dog using computer.jpgGoogle loves to tweak Gmail — and complicate life for marketers. First it introduced that love-to-hate-it tabbed interface and then it opened images by default.

Marketers, who have long been able to track email opens using images, lost a key tracking mechanism. And at least some studies suggest the tabbed inboxes are negatively impacting the ways consumers engage with brands in their Gmail inboxes.

So what's a marketer to do? More than you might think, it seems.

Avoiding the Dreaded 'Promotions' Tab

Rather than a single inbox for all incoming mail, Gmail’s inbox automatically funnels incoming emails into five categories: primary, social, promotional, updates and forums.

The “primary” tab is primarily for messages from individual people.  The other tabs are for things like social network messages, transactional items like order updates and promotional messages — sales, offers, product releases. 

If email marketing was a game, the goal would be to keep the messages you send from landing in the promotions tab. "It can get lost in there," said Geoff McQueen, CEO of AffinityLive, a creator of business automation software. 

Epsilon, a marketing services firm, noted a similar finding in an in-depth study of Gmail tabs it released in December. Based on analysis of seven months of aggregated email data, the study concluded the tabbed inbox is causing a significant decline in click rates. The study accounted for seasonal differences in email engagement and also contrasted the Gmail data with email performance at Yahoo and Microsoft.

Where Did it Go?

While optimists argue that consumers are proactively visiting the promotions tab, and that the tabs system works as an organizational tool that allows certain messages to stand out from the rest, the reality isn't so clear. You don't have to look far to find someone with a horror story of an important email that went unnoticed because it landed in the "wrong" tab.

McQueen noticed the same thing, and decided to do a little research. What he found was that the cost of a marketing email landing in the promotions tab is actually much higher than many have reported.

"But marketers can help prevent their messages from being classified as a promotion simply by taking the word 'unsubscribe' out of the email," he told CMSWire.