotions

The “Primary” tab is where all of your non-promotional, non-social e-mails go. The “Social” tab is mostly used for social networking updates, and the “Promotions” tab is anything that appears promotional or spammy in nature.

When you incorporate a lot of images, links, and HTML into your e-mail newsletters, Gmail will almost always flag those as promotional and move them to the “Promotions” tab. This is a major issue because not everyone flips over to read the e-mails that funnel into that area. Even if they do click over to that tab, they are more likely to delete everything in there rather than give individual e-mails the attention they deserve.

My team and I recently discovered, and thoroughly enjoyed, a guest post that appeared on Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income blog. The eye-opening blog post features tips to help you land your e-mails into your reader’s inbox every time. Needless to say, we wanted to try it out for ourselves.

Here are a few of the takeaways that we used when changing our newsletter this week:

1) Reduce Your Links

When most people put together their e-mail newsletters, there is a natural tendency to point people in multiple directions. Since it is often our regular touch point with clients, we don’t want to miss sharing our upcoming event, most recent blog post or new info-product.

The challenge, when you include more than just one link, is that Gmail instantly flags it as being promotional and moves it over to the third (and less seen) tab. To avoid reducing your open and read rates, you need to reduce the number of links contained within the e-mail.

Instead of putting everything into your newsletter, use one link and point people to a blog post. That post can contain your featured article and, at the bottom of the post, a call-to-action. This will allow you to still direct the flow of traffic to exactly what you want to promote without hitting that “Promotions” tab in Gmail.

2) Ditch the Images

Another one of the criteria that Gmail looks at, to determine if something is promotional or not, is image use. The more images you have, the more likely it is that Gmail will bypass the “Primary” tab altogether.

Pair your newsletter down to just text to improve read rates. You can do this using HTML-based text (If you switch to plain-text you will not be able to track open or click through rates). Use any images that you wish to share in your blog post instead.

3) Use Merge Tags

Merge tags are code snippets that are used inside of an e-mail marketing platform to auto-generate data. The most common use is when you want to populate someone’s first name in the intro of your newsletter.

Be sure to use the merge tags in your newsletter every time you send an e-mail out. This prompts Gmail to view the e-mail as being more personal and will help your mailing to stay in that “Primary” tab.

Want Even More Tips to Increase Readership?

I would highly recommend that you read the full article as it contains further guidelines for ensuring the delivery of your e-mails. The author also explains what the old advice is, when it comes to e-mail marketing, and why it doesn’t work as effectively.

Change often comes with some resistance. Part of what we enjoy doing in our company is experimenting with new ideas so we can let you, our readers, know how it works. In a few weeks, we’ll let you know what the response has been to the new format and if it has improved our read / open rates.

What do you think of our new format? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below and if you have any questions for me about the change, I would love to hear those, too!



6 thoughts on “How to Get Your Emails Seen in Gmail”

  1. Heather Chernofsky

    Excellent advice. I have noticed a few of the emails I received from others have changed their formats also. Definitely something I will keep in mind when producing newsletters for clients.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    I am preparing my first newsletter from my brand new website to come out in the next 24 hours! I have sent it to my gmail account and my husband’s hotmail acct to see where it would turn up. It ended up in my husband’s junk mail and in my gmails spam acct….an acct i didn’t even know existed! How do I get it out of there? I was hoping for the promotional folder…but didn’t even make it there! haha. there are no photos and only text with a link to my newest blog. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you ,

  3. This was very helpful Lisa. I’ve heard on occasion from some readers that my newsletter was in their Promotions tab and wasn’t quite sure what would be the reason some experienced it and some didn’t but I know now there are a couple of factors: email client, links, graphics and merge tags. Got it!

  4. Hi Lisa,

    This is a great article, thanks for sharing. We’ve noticed of late that we’re achieving greater engagement from emails with reduced imagery to the point of it being nearly plain text emails.

    A/B testing is such a great way to truly understand what your readers prefer to engage with. It’s better to engage with your readers from true analysis and deliver on your learnings than going with what’s ‘supposedly’ the latest and greatest. Test and roll…..Test and roll!

    Thanks again Lisa!


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