How Gmail’s New Look Affects Photographers

How Gmail’s New Look Affects Photographers

We’ve long advocated the use of email marketing for photographers, as it remains one of the tried-and-true ways of engaging an audience. That means changes to the way people receive email will undoubtedly affect your email marketing. Google did just that with their newest interface changes released for Gmail on May 29, 2013.

If you’re a Gmail user, then it’s likely you’re one of the 425+ million users whose inbox has changed on you. Here’s what classic Gmail looks/looked like:


And here’s what it looks like now:



The most notable difference of course are the tabs dividing your incoming emails into Primary, Social, Promotions, and Updates.


Google bills the change as, “New customizable tabs [that] put you back in control so that you can see what’s new at a glance and decide which emails you want to read and when.”

Note the last part of that sentence – so you can “decide which emails you want to read and when.”

And therein lies the problem, from a marketing standpoint anyway.

Sure, we love the mindset of “controlling our inbox, not letting it control us.” We also like the idea of getting more organized and determining what emails need to be read first. What business owner doesn’t have an unreasonable number of emails to sift through on any given day?

But as a marketer – and all photography business owners should consider themselves marketers – this is potentially problematic. If you’re using a service like MailChimp (or any other email service provider) to send out newsletters and promotions to your audience, it’s likely getting pushed to the Promotions tab. The fear is that people will only look at their Primary inbox, and never check out what’s been automatically filtered by Google’s algorithm into the other tabs. (Note that this algorithm is based on content, such as the unsubscribe links and HTML formatting.)

More than a fair share of companies have taken to what some are calling begging , by sending out informational emails with the sole purpose of asking you to move their promotional emails to your Primary tab. There’s always the same set of visual instructions, so you’re sure to get your daily inspiration from Gap/Gilt/Delta/etc. So far, this seems like the most effective way to get your content from the Promotions to Primary tab – i.e. there’s no proven way to “trick” Google into not labeling your emails as promotions.


Should you worry about your email open rates? MailChimp reported a slight decrease across their user base initially after Google launched the change in late May, but marketers across the board say not to panic. “Given the freedom to ignore classes of e-mail, most Gmail users are choosing to seek out and read the marketing messages that interest them,” notes Return Path in its report on Gmail tabs and email marketing.

In short, if you’re creating engaging emails that interest your readers, they will  find and read your emails. In fact, those people are more likely to devote time specifically to reading their favorite “promotions”. Those who were already less engaged will continue to ignore your emails (sorry!). You want to focus on the engaged group who are more likely to seek out your services and images, anyway, so now is as good a time as ever to figure out what keeps them reading – and turning into clients.

So take note of how your email open rates have changed over the last few months, then focus on the time ahead. What is this new, highly engaged group interested in? That’s the kind of stuff you want to be promoting.

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There are 9 comments for this article
  1. Femme Ménage at 10:22 am

    Thanks for sharing Lauren. I love this new Tab function. Gap & Facebook must be angry… I begin to receive e-mails where they explain how to put their e-mails back into the main Tab!

  2. Pete Marovich at 12:17 pm

    Do business people really use the web based version of gmail? I always use Apple mail and I am unaffected by this. Don’t most people use some sort of application based email client?

    Just wondering.

  3. Lincoln Barbour at 12:24 pm

    Good article and some great points to be aware of. I don’t think it will have much affect on editorial and commercial target markets. I doubt big magazines and ad agencies are using Gmail for their email service. At least not for now… 🙂 Seems to be more of an issue for retail photographers (i.e. wedding, senior portrait, etc.)

    • Lauren Margolis at 12:42 pm

      @ Pete & Lincoln – I definitely agree, likely most commercial/editorial clients use an email client like Outlook, so if that your target audience then you email performance might not be affected.

  4. Jaak Nilson at 2:12 pm

    Gmail is very popular in some European countries like in Estonia. Gmail is very convininet.
    I am a pro photographer and I use it for long time already as my private and official email simultaneously.
    Outlook is total crap. Every time installing Windows you must save before all emails and info. With Gmail there is no needs for it.

  5. Daniel Cormier at 4:24 pm

    I’ve got to say, when I run into emails that suggest moving them to the primary tab, I immediately search for the unsubscribe link. I know I’m not the only person who does that, either.

    As an email user, that kind of thing just comes off a slimy. If you want to market something to me, that’s fine. But I’m going to decide where you end up in MY mailbox.

  6. Jasmine DeFoore at 5:54 pm

    I think the new promotions tab will basically be treated like a less spammy ‘junk folder’. People will go there occasionally, scan the subject lines for a quick second, then select all and delete.

    It’s like Google has deigned that marketing emails are unwanted and therefore shouldn’t be in your inbox. But not all marketing emails are “promotions”. Lots of times, email newsletters are the primary way that brands stay in touch with their customers and supporters. This is going to hurt all sorts of small businesses, non profits, NGOs, etc who use email marketing as their main way of communicating with people.

    Some of these businesses have spent years building up totally legit, opted in email databases. It kills me that Google has taken over control of our inboxes. It’s a lot like facebook ‘managing’ what people see in their news feeds. Even though artists and businesses have thousands of followers who went out of their way to “like” their page, it doesn’t mean they’ll ever see any page updates in their feed.

    I saw a stat somewhere last week that only 1% of people ever come back to a fb page after initially ‘liking’ it. So between this new Google tomfoolery and the facebook news feed, it is getting harder and harder to communicate with people who *actually like your business and want to hear from you*.

    So what can be done? I agree that engaging content and having a trusted brand that people look forward to hearing from can help. But something’s got to give.

    It’s not that the idea of a promotions tab is so bad, I’m happy to have random emails from Amazon and the Gap filtered to another tab. But I want to choose what goes there and what doesn’t.

    I hope that Google gets enough negative feedback that they change the filtering and make it easier for people to decide for themselves if something is a “promotion” or not. But I doubt it. They’re probably going to find a way to ask companies to pay to not have their messages land in the promotions tab, a la facebook’s ‘promoted posts’.

    @pete Here is some interesting data about what email clients Gmail users are using:

    • Lauren Margolis at 11:32 am

      @Jasmine Thanks for such a thoughtful comment! Really appreciate your response. I also read that this new setup is positioning Google to compete with Facebook from an ads perspective – you’ve probably noticed that there are now unsolicited ads in the Promotions tab. You can, however, choose what goes into your different tabs, so if something is ending up in Promotions that you want in Primary, you can elect to always have that particular sender’s email go there.

  7. Lawrence Bredenkamp at 8:05 pm

    An interesting article. I have a gmail account but don’t use it much and certainly not for business.
    I have always relied on catchy subject lines to entice readers to open.
    Google is controlling too much these days.

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